Recommended for ages 12+
Gregory Maguire is renowned for creating his alternate versions of fairy tales, most notably, Wicked. In Egg and Spoon, he creates a sweeping Russian fairy tale, encompassing historical figures such as Tsar Nikolai Romanov and Rasputin, and fantasy favorites like Baba Yaga, the Phoenix/Firebird, and the Slavic Dragon, to create a sweeping tale that goes from the impoverished Russian countryside all the way to Saint Petersburg and beyond.
At its heart is a tale reminiscent of The Prince and the Pauper: a young peasant girl named Elena meets a spoiled rich girl named Ekaterina, when Ekaterina’s train breaks down in Elena’s village. Elena’s mother is dying, her brothers have been called off either to military service or employment, and her father is dead. She wants to go to St. Petersburg to ask the tsar to send her brother home to help care for their mother. Fate intervenes, and the two girls swap places, where each learns about the other girl’s life by living her life. Baba Yaga shows up, because the chaotic seasons are causing her distress, and she ends up becoming Ekaterina’s guardian as they proceed to St. Petersburg to ask the tsar what’s going on in the world.
The tale, narrated by a prisoner in the tsar’s tower, looks at magic in the everyday world, and what a stabilizing force it is. There are themes of family, friendship, and morality all at play, with a lot of humor – Baba Yaga is hilarious here – and conflict.
My only concern here is that at almost 500 pages, middle graders may balk at reading this. Teens will enjoy the story, and it’s a book that really should be on every library shelf. This one will win awards, there’s no question. The writing is beautiful and there are some incredible themes explored. A semester-long unit on fairy tales for older students would really be enhanced by using this book, and book groups for all ages will never run out of material to talk about.