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.

*Disclosure: As an affiliate, I earn a small commission when you purchase books via the Amazon links on this site. Thank you for supporting Eat Their Words!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Three Scoops and a Fig - Fig Tree Sundae

"Sofia dumped the little pear-shaped figs into a bowl on the table. She dished out more helpings of gelato, each with three scoops and a fig. " - Three Scoops and a Fig, Sara Laux Akin

Three Scoops and a Fig

I grew up in a town that was once covered in fig orchards (now many of those orchards have become housing developments and shopping malls), but I have to be honest, I don't think I'd actually eaten a fresh fig until sometime last year. I feel embarrassed to even admit this but its true. I wasn't sure what to do with them so I sliced them and put them in yogurt for the kids. That seemed about right.

Sara Laux Akin's Three Scoops and a Fig presents a similar but tastier option for those looking to use up a fig surplus. Sofia, Akins' young protagonist, comes from a family of cooks. Her family owns an Italian restaurant and her older siblings contribute their own specialties to the family dinner table. On the occasion of her grandparents' anniversary, Sofia just wants to help her family as their prepare a special dinner but she keeps getting in the way. Unnoticed by her busy family, Sofia decides to slip away with a bowl of gelato for breakfast. When an errant fig from the fig tree drops into Sofia's bowl she discovers a new treat--and a way to contribute to the family dinner. Illustrator Susan Kathleen Hartung's muted colors and depiction of a close knit, multi-generational family infuse the story with warmth.

Three Scoops and a Fig includes extras--a recipe for an "Italian Flag Sundae" and a glossary of Italian words and phrases used in the story. Although the Italian Flag Sundae sounded delicious, I decided to stick with Sofia's original recipe.

Sofia's Fig Tree Sundae

  • vanilla ice cream
  • figs (fresh if you can find them)
1. Scoop ice cream into bowls. In order to stay true to the book I used three (small) scoops in each child's bowl.

2. Slice your figs. I must confess, I used dried figs for this particular recipe. I had been sitting on this review until after Halloween and by the time I was ready to post it I couldn't find fresh figs anywhere. Fig season, apparently, is very short (I feel this is something I should have known, having grown up in Fresno). Dried figs, however, were easy to find at the grocery store.

Serve and eat quickly, before your seven-year old can complain that it's melting!

I know my posting here has been spotty lately. Beginning with this recipe, though, I am looking forward to getting back on track as we head into the holiday season!

*Disclosure: A review copy of Three Scoops and  Fig was provided by Peachtree Publishers for the purpose of this review. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

When a book is more than just a story - Part II

A few months ago I shared some of our favorite "non-story" picture books that we enjoy reading on long trips or rainy days. Since that post we have come across a couple of standout titles that I can't help but rave about.

Meanwhile by Jason Shiga

Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities.

Jason Shiga's Meanwhile is like nothing I've ever seen. We saw it on display in our local bookstore last spring and I immediately knew that it would become a birthday present for my older son. It's a narrative in the style of the classic Choose Your Own Adventure books but in graphic novel form. At key points in the story the reader is asked to choose a path (represented by maze-like pipes) to take. This determines the outcome of the story. There are many paths and many stories but only one "happy" ending. Did I mention there's a time machine? If there's one thing that is guaranteed to pique my interest, it's a time machine. The recommended age is for upper elementary school aged kids but my 7 year old and I read it together first so he could get the hang of the mechanics (and the graphic novel style) and he is now able to read it on his own. The first time we read this we spent at least an hour together on the couch, never once achieving the "correct" ending.

Around the World with Mouk by Marc Boutavant

Around the World with Mouk

Another birthday gift (this time for my 5 year old), Around the World with Mouk reminds me of the classic Richard Scarry books. Mouk, a small bear, is going on an around the world journey. In "letters" he sends to his friends back home we are able to look in on his travels. As in Scarry's books, there is much to see, with plenty to read (and learn) in the form of characters' thought bubbles. The thing that sets Mouk apart from other books, though, are the reusable static cling stickers that come with the book. Remember Colorforms? That's basically what these are. Masks, animals and objects representing the regions Mouk visits can be placed on the characters or in the scenes depicted on each page. My kids like to experiment with the unexpected: they'll put a snow hat on a character surfing on the Australian beach, or a Chinese dragon mask on a character in the Finnish winter scene.

In the Town All Year 'Round by Rotraut Susanne Berner

In the Town All Year 'Round

This mostly wordless picture book rewards those who pay close attention. The book is divided into four parts, each part representing a different season in the same town. The same scenes are present in each season but you can track the changes in the town and its citizens--and the storyline--throughout the book. There are also "hidden" objects (cats, birds, etc.) to find on each page.

I am always looking for recommendations for new and unique books like these. What are your family's favorites?

*Disclosure: As an Amazon affiliate I receive a small commission when you make a purchase via the links on this blog. Thank you for supporting Eat Their Words!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Book Mail!

I love getting mail. I'm not kidding when I say one of the highlights of my day is checking the mail, even when it's Tuesday and I know it will only be the grocery store circulars. It's already been established that I love books (by the mere fact that I have a blog . . . about books . . . ). So when Zoe announced her international book swap over on Playing by the Book, I knew we would take part. Books in the mail? Sign me up! 

Kidding aside, I knew it would be fun to take part in a book exchange and perhaps learn a little about another family's favorite books, or even--in the event that we were matched with an international family--their culture. When I was younger, beginning around the fifth grade, I had a penpal. We were actually matched up through an ad in the back of a book. A lot of times those youthful "virtual" (I guess that's what you'd call it now) friendships fizzle out but my penpal and I stayed in touch for many years, until sometime in high school when, sadly, we lost contact with each other (on the off chance that Kathlynn is reading this--drop me an email!). One of the things I most enjoyed about having a penpal was the anticipation that something might be waiting for me every time I opened the mail box. And so it was with the book exchange: every day I opened my mailbox I thought, This could be the day.

I was matched with Artnavy, who blogs at About Time Now and is a contributor to Saffron Tree. Although I had specified when I signed up that I was open to a book exchange with anybody, I was thrilled that we were matched with a family in a different country. Artnavy and her family live in India. We decided to send her and her children a copy of The Monster Who Ate Darkness (the subject of my first post on this blog, and an all-time favorite in this house). My kids were upset about this until I told them we were sending them their own copy, not the one that belongs to us, and that we would also be receiving a new book in the mail.

Little VinayakArtnavy sent us Little Vinayak, by Shobha Viswanath and illustrated by Shilpa Ranade. As a special bonus, the book contained a wonderful CD audiobook read by Vidya Balan and with music by 3 Brothers & A Violin. Little Vinayak is the story of a small elephant who is frustrated because he constantly trips over his trunk. His friends and other  jungle inhabitants try to help him fix his problem until a wise old elephant, Tembo, teaches him how to walk and swing his trunk so it doesn't get in his way. It's a book that is about learning to be comfortable in your own skin, a message I think we all (yes, even adults!) need to be reminded of once in awhile.

My kids liked the humorous story of Little Vinayak and especially loved the bright illustrations. Entirely on their own, they got into a discussion about which medium the illustrator had used--one boy thought crayons, the other thought oil pastels. My younger son was still talking about Little Vinayak the next day and asked if he could take it to share with his kindergarten class at school.

Little Vinayak reminded me of a few other books we enjoy here. It would make a good companion for Giraffes Can't Dance and The Saggy Baggy Elephant -- both of which also feature animals who come to accept and appreciate their unique physical characteristics.

In addition to Little Vinayak, Artnavy also sent us a copy of The Hare and the Tortoise (Again!) and a small illustrated book on how to make roti, a traditional Indian flat bread. I have not made the roti yet, as it calls for wheat, but I have been looking at gluten-free roti recipes and look forward to trying it the next time we have a meal that calls for flat bread.

Thank you again, Artnavy, for the books! And a big thanks to Zoe for coordinating this book swap. Be sure to check out her excellent blog, Playing by the Book, for more of her excellent ideas and reviews!