Happy “Very Hungry Caterpillar Day!” – March Book Reviews

Five fabulous food-based picture books: “Milk and Juice,” “Smart Cookie,” “Tea Time,” “The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Round,” and “Lunch Every Day.”

Did you know that today is “Very Hungry Caterpillar Day”? I didn’t! I’m a huge fan of Eric Carle– his completely unique and bright art style, his simple but brilliant stories..and of course the fact that he was born in Germany makes him perfect for me, a German teacher. I read my German students “Die kleine Raupe nimmersatt” every year during our “Storytelling” unit. They analyze whether or not it has the elements of a fairy tale. (It does have some– including exaggeration and transformation, but it lacks the magic and moral-teachings that would put it into fairy tale world). In honor of Eric Carle and this wonderful story, I am reviewing picture books this month that somehow have food in their theme. Enjoy and…guten Appetit!

Title: Milk and Juice
Author/Illustrator: Meredith Crandall Brown
Publisher/Date:  HarperCollins (December 21, 2021)
The “gist”:  Milk and Juice were always close…in the fridge. But when each are emptied and recycled, they have to look hard to find each other again.
My favorite part:  I know it’s completely coincidental, but the milk has a blue top and the juice has a yellow top…and there’s a scene with a blue and yellow bench that looks just like the Ukrainian flag. Just made me smile.
My response as a reader: 
This is a sweet and very unusual story — I have never read a picture book about recycling and the back matter about just HOW plastic gets recycled is fascinating. The illustrations are cute and overall this has re-readability for both kids and adults!
My “take-away” as a writer: So much of writing comes down to getting just the perfect idea. After all these years I’m not a bad writer, but I never would have thought of a romance between milk and juice bottles!

Title: The Smart Cookie
Author: Jory John
Illustrator: Pete Oswald
HarperCollins (November 2, 2021)
The “gist”:  Cookie didn’t think he was very smart, but he just hadn’t found his niche!
My favorite part:  The lesson here that everyone has their own strengths is wonderful, but of course the fact that it’s taught along with adorable illustrations of every kind of pastry is definitely a plus!
My response as a reader:
 I just love this book series– I have all the others at home…or I did until most were damaged in our basement flooding last fall. It was my 13 year old who suggested we read this one– he won’t admit it, but I think he enjoyed it. So hard to tell with a 13 year old!
My “take-away” as a writer:
 Since I’ve also written a book with personified cookies, I have a soft spot for this one already. But what sets this apart is that John has succeeded over and over in this is the fifth in a series and each one is just as clever! Definitely some career goals there!

Title: Tea Time
Author: Beth Ferry
Illustrator: Dana Wulfekotte
G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers (June 1, 2021)
The “gist”:  There’s a bit of a mixup when Frannie thinks she’s going to have “tea time” with her Grandy and HE thinks they’re going golfing!
My favorite part:  The first few pages make his misunderstanding immediately clear through the illustrations– the tea time/tee time switch makes for such a fun twist.
My response as a reader: 
I love stories about the bond between grandparent and grandchild. Seeing how Grandy perks up Frannie when she thinks things are ruined is a really sweet moment.
My “take-away” as a writer:
 This is another example of a story that “breaks the rules” — the main character does not solve her own problem. It is her grandfather who recognizes the issue and they laugh at it together. I always like to point this out because it’s only when writers understand what is “expected,” that they can choose to write the unexpected.

Title: The Rice in the Pot Goes Round and Round
Author: Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Illustrator: Lorian Tu
Orchard Books; Illustrated edition (June 1, 2021)
The “gist”:  Riffing off the melody of “The Wheels on the Bus,” this story takes a trip around a Chinese family dinner table introducing various family members and food.
My favorite part:  I’m a language teacher so I’m a sucker for learning new words and I love how the text introduces new words such as the words for grandma, grandpa, etc. Just enough back matter to make what’s actually a “song” book fun!
My response as a reader:
 I’m a sucker for food books, for books about other cultures AND for music– where can this one go wrong?
My “take-away” as a writer:
 I just finished competing in the PBParty picture book competition, and even though my manuscript didn’t make it to the finals, one of the things I noticed was just how evocative the winning titles were. Even though none of the text has been released yet, you could easily imagine most of the books just through their titles. This title had a similar effect– you knew almost immediately what you were going to encounter!

Title: Lunch Every Day
Author/Illustrator: Kathryn Otoshi
KO Kids Books (October 19, 2021)
The “gist”:  Told through the eye of a school bully, this story lets us see just where is feelings are coming from.
My favorite part:  The moment when I figured out the true meaning of the title made my son ask why I was crying…
My response as a reader: 
It’s a big risk to make a bully relatable, and at first I wasn’t sure the author would pull it off. However, as a teacher and a mom I promise I will not look at them the same way again, and I bet young readers won’t either.
My “take-away” as a writer:
 This story is very sparsely written with some of it simply being large illustrated words– I know that means putting in “illustrator notes” which are often frowned upon, but I want to get better at telling stories in fewer words. It puts a lot more weight on the words that are actually used.

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