Monday, November 22, 2010

Cautionary Tales for Disobedient Children

Oh, subervsive cautionary tales in the guise of children's books--how I love you. Really, I do.  Maybe it's because when I was a child my cousin and I would spend the night at my Poppa's house; if we didn't go to sleep right away he would sneak outside and bang on the window with a stick and yell that he was the Boogeyman, there to "get" us. (You have to understand, my grandfather was not a traditional grandparent in any sense of the word.) So maybe my love for books like Pierre and Monsters Eat Whiny Children is just in my genes. To be sure, these books aren't for everyone--some may claim they're too scary or dark or inappropriate for young children. To those naysayers I say: I don't care.

Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a PrologueFirst up, Maurice Sendak's classic Pierre. Pierre isn't a bad child, exactly. It's more that he's disengaged and refuses to show any emotion or react to his parents' proclamations, suggestions and threats with anything other than a bored, "I don't care." Pierre just doesn't care. About anything, apparently, not even the fact that he is pouring syrup on his hair. Finally, fed up, Pierre's parents leave the house without him. Soon a lion comes to the door. Predictably, Pierre is unmoved so the lion announces he will eat him. "I don't care," says Pierre, which is all the invitation the lion needs. When Pierre's parents return, horrified to find their son has become somebody's meal, they take him to a doctor who makes quick work of rescuing Pierre. Who finally cares.

Monsters Eat Whiny ChildrenBecause I love Pierre so very much, I was very interested in checking out the Monsters Eat Whiny Children, which has received a lot of positive buzz this fall. Written and illustrated by New Yorker cartoonist Bruce Eric Kaplan, it is another book in which disobedient children finally get their comeuppance. Henry and Eve whine. A lot. Their father tells them that monsters eat whiny children but they don't believe him--they continue their whiny ways until a monster kidnaps them and takes them home (in a sack!) to make his supper. To hilarious results. My kids were howling with laughter as the monster tried to make a salad out of the children ("I don't like sitting on lettuce," Henry whined.) and argued with his wife ("I hate cilantro!" she screamed.) and friends over how best to prepare and serve them. The story is told in a very contemporary, conversational style ("When they told him, the neighbor totally freaked out.") and lends itself to great opportunities to do silly voices. After much arguing, the monsters decide the perfect meal is whiny-child cucumber sandwiches. It should be noted that the monsters aren't angels either, and it's their indecisiveness and constant bickering that allows Henry and Eve to make their escape. The monsters still end up eating cucumber sandwiches, which, while delicious, aren't quite as tasty as those with whiny children inside. This might be my favorite children's book of the year. It's become one of my kids' favorites too.

The illustration style will be familiar to those who have seen Kaplan's work in the New Yorker. Of special note are the endpapers, which feature a "map" of important landmarks in Henry and Eve's lives. With often hilarious captions, it reads like an inside joke/love letter to the real Henry and Eve (to whom the book is dedicated).

As much as I thought my babies were truly edible (in that weird way that may only make sense to new moms) I cannot in good conscience post a recipe for children. Instead, taking a cue from the monsters in Monsters Eat Whiny Children, we made cucumber sandwiches for dinner.

Cucumber Sandwiches 


  • cucumbers
  • sandwich bread
  • cream cheese
  • sea salt
1. Slice bread (if necessary). Spread a layer of cream cheese on each side.

2. Slice cucumber. Layer cucumbers on one side of bread. 

3. Sprinkle with sea salt.

4. Top with second slice of bread.

We had initially planned to make these as snacks for the car trip down to see family for Thanksgiving. In a funny case of life imitating art, though, tonight we were all sitting around tonight wondering what to have for dinner. Nobody really wanted butternut squash soup. (Or wanted to make it, anyway.) One of my kids suggested pizza. Nobody wanted pizza. They both insisted they would be fine with cereal. Finally, in desperation, I said, "What about the cucumber sandwiches?" And it was perfection. (Does anyone else think of Friends when something is described as "perfection"?) We were as happy as the monsters in the book. Maybe cucumber sandwiches are magical or something. My kids even asked if I would put them in their lunches sometime.

We checked Monsters Eat Whiny Children out from our library but I'll be ordering a personal copy to put under the Christmas tree. I can't imagine not having this book in my life on a permanent basis.

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