|rabbit in shadow, Sacramento Wildlife Refuge, CA|
|The rabbits danced a Virginia Reel|
alike and act alike, and sometimes they just look alike. So it was with these girls. Rose was irritable and impatient, and complained of everything she could. Blanche was a quiet girl, as patient as she could be with her cranky sister. Unfortunately for Blanche, their mother was just the same as Rose, so this made two against one. Blanche got stuck with the dirty work every time, while Rose and her mom " would sit side by side in rocking chairs, fanning themselves and talking foolishness about getting rich and moving to the city, where they could go to fancy balls wearing trail-train dresses and lots of jewels. One day, when the air was heavy and the flies buzzed, they sent Blanche down to the well to get a pail of cold water. When she got there, an old woman was leaning against the stone walll, and she asked the little girl to bring her up a dip of water. So Blanche did, patiently waiting while the woman slowly drank her fill. When she was finished, the old woman said, " You got a spirit of do-right in your soul. God is gonna bless you." And then she was gone. When Blanche got home her sister scolded her for taking so long and her mother beat her for bringing back this small amount of warm water, all that the old woman had left in the pail. So Blanche ran away, deep into the woods. She cried and cried, for she was all alone, with no one to care about her. That's when she heard the old woman's voice ask, " What's made you cry so, your poor child?" So Blanche told her of the punishment she'd gotten, though without blaming the old aunty for drinking all the water. And the old woman took Blanche along home with her, telling her she'd feed her a good dinner and give her a warm bed for the night, on one condition: Blanche must not laugh at anything she saw. Blanche agreed, and off they set, the briar bushes parting before them. When they got to the old woman's barnnyard what a sight she saw! The cows had curlique horns, and the chickens were bright as Easter eggs! And their legs were all wrong, as some had only one, and many had three or four, and "they sang like mockingbirds". But Blanche kept her promise. They went on in to the cabin and the woman told her to " light the fire, child,and cook us some supper." So Blanche got busy at the fireplace. She couldn't help notice that the old woman had sat down and taken off her head. She held it on her own knee and deftly combed and braided its hair, then popped it back on her shoulders. "Then she gave Blanche an old beef bone and said 'Put this in the pot for supper. " Now, that dry old bone did not seem like a very tasty meal, but the girl did not like to argue with an elder, so she asked, " Shall I boil it for soup, Aunty?" That's when she heard the old woman laughing, and saw that the pot was overflowing with a meaty stew. Now the woman gave her one tiny grain of rice and told her to grind it. So Blanche put in in the mortar, and used the pestle the woman gave her to grind the rice. And suddenly, the mortar was heaped high with rice grains. What a meal they ate! Blanche had never tasted the like of it, or had her fill before. And then came the entertainment. The old woman beckoned her out to the porch and what do you think they saw? "Dozens of rabbits came out of the underbrush and formed a circle in the yard. The men all had frock-tail coats, and the lady rabbits had little trail-train dresses. The rabbits did a square dance, a Virginia Reel, and even a cakewalk. The girl felt so happy, she never wanted to leave. She sat and clapped until she fell asleep, and the old woman carried her inside and put her to bed. " At dawn, Blanche awoke, and was sent to milk the cow with the curlique horns. It "brayed like a mule " but gave her the most delicious milk, and she drank a large mug of it with the coffee the old woman served her when she got back. Blanche finished her drank and got up to do the dishes. The old woman smiled at her and said, " You gotta go home now, child, but I tell you, things will be better from here on out. And since you are such a good girl, I got a present for you." And she told her that if she went out to the henhouse to gather eggs, some would call out, "Take me!" and others would call out "Don't take me!" and so Blanche must honor the eggs' wishes. The girl went out to the henhouse and there she found birds of purple, green and blue. On their nests, eggs of many kinds rested: some were just like any old ordinary eggs, some were colored silver and gold, and some glittered with gems and jewels. Those fancy eggs all called out "Don't take me!" so Blanche left them there. She did admire them though! She carried the eggs back to the old woman's hut, and bade her goodbye. She got some strange advice then: throw the eggs over her shoulder, one at a time, when she got back on the road, and she would certainly have a pleasant surprise. This Blanche did, and "all sorts of wonderful things spilled out of those eggs: now diamonds and rubies, now gold and silver coins, now pretty silk dresses and dainty satin shoes. There was even a handsome carriage that grew in a wink from the size of a matchbox- and a fine brown and white pony that sprouted from the size of a crcket to draw it." So Blanche rode home in her finery, and weren't her mother and sister surprised? Now, those two were mean through and through and they tricked Blanche into feeling they were friends, and made her tell the secrets she had seen. And as soon as the girl was asleep, the mother "grabbed Rose and told her ' You gotta go into the woods tomorrow mornin' and find that old aunty. Then you'll get some of those talking eggs for yourse'f so's you can have fine dresses and jewels like your sister. When you get back, I'll chase Blanche off and keep her things myse'f. Then we'll go to the city and be fine ladies like we was meant to be." Of course Rose complained, and of course her mother made her go anyway. She went on, "drag foot through the woods" and sure enough, there was the old woman. How Rose fawned and praised her, and how much she wished she could see the old woman's fine home. Well, the woman said she would bring her home for a look, on one condition: Rose must not laugh at anything she saw. Rose promised, but I'll bet you can guess how much that promise was worth. She hooted with laughter when she saw the cow with the curilique horns, and "laughed and laughed till she nearly fell down" when she saw the chickens. "Um-m-m-hum", said the old woman, and she shook her head. When Rose tried to light the fire, she only filled the house with smoke. When the got the old bone for the stew pot she said, " That's gonna make a might poor meal." And it did. The notion of grinding a single grain of rice Rose would not even entertain: she refused to touch the mortar, so there was no rice for supper. In the morning, she went grumbling out to milk the cow. Her sour words to it curdled the milk, and over bitter black coffee she hatched a plan. When the lady took her head off to brush her hair, Rose was ready. " Quick as a wink, Rose grabbed that head and said,'I'm not gonna put you back together 'til you give me presents like my sister got." And the old woman called her a wicked girl, but she had to have her body back, so she told Rose what to do. So Rose went out to gather eggs, and when the jeweled ones called out, "Don't take me!" and the plain ones called out, " Take me!" Rose snatched the diamond and gold one and said, " You think I'm fool enough to listen to you and pass up the prettiest ones? Not on your life! " and she stuffed as many as she could into her pockets. Didn't she think she was smart? She ran to the road and began tossing those eggs over her shoulder, and " out of the shells came clouds of whip snakes , toads, frogs, yellow jackets, and a big, old, gray wolf. These began to chase after her like pigs after a pumpkin". Rose ran all the way home and those critters followed her right into the house and then right out again, and many hours later, when those two unkind people returned, they "found Blanche had gone to the city to live like a grand lady - though she remained as kind and generous as always. For the rest of their lives, Rose and her mother tried to find the strange old woman's cabin and the talking eggs, but they never could find that place again. "
From The Talking Eggs, by Robert San Souci.
Notes: This shares elements of the Baba Yaga the witch folk tale from Russia. It is interesting to note that mortars and pestles figure in both stories, as does the idea of someone taking off their head. The kindly old woman by the well echoes the same character found by Nyasha, in Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale [MUFAROS BEAUTIFUL DAUGHTERS] [Hardcover]. The dialect and flavor of Creole Louisiana shines through, making this a good companion to Smoky Mountain Rose: An Appalachian Cinderella (Picture Puffins), if you are doing a study of the Southern United States. Note that the helper animal here is still a bird, as manifested by the eggs. Further notes 3/3/11: A story contained in The Classic Fairy Tales, by Iona and Peter Opie, (1974) is identified as being called Diamonds and Toads in the first known manuscript of it, in the Pentamerone, 1634, as Les Doie Pizzele or The Two Cakes . (p.126). It was included in Charles Perrault's Conte de ma mere LOye, or Mother Goose Tales, (1695). In that version, the sisters are born of different mothers. Perrault included the story again in hist 1729 Tales of Past Times, under the title The Fairy. Versions of this Cinderella variant exist in many different parts of the world. The Grimms gathered a tale from their native kingdom of Hesse in which the abused girl is sent out midwinter on an impossible quest to gather strawberries. This theme is echoed in Cinderella #58 The Twelve Months, from Czechoslovakia. See 3/2/11.
Montessori Connection: 6-9 Maps, North South East West 1. Look at a map of the United States. Mark where you are with a post it or another way. 2. Try to find Louisiana, the state where The Talking Eggs is set. Which direction is Louisiana from where you are? 3. Remember that Smoky Mountain Rose is set in North Carolina. Find it on the map. What direction is it from Louisiana? 4. Did you notice that in The Talking Eggs, Rose is the mean sister but in Smoky Mountain Rose, she is the kind one? What else is the same about the stories?
9-12: Blanche and Rose
1. Did you know that Blanche is a color name in French?
2. Print out these flashcards http://www.abcteach.com/directory/languages/french/french_flash_cards/ and learn the colors.
3. Why do you think people speak French in Louisiana? Learn about the Creoles.