Hunwick the bandicoot finds an abandoned egg one evening after a storm. The egg’s mother cannot be found, so Hunwick takes it home with him. Hunwick becomes the perfect egg-parent, attentive, affectionate and protective. But the egg never hatches, and Hunwick’s neighbors start to worry about him.
Animals with adopted eggs is hardly a new story, even when Hunwick’s Egg was published in 2005. Horton hatched an egg in 1940, after all. But with a surprise “twist” ending, Mem Fox, doyenne of animal picture books, has created something special. Fox and illustrator Pamela Lofts give readers an adorable hero (I dare anyone to turn the page to Hunwick’s introduction and not say, “Aww”) with an unusual problem: an egg that won’t hatch. Fox’s repetition of the phrase, “Neither did it hatch” reinforces for young readers and listeners the passage of time and the feeling that something is not quite right. Fox’s story is a gentle one. Hunwick’s friends worry about him, but do not tease, as Horton’s friends did. Hunwick cares for the egg, developing a friendship with an inanimate object in a way that young children with stuffed animals and imaginary friends can well understand. Pamela Lofts’ illustrations of the Australian wildlife are wonderfully detailed, and the layout of the pages, with small boxes of action and highlighted images against a white background, is inviting without being overwhelming.
Hunwick’s Egg won the Anne Izard Storytellers’ Choice Award in 2007, and was named to the Bank Street College of Education’s Best Children’s Books of the Year list in 2005. It was also shortlisted for several Australian literature awards, including the Young Australians Best Book Award in 2013.
Critics did not always agree with my positive assessment of Hunwick’s Egg. Gillian Engberg for Booklist found that Fox’s “abrupt conclusion is puzzling… [b]ut children will easily be drawn to Lofts' astonishingly expressive animal characters, and Fox's gentle text may resonate with young ones who feel a magical connection or companionship with their own cherished rock, shell, or shred of blanket” (Feb. 15th, 2005). Kirkus Reviews wrote that “Several disconnects between text and pictures sink this faintly bizarre tale of a solitary elder who adopts an understandably silent confidante” (Jan. 15th, 2005). However, bizarre is hardly the worst thing that could be said about a picture book, and if you’re Chris Van Allsburg, it’s practically a requirement. I have found that children respond well to the rhythm and general good vibes of this story. The detail of the illustrations might be better served in a large book format, however, as children are always wanting to see this book close up.
Mem Fox is a staple of my storytime routine, and fans of Hunwick’s Egg have many directions in which to go if they want to explore more of Fox’s work. Where is the Green Sheep?, illustrated by Judy Horacek, is perhaps my favorite because it works with a variety of ages. Let’s Count Goats!, illustrated by the criminally underappreciated Jan Thomas is another fun, interactive book. If the reader or listener wishes another zoological trip to Australia, Fox has several titles to offer, including Koala Lou and Possum Magic. There are also two other, non-Fox books about Australian animal life that are wonderful books to recommend: Over in Australia: Amazing Animals Down Under, written by Marianne Berkes and illustrated by Jill Dubin and An Australian ABC of Animals, written and illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft.
How can you not like Hunwick? Just look at that face!
Fox, Mem. Hunwick’s Egg. Orlando: Harcourt, 2005. ISBN: 9780152163181 (Illustrated by Pamela Lofts)