Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Seven Silly Eaters

Once upon a time, I worked at Barnes & Noble and met many wonderful people.  My friend Christina is one of them.  We met in the summer of 2000, and fourteen years later, we're still friends .  She and I eventually joined a few others in a tight circle of friends who worked, played, and especially appreciated the written word together. Some of us formed a book club, despite the fact that we weren't all living in the same city or even state.  Our meetings always involved book discussion, food, friendship, and the creation of at least one memorable group photo.

Here we are circa 2004(?) during our discussion of Bill Bryon's The Mother Tongue.  Christina and her now-husband are peeking over their shared copy, while I'm in the stripes with the long hair.

Anyway, I've always thought booksellers (once a bookseller, always a bookseller!) are some of the best judges of a quality book, and Christina and her family were responsible for buying Mary Ann Hoberman's The Seven Silly Eaters for DD for his second birthday back in 2011.

I've always really liked this book, but DD has shown some some renewed interest in it lately, and I've found new things to appreciate with each reading.  Now, it probably won't win the love of any nutritionists out there, but if you're willing to hang in there for the sake of the fun and funny story, the rollicking rhythm, and the incredible illustrations, I don't think you'll disappointed.  

The book begins with youthful-looking Mrs. Peters, doting mother to wee Peter Peters.  He's just the best baby in the world, but he's a finicky eater.  He wants milk, warm milk, and it had better not be hot or cold, or he might pitch it on the ground.  

But Mrs. Peters did not mind.
She was a mother sweet and kind;
And when his milk spilled on the floor,
She patiently prepared some more.
She'd take the bottle from the shelf 
And chuckle softly to herself,
"What a silly sort of eater
Is my darling baby Peter."

Peter is quickly joined by new baby Lucy, then Lucy becomes big sister to Jack.  Mac, Mary Lou, and twins Flo and Fran show up in short order, and each child has his or her own particular food of choice. Homemade pink lemonade, applesauce, lump-free oatmeal, homemade bread, and eggs for the identical twins (poached for Flo and fried for Fran) are all on Mrs. Peters' daily agenda.  Increasingly worn out, with piles of toys, laundry, and food always surrounding her, Mrs. Peters trudges on.  Text and illustrations both capture her exhaustion and occasional frustration, but the worn-out mom never ceases to work hard to prepare what each of her brood requires.

Months and years pass, and one night finds all seven Peters children staying up late, planning a breakfast in bed for their mom's birthday the next day.  Each child intends to make his or her food of choice, but when it comes down to trying to actually do it, the kids realize they don't know how to cook!  Hilarity and happenstance ensue, and the result is a beautiful, unintentional cake - made from the foods of the seven silly eaters combined.  

It's just the kind of surprise ending that my kids love, and DD brings this one to me over and over again.  More times than not, the minute we finish reading, he wants to begin again.  The story is just delightful. 

But I think the illustrations are - hold onto your hats - equally good.  Illustrator Marla Frazee goes above and beyond to depict a family of nine with realism, humor, detail, and grace.  Each member of the family is easily recognizable, even as he or she grows from baby to older child.  The transformation of the Peters adults from relatively carefree parents of one to exhausted ringleaders of seven is so sweet, because the love and affection for their children never wavers.  The endearing details throughout are such a treat: you'll pick up on the never-stated fact that Mrs. Peters is a cello player, that Peter (my favorite!) loves to read, that the laundry is always in process but never done (hear that, moms?!), and that Mr. Peters is always trying to keep up with the family appetites, too. (I love the scene in which he's planting a lemon tree to help provide lemons for Lucy's pink lemonade!).  The illustrations are so expressive that a non-reader can pore over the book for some time, just soaking in the pictures.  Recently, DD asked if we could make the cake that's featured at the end of the book.  I told him that the book didn't include the recipe.  He told me we just needed each child's food: milk, pink lemonade, applesauce, oatmeal, bread dough, and eggs.  When I said I didn't know how much of each thing, he said, "well, three eggs." I asked him how he knew, and:

Ahem.  Indeed.

It's not a short book, so little-bitties might not stay interested, but it is certainly one of DD's favorites at the moment.  He's four and a half.  

His favorite part/comments: "When the kids hide that mess in the oven.  The Seven Silly Eaters is soooo funny!  I love that book!"

This title is so worth checking out!  And, believe it or not: zero commentary about how he'd like to pick just one food to eat all the time.   

1 comment:

  1. Such sweet memories, every single one! How about that that baby-faced firstborn of yours? Gosh, the years just fly by. It's such a pleasure to spend them reading each other's favorite books. And I couldn't agree more about Marla Frazee. We've read several of "her" books, but I think Seven Silly Eaters is the best. It would be so much fun to make the pink birthday cake! We've once or twice made snacks inspired by books and my kids thought it was absolute MAGIC.