(previous entries in this series are here.)
The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg (1963) introduces us to a new theme in Peet’s work: the empty nester (literally, in this case) looking for someone/something to nurture.
This is the story of Myrtle the dove and her need for a child. She is quite literally an empty nester. All of her children have flown away, and she’s left with…an empty nest.
But her instincts had told her that they were full-grown
And ready to start on a life of their own.
She held back tears for as long as she could
Till they’d flown out of sight on their way through the wood.
So she does what any lonely mama would do…she finds an abandoned egg and claims it for her own. Basically, she adopts. Or kidnaps. I guess it depends on how you look at it.
However, she’s surrounded by a bunch of naysayers who tell her it’s no use.
But Myrtle sits on her egg, and hatches…a griffin. The baby griffin (Zeke) is born and promptly told that he doesn’t exist by everyone except Myrtle. He’s a fairy tale creature. He shouldn’t be. He’s nothing.
The whole forest is convinced he’ll grow up to be trouble. Needless to say, he faces a heavy share of discrimination from the start.
Now, obviously, a half-lion/half-eagle might have some trouble flying. So in the beginning, Myrtle carried his rear while he flies. Those naysaying birds? They think this is pretty laughable. And here’s my favorite line of all:
As they went sailing past, the owl hooted and sneered
While the mockingbirds mocked and the blue jays all jeered.
But the dove didn’t care, she expected them to;
That’s always the way when you try something new.
Zeke grows up, becomes an excellent flyer, and bonds closely to Myrtle. But the other birds of the forest never accept him. He’s too strange, too different, too exotic. In many respects, he’s the classic Bill Peet fish out of water. He just doesn’t fit in.
Then one day he’s attacked by a pack of wolves. His instincts tell him to tear them to shreds, but Myrtle (the peace-loving dove) convinces him that violence is not the answer. So he finds another way, which is almost worse than killing them.
And here, too, are the first glimpses of Bill Peet, Eco-Friendly Pacifist. He’ll show up with more regularity down the line. Much more regularity.
On the one hand, The Pinkish, Purplish, Bluish Egg is still about the loner who longs to fit in and must travel a tough road before he’s finally able to be accepted (see: every book prior to this). On the other hand, this is the first time we see something resembling a family that sticks together. It’s nontraditional, sure, but it’s loving.
And showing a mixed, adoptive yet fully functional family in a children’s picture book in 1963? Color me impressed.
Most of all, though, this is a story about tolerance. It’s about overcoming a fear of “exotic” differences and accepting others for who they are.
When Zeke finally saves the day and is accepted by the owl and other birds?
“But I’m right,” the owl said, “on one thing at least;
He doesn’t exist, he’s a mythical beast.”
“Does he mean,” worried Zeke, “that I’m not really here?
That most any minute I might disappear?”
“It’s nonsense,” scoffed Myrtle, “he’s a silly old bird.
But if it makes him feel better, let him have the last word.”
Now it’s Myrtle’s turn to show tolerance…to those who disagree and have different values. This, obviously, is still a remarkably relevant message in 2014.
(Although, it should be said that my 5-year-old immediately recognized that Myrtle actually got the last word…)