Gregory Maguire’s Egg & Spoon is a rich and layered story, full of gorgeous images and sentences, a matryoshka doll sort of tale. That is, like those nested dolls that show up themselves in the story, this book involves bits and pieces of stories, one inside the other and then coming out again. We begin meeting Elena Rudina, a peasant girl starving in a village with a dead father, a dying mother, a brother taken off to serve the Tsar, and the other as a servant for the local landowner. One day, out of nowhere, a train appears containing the wealthy Ekaterina, another young girl, on her way to visit the Tsar in St. Petersburg. Things take off from this point — journeys, mistaken identities, magical eggs, magical beings, mysterious monks, a prince, a magical festival, the Tsar, and — most wonderful of all, Baba Yaga and her house on chicken feet. This fabulous witch of Russian folklore is a fabulously written character, funny, scary, wry, and just about everything possible in Maguire’s capable hands. At moments she reminded me of some of Diane Wynne Jones’ similarly gorgeously cranky and wonderful characters.
The plot is unique and complex, swirling around in highly unusual directions. It is staying with me and the more I mull it over the more I love it. Kids who are able and flexible readers, those with a predilection for older books of complexity and rich language and the ability to go with it wherever it goes will love it too I think. The child characters are delightful, brave and smart and complicated. And those magical characters — wow. This made me think of so many classical books I have loved over the years. Fairy tales galore, Russian and Scandinavian, especially, but other tales too — at one moment I thought of a favorite of my childhood, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils. A unique and wonderful read.