Kin and Kind in Switched Egg Children’s Stories
In Hans Christian Andersen’s iconic fairy tale, Den grimme ælling (The Ugly Duckling, 1843), we learn that “it does not matter that one has been born in the henyard as long as one has lain in a swan’s egg.” Claims to supremacy, worth, and belonging are nested in a children’s story about “nature” and bolstered by biological notions of kin and kind – some eggs are naturally better than others. Since Andersen’s nineteenth-century tale, the lost/found/switched egg narrative has become a trope in children’s literature, particularly in stories that explore themes of family and belonging, and yet little scholarly attention has been given to the egg in this regard. Drawing on queer, feminist, and posthumanist frameworks inspired by Donna Haraway’s natureculture thinking, this article examines the deployment of the egg-switch trope in Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling, in relation to two contemporary picturebooks, And Tango Makes Three (Parnell and Richardson, 2005), and The Odd Egg (Gravett, 2008). I treat the material-symbolic presence of the egg in these texts as a generative site for interrogating the construction and perpetuation of dominant notions of kin and kind, considering the complex and slippery ways that nature is called upon to uphold ideas of exceptionalism and normativity through discourses of origin and species. At the same time, acknowledging the concurrent conservative and radical potentialities of literature for children (Jaques), and guided by Rosi Braidotti’s affirmative ethics and Eve Sedgwick’s queer reparative approaches to criticism, I also read these texts as imaginative sites for noticing and theorizing alternative queer models of relationality that elevate chosen, non-biological, and cross-species kin.
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