I want to say that Patricia Polacco’s Rechenka’s Eggs is a fairy tale for Easter, but I’m not sure that it qualifies. It doesn’t have any fairies in it, no trolls or witches or other creatures that we know from the land of Faerie. And there is no human magic in it – unless the ability to recognize miracles is a kind of magic.
The story is lovely and sweet. Babushka is a kind and sensible old woman who lives by herself in a small house in the country. She spends the cold, dark winters painting eggs for the Easter festival in Moscow. Every year, her eggs win first place at the festival.
When hungry caribou come to her house looking for food after a snowstorm, she sees a miracle, the first miracle of the story. And then she sees an injured goose fall from the sky. She takes it into her house, bandages its wing, and nurses it back to health. She names the goose Rechenka.
Then disaster strikes: Rechenka flaps up onto Babushka’s worktable to see what Babushka is doing. She spills the paint and breaks all of Babushka’s beautiful eggs. Babushka and Rechenka are both dismayed. But then there is another miracle. Rechenka lays an egg every bit as beautiful as the eggs that Babushka had painted. The next day, there is another beautiful egg, and then another. Soon, there are enough eggs for Babushka to go to the Easter festival in Moscow.
When Babushka bids Rechenka farewell and leaves for the festival, she knows that Rechenka will soon leave to be with her own kind. She doesn’t know that Rechenka still has one more miracle to work.
The art supports the fairy-tale feel of the story. The bright colors and intricate patterns that characterize all of Polacco’s books adorn the eggs, and Babushka’s clothes, and all of her surroundings. But the faces and hands of the people are simple pencil sketches. This makes Babushka and all the people in the story remind me of Russian icons that are covered in silver, with just the hands and faces of the subjects showing.
Rechenka’s Eggs on Reading Rainbow
Fans of Reading Rainbow might remember seeing Rechenka’s Eggs in an episode from 1992. The story includes religious elements, as many of Polacco’s stories do. These elements are very much in the background (e.g., icons on the wall of Babushka’s house), but they’re there. I don’t know if a child from the dominant culture would even notice them. But an Orthodox Christian child certainly would.
The episode on Reading Rainbow unfortunately removes all the religious elements. Babushka’s icons are gone from her walls, the procession with icons disappears from the Easter festival in Moscow, and Babushka no longer refers to everything around her as “a miracle!”
But the episode includes a delightful appearance by Patricia Polacco. She makes a pysanky egg, and talks about her grandparents, her art, and her learning disability.
And, yes, Rechenka is a Canada goose. Canada geese don’t live in Russia. But that’s okay. This is a fairy tale, after all. In a fairy tale, anything can happen.
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Six Exceptional Multicultural Easter Books: If you’re looking for books that show the ways that people celebrate Easter, look here.
17 essential picture books for Orthodox Christian kids: If you’re looking for picture books that include stories about Orthodox Christian people and traditions, you’ll find them on this list.