Richard Platt on Martin Jenkins and Jane Chapman’s The Emperor’s Egg, a book that ‘subverts conservative conventional values with elegance and wit’.
On first reading, The Emperor’s Egg appears to be a simple story about a male Emperor penguin. For two months he stands motionless on the ice gripping his mate’s egg warmly between his downy legs. We marvel at Dad’s patience and stamina; we thrill as the egg hatches; then we share the excitement when Mum returns with a feast. There’s a marvellous yucky moment as she feeds the chick by being sick down its throat.
Though The Emperor’s Egg is intended for children, Jane Chapman’s evocative illustrations and Martin Jenkins’ engaging text make it a pleasure for adults, too. However, the book’s charm for me is not limited to the words and pictures.
I also like it because it really brings science to life for young readers. Martin Jenkins is a conservation biologist and writes about his subject with knowledge and passion. Good science books are rare, but they can excite children and stir an interest in science and technology that they can carry with them through their lives. There is also a social message. Young readers learn that parenting is not just something a mother does; The Emperor’s Egg shows that fathers can play an equal role in child-care, and that it’s OK for mothers to be breadwinners. I’m labouring the point a bit here, but I suppose the reason I wish I had written The Emperor’s Egg is that I believe that really great books can potentially change society – albeit in a very small way – and that children’s books are no exception. Martin Jenkins and Jane Chapman subvert conservative conventional values with elegance and wit. They make my own attempts at social comment look as ungainly as a penguin’s waddle. The Emperor’s Egg won the Times Education Supplement Award in its age group, and it richly deserved the prize.
The Emperor’s Egg by Martin Jenkins, illustrated by Jane Chapman, is published by Walker Books, 0 7445 6237 6, £9.99.
One of Richard Platt’s most recently published books is Aztecs, published by Dorling Kindersley, 0 7513 5885 1, also at £9.99.