A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Kids will learn a lot about life in Russia for both rich and poor just before the revolution. Several historical figures such as Tsar Nicholas and Rasputin are briefly met. Baba Yaga, a famous figure from folklore, is a major character. Kids also will learn a lot of Russian vocabulary and some words and phrases in French, too. They can take the opportunity to broaden their English vocabulary with words such as "attar" and "furze."
"Live your life": Go out and do what you need to, and be who you need to be. There's always more to do, and maybe the world's problems can be solved if you share some of your wealth and look after others. "We are all crowned with glory. Peasants no less than kings." The clamor of human want gets louder every year and threatens the earth's balance; try to want less and give more.
Positive Role Models
Elena and Cat both model bravery and loyalty. Elena wants to save her mother and reunite her family, and Cat wants to make amends for the problems she's caused and to help others. They face the consequences of their actions and try to put things right. Along the way they're guided by a large cast of adults, from the tsar of all the Russias to the ailing doctor in a village on the edge of starvation. Personalities vary widely, but there are no real villains here.
Violence & Scariness
Blood from injuries is mentioned a half-dozen times or so but isn't described in any detail. In a story within the novel, the fence around a scary witch's house is decorated with the skulls of children she's eaten; later the witch is described using the skulls comedically, and they are eventually revealed to be replicas. A child being stalked by a wildcat in the woods is mildly scary. There's a slap in the face, and a past abduction with punching and stabbing in the eye is mentioned but not described in detail. Elena misses her dead father and a few times envisions him with ghostly imagery.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
A kiss breaking a spell is mentioned a couple of times. A naked person is mentioned but not described. In the tsar's court, 13 is considered plenty old enough for a betrothal.
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"Hell," "damn," "buttocks," "butt," and "hussy" are each used once. The French swear word "merde" (meaning "s--t") is used once. There are a couple of instances of innuendo, such as, "I'll kick you in your Balzac."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Alcohol is mentioned a half-dozen times or so in the background or as available to adults. One young teen drinks water that has some wine mixed in. A "gin-sozzled father" is mentioned once, and a vodka jug is used as a metaphor.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Egg & Spoon is an epic fantasy adventure from Gregory Maguire, the prolific author of the Wicked Years series. Harking back to an older, timeless style when authors did not write down to children, some of the story reads like a Grimm-style fairy tale. Kids are in peril, and there are scary witches and wild animals that might get you if you're not careful. Still, positive messages about caring for others and asking for less underscore the thrills, and there are plenty of laughs. Blood's mentioned a few times but not described in detail, and there's one hard slap on the face. Kissing is mentioned a few times in the context of breaking a spell. There's a lot of Russian folklore, and life before the revolution is vividly portrayed. There are rare uses of mild to moderate swear words, including "merde" (French for "s--t"). Read by Michael Page in the audiobook version, which the American Library Association named a 2015 Notable Children's Recording.
Is It Any Good?
With this fairy-tale fantasy, Gregory Maguire hits it out of the park in the grand tradition of sweeping Russian epics, as exquisitely crafted as the Fabergé egg that causes all the trouble. His witty prose charms and delights; its effortless grace finds unexpected moments that touch the heart. The poetic rhythm and folktale style is a pleasure to read aloud.
The vocabulary's pretty advanced, but younger readers (or listeners) shouldn't be deterred. Most meanings are clear from the context, and if kids occasionally take the time to look up an unfamiliar word, they'll be richly rewarded. It's also a thrilling, fun, and funny fantasy that'll take people of all ages on a wildly imaginative ride to the most unexpected and delightful places.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.