A Picture Book That Captured the 1951 Caldecott Award and Deserves an Easter Second Look!
The Egg Tree
By Katherine Milhous
This classic Easter tale and winner of the Caldecott Award for best picture book in 1951, still holds up over time.
This charming tale of the emergence of a Pennsylvania Dutch Easter tradition, its retelling on a Red Hill Pennsylvania farm, and the beginnings of a family tradition spreading from a small table top tree filled with decorated eggs, to one that might have rivaled the size of the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center, will have your young ones saying, “Can we do that at our house?”
That’s just what happened to my now grown girls after we read this, oh some thirty years back.
They clamored for the egg tree, post read, and it initially started as a small one tucked in a corner of the dining room with decorated eggs and beribboned in yellow, pink and lavender.
Now, it has morphed into egg filled quince branches with gently pale pink flowers that time their bloom just in time for Easter.
The painted egg scenes in our collection have grown exponentially, and those eggs are quite the stand alone memory book, when surveyed as a whole on the branches.
And, it all started with a picture book called The Egg Tree by Katherine Milhous, chronicling the Easter visit of young Katy Carl and cousins, visiting their grandma’s country farm.
Kids will cotton to the idea of spreading flower petals on the lawn to attract the Easter Bunny, who happens to wander by as a real life hare, so the grand egg hunt can commence.
And, as always, with young ones, it’s a mad rush to see who can gather the most eggs. And, they are consumable ones.
Young Katy, with nary an egg in her grasp, wanders up to the attic in search of secreted ones, and there, in a lined hat is a collection of colored and painted eggs that almost rival in numbers, Carl’s swiftly scavenged collection.
And, with Katy’s discovery, grandma is happy to introduce a new generation to the art of painted eggs designs, that find their way on Easter morning, to decorations on a small tree’s branches.
Katherine Milhous has suffused her art here with softer shades of brown, blue, orange and yellow, as grandma introduces the children to the traditional Pennsylvania Dutch symbols used on the eggs, such as The Bright Morning Star, The Deer on the Mountain, The Cooing Dove, The Pomegranate, and picture book’s grandly glorious cover picture that is The Horn Blowing Rooster.
The borders that surround Ms. Milhous’s narrative are artistically Pennsylvania Dutch in feel as well.
And, most young readers will surely identify with young Katy who falls behind in the egg gathering competition count at the hunt’s outset as she is outpaced by Carl.
Yet, she gains a far more wonderful accolade from her grandma as Katy’s discovery of the stored away and painted attic eggs are a reminder of a treasured tradition that winds up jump starting it anew for another generation of children when her grandma comments:
Katy may not have found the most
eggs; she found the most beautiful
The pace and pulse of The Egg Tree is just far enough out of the frenetic feed of today’s kids, as to make it a soothing and satisfying read. The egg decorating commences with each child contributing their own artistic coloration and art to the eggs that fill the tree’s branches.
And, I love the grandmother’s gentle reminder after the initial egg decorating on Easter is complete. The rest is held in abeyance till the morrow with the simple declarative lines that say what is beautifully inferred with her “no work” dictum:
Today we celebrate Easter.
Please let your young readers begin their own Easter egg tree tradition with the reading of this classic Caldecott winner.
But, don’t be surprised if your small table top tree continues to morph over the years into a tree where, as in the book, neighbors pop in to see and contribute to its decor.
Traditions, like those begun and enhanced by the reading of The Egg Tree, are what bind faith and family together even in 2020, some seventy years after its publication! And that is what I term a classic picture book.
And, classic picture books and the traditions that they engender through continued readings, do stand up to the test of time, and perhaps they number among those many wonderful small things that kids may come to count on in times of unsettled uncertainty in the world of childhood.
Traditions are things that remain the same, providing continuity amid the changing landscape of life, and are predictably comforting to young readers, even when they are something so small, or big, as an egg tree.
The Egg Tree, in both book and branch form, lives and… thrives!
It continues to thrive both today and as long as young readers continue to open its pages!
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