In which Annie (high school teacher, mother of two young girls and a younger boy) and her aunt Deborah (children's bookseller, mother of two young women in their 20s) discuss children's books and come up with annotated lists.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Beyond bread and jam

Dear Annie,

Well, the Newbery, Caldecott and a lot of other awards were announced by the American Library Association on Monday, and as usual, I was miles off predicting any of them. 
Dead End in Norvelt
by Jack Gantos won the Newbery for best children's literature.  I read half of it back when it was a mere sample copy -- am re-reading now.  Gantos is a really good writer.  I would have been happier if Jefferson's Sons or Okay for Now had won, but this one is an understandable choice.  I was quick on the trigger on ordering, though, and now have two shelves at the store full of almost all the winners and honor books.  Whew.

The categories of ALA awards have proliferated in recent years, one of the more interesting being the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award for books for beginning readers.  In the seven years they've been awarding it, Mo Willems has won two awards and two honors for Elephant and Piggie books.  They're definitely deserving, but happily this year the award went to a book that's definitely a change of pace:
Tales for Very Picky Eaters
by Josh Schneider.
"I can't eat broccoli," said James.  "It's disgusting."
  "Maybe there's something else you can eat," suggested James's father.
  "What else is there?" asked James.
  "Well, we have dirt.  We have the finest dirt available at this time of the year, imported from the best dirt ranches in the country.
  "This dirt has been walked on by the most skilled chefs wearing the finest French boots.  
  "It has been mixed by specially trained earthworms, and it is served on your very own floor."
  "Ugh," said James.
Dad goes on to offer pre-chewed chewing gum and a sweaty sock worn by a runner "who was fed nothing but apples and cinnamon for three months before running a marathon in this very sock."  The broccoli wins. 

When James rejects mushroom lasagna, his father tells him about the hard-working troll in the basement hired especially to make mushroom lasagna.  The troll is green with fangs and wears an apron saying "Kiss the Cook." James' ubiquitous basset hound quietly sniffs the heat vent coming up from the basement.

The book has five short chapters -- my favorite is The Tale of the Lumpy Oatmeal, rejected for its lumpiness.  The oatmeal, Dad explains, regenerates every day, so that if one doesn't eat it, it gets bigger and bigger and starts eating the desserts around the house.  And because Growing Oatmeal, which now looks like The Blob, isn't a picky eater, he could spell trouble for James's dog.  The dog looks pathetically at James.  He asks for -- and gets -- another bowl of oatmeal "with fewer lumps."

The Tales are (mostly) wacky and charming with good illustrations.  The one on Repulsive Milk is a bit too preachy (builds strong bones).  The last chapter, on Slimy Eggs, turns the tables a bit and has a satisfying ending.  I know, I know: you're thinking, "Slimy eggs!  We've been there before!"  A year and a half ago you wrote about Eleanor's take-away message from Bread and Jam for Frances (the Ur-picky eater book) being to demand bread and jam all the time.  And Frances' b&j habit started with her facing down a plate of slimy eggs.  So I don't know if you want to introduce this one to your home, but its flights of fancy are definitely a hoot.



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