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Peter T Hooper likes to cook scrambled eggs but he wishes they didn't always taste the same. What would they taste like if they were made from the eggs of other birds, apart from those of the "plain common hen"? In order to find out, Peter embarks on a riotous egg collecting quest, which brings him into contact with some of the strangest birds you can imagine, including the Kweet, whose eggs are "mellow and sweet", the Kwigger, whose eggs are "as big as a pin head, no bigger" and the Grickily Gractus who lays its eggs in a "prickly cactus." In keeping with the traditional style of Dr Seuss books, the story is delivered in rhyme with a tongue-twister like quality, a bouncy rhythm and expressive illustrations of crazy-looking characters.
This book is intended for children who are competent enough to read on their own and are ready to explore the creative potential of language and have some fun with it. Dr Seuss' use of similar but different sounds within the same sentence, alliteration, wordplay and rhyme helps children to recognise sound and letter patterns in language. What is delightful and fun about the text is that it seems like gobbledegook when you first read it, but it does actually make sense. For instance:
"Then I went for some Ziffs. They're exactly like Zuffs,
But the Ziffs live on cliffs and the Zuffs live on bluffs.
And, seeing how bluffs are exactly like cliffs,
It's mighty hard telling the Zuffs from the Ziffs."
The unique writing style does make children more conscious of how words are formed and how swapping letters and vowel sounds can change the meaning. Some of the text is quite tricky to read (even I stumbled at one point when reading about a creature called a 'Ham-ikka-Schnim-ikka-Schnam-ikka Schnopp') but it feels so satisfying to rattle off a verse without getting your tongue tangled in knots. Because of this I find that the book motivates children to keep reading, practicing their pronunciation until they can read without faltering. As usual the rhyme provides a helpful reading cue so that children can anticipate what the word at the end of the verse is likely to be.
The book can also be read aloud to younger children and is an excellent way to help develop phonemic awareness (the recognition of the individual sounds that make up language.) However, it is one of the more complicated Dr Seuss books and the vocabulary and linguistic gymnastics are a bit more advanced than in books like The Cat in the Hat, so this is not an ideal book for the very young.
One of the things my children loved about Dr Seuss in general is that his books push the boundaries of the imagination and are full of absurd, unpredictable elements. Although the plot of this book is very simple - a boy going on an egg hunt - all sorts of things come out of left field to delight the young reader. For example, we meet the Twiddler Owls and find out why Peter T Hooper decides not to take any of their eggs -
"Cause I know that the eggs of those fellows who twiddle
Taste sort of like dust from inside a bass fiddle."
Of all the things an egg could taste like, only Dr Seuss could come up with dust from inside a bass fiddle! Only Dr Seuss could create a bird called a Stroodel, "who's sort of a stork but with fur like a poodle" or the Single File Zummzian Zuks, an army of ducks who stroll single file through the mountains with their eggs on their thumbs! The wonderful South West Facing Cranes are our favourite characters of all:
For this kind of crane, when she's guarding her nest
Will always stand facing precisely South West."
Why oh why would a bird only face south west? It doesn't really matter. In fact, perhaps it's better to get into the spirit of Dr Seuss and say, "why not?" The point is, this particular bird just does and it used to make my children laugh like mad each time they saw the illustration of Peter T Hooper sneaking up to take an egg as these creatures remain oblivious, gormlessly staring in the opposite direction. Silly? Yes. Creative? Definitely. It's a wonderful way to send out the message to children that creativity should not be limited to what is obvious or predictable. It's encouraging them to think outside the box and to send their imagination off at tangents. My own children have both grown up to be quite 'alternative' in the way they think and in the way they approach creative activities like writing and artwork. I don't claim it's all down to Dr Seuss but I am convinced that his books inspired them.
Written in 1953, the book obviously feels a bit dated. There is a rather stereotypical Middle Eastern character called Ali who appears at one point and a reference to "great happy gay families with uncles and cousins, all laying fine strictly fresh eggs by the dozen" which might need a bit of explaining today. More significantly though, the whole concept of stealing eggs from wild birds to make scrambled eggs is sending out a somewhat worrying message. Children may need to be reminded that birds and their nests are protected by law and that this is just a story about a make believe world. It doesn't fit in too easily with the modern trend to teach children about conservation and animal rights though. My own children were not a hundred per cent comfortable with this and they felt sorry for some of the birds in the pictures, whose nests were being pillaged, because they often have rather sad expressions. For that reason, this wasn't our favourite Dr Seuss book.
Leaving aside the criticisms, overall this is still an amusing and engaging read. I would recommend it for children who are already fans of Dr Seuss and familiar with his wacky style, as long as they have acquired a fairly fluent reading level. Scrambled Eggs SUPER is available from Amazon sellers new from just £0.10.