HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Egg and I
Author: Betty MacDonald
Cover Illustrator: Christina Schlesinger
Publisher: Harper Perennial, reissued 2008
Language level: 4
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing and/or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing and/or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Recommended reading level: Ages 16 and up
Rating: *** 3 stars
(5 stars=EXCELLENT; 4 stars=GOOD; 3 stars=FAIR; 2 stars=POOR; 1 star=VERY POOR; no stars=NOT RECOMMENDED)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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MacDonald, Betty. The Egg and I (published in 1945 by J. B. Lippincott; republished in 1987 by Perennial Library, an imprint of Harper and Row Publishers Inc., 10 E 53rd St., New York City, NY 10022). Author Betty Bard MacDonald (1907-1958) was born Anne Elizabeth Campbell Bard in Boulder, CO. Her family moved to Seattle, WA, in 1918, and she married a marine, Robert Eugene Heskett (simply called “Bob” in the book), in 1927; they bought a small chicken farm in the Olympic Peninsula’s Chimacum Valley, near Center and a few miles south of Port Townsend. The Egg and I is a slightly fictionalized autobiographical account, heartwarming and uproarious, of their adventures on an American frontier during their two years on the ranch. Largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild, with no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, days that ran from four in the morning to nine at night, neighbors like Ma and Pa Kettle, and even a forest fire, the MacDonalds had barely a moment to put their feet up and rest. And then came the children. Yet through every trial and catastrophe, Betty somehow, mercifully, never lost her sense of humor. What will happen to them? Can they survive? Do they stay?
This book was recommended to me by my seventh grade English teacher. It is truly an interesting and funny story. However, it is thoroughly laced with bad language. Besides the “d” and “h” words and the names of God and Christ used as exclamations, Ma Kettle says “Jeeeeesus Key-rist” or “god—ned” almost every time she opens her mouth, as well as other near vulgarisms (s.o.b., bas-ard, bi-ch). There are instances of smoking tobacco and drinking all kinds of alcoholic beverages including moonshine, along with casual references to prostitutes and abortions. I would feel uncomfortable just handing the book to a seventh grader. Betty left Heskett in 1931, returned to Seattle, married Donald C. MacDonald in 1942, and moved to Vashon Island, where she wrote most of her books. The Egg and I was published in 1945. A movie version, loosely based on the book, was released in 1947. Betty was played by Claudette Colbert. Her husband was played by Fred MacMurray.
The film featured Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride cast in the roles of Ma and Pa Kettle. Main received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. The characters become so popular that the movie inspired a series of nine more subsequent films featuring them as Ma and Pa Kettle. The movies are all both humorous and quite harmless with nothing inappropriate for the young ones. To be fair, MacDonald did not write the book for children. However, she did author some children’s book, namely the “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” series and Nancy and Plum. She also published three other semi-autobiographical books: Anybody Can Do Anything, recounting her life in the Depression trying to find work; The Plague and I, describing her nine-month stay at the Firlands tuberculosis sanitarium; and Onions in the Stew, about her life on Vashon Island during the war years. A posthumous collection of her writings, entitled Who Me?, was later released.