Characters as Cuisine

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Characters as Cuisine

Cautionary Tales with a Bite

If you are a Stephen Colbert fan, or watched The Revenant this year, you know that bears are no joke. And if you are familiar with classic folk tales, you should know that there are certain types of characters and situations one should always avoid.  Don't mess with bears. Ever. Don't take their hats, Don't take their toys. Don't wake them up from naps. Don't try to sell them lemonade. Just bumped into a wolf or a fox? I recommend you do NOT stop to chat. They’ll charm you into coming into lunch before you realize you are the intended main course.  And, I don’t care if you are starving. Messing with a stranger's house is always ill-advised. If you are a cookie, trust no one. Stop reading this immediately. Run and hide. Here are ten reviews of my favorite cautionary tales, in which mistakes are made, lessons are learned, and unlucky characters all wind up on the lunch menu.  

*WARNING. All reviews contain spoilers.*

I Want my Hat Back by Jon Klassen begins when a large bear wakes up from a nap to discover his hat is missing. He travels through the forest, asking each animal he passes if they have seen it. Despite the fact that most characters have no useful information to convey, he politely thanks every one. However, this bear is clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer. He fails to notice anything suspicious about the rabbit wearing a red hat. The rabbit, without provocation, responds that he would not steal a hat, and immediately demands an end to questioning. The bear lumbers away, discouraged, until he realizes, "I have seen my hat!" We are left on the final pages, with a content and satiated looking bear, who when questioned if he's seen a rabbit, proclaims "I would not eat a rabbit! Stop asking me questions!" Klassen's simple and uniquely stylized illustrations make this a stand out story, which received a Caldecott honor award. Always a big hit with 3-6 year olds, this tale is also an **/important reminder that if you are going to steal hats from bears, you should probably get better at lying and hiding evidence.

I Yam a Donkey, the absolutely hilarious picture book by Cece Bell is one of my favorite new publications from 2015. The plot centers around the meeting of a donkey and a pedantic yam. The donkey politely introduces himself, by stating, "I yam a donkey". But when the yam tries to correct his shoddy grammar by shouting "No! I AM a donkey", the donkey sort of misses the point. "You is a donkey? You is a funny looking donkey!"  The result is a side-splitting nod to "Who's on First". Just as the yam appears about to completely lose his cool, he is joined by his other vegetable friends, and the donkey finally starts to put two and two together. "Oh! You is lunch!"  Moral of the story,  “If you is going to be eaten, good grammar don’t matter.” So yeah, yams of the world, quit correcting people, when you KNOW what they mean. Cause more important than being "right" is not sticking around to chat with someone who might want to make you into an appetizer.  

Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue by Maurice Sendak is a warning to children against the dangers of apathy. Something we might all keep in mind this election season. We're not really sure what Pierre's problem is. All we know is that he is super annoying, and no matter what his parents ask or offer, his spoiled response is, "I don't care". They finally give up on the kid and leave him to pout it out by himself. Inexplicably, a lion shows up and politely asks him how he'd feel about being eaten. Pierre's response? You guessed it!  "I don't care". It should be no surprise to the reader that the lion does not need a second invitation and promptly gulps him down. Fortunately, for Pierre, he is discovered and extracted. After this presumably traumatic experience, he turns over a new leaf and decides that in future, it might behoove him to give a rat's bottom.  

Bear Despair is a wild and wonderful wordless book by Gaëtan Dorémus. A bear peacefully sleeps and cuddles with his own teddy bear, when a heartless wolf comes along and steals it. Just let me say that stealing teddy bears is the lowest of the low, and as we learned in I Want my Hat Back anyone who steals from bears has no sense of self-preservation. When the furious bear catches up with him, the wolf meets his obvious conclusion. While he’s down there, chilling in the bear’s stomach, several other unscrupulous animals decide they would also like to steal this bear's teddy. As a result, the wolf acquires plenty of company. Eventually, a sensible octopus decides to return the toy to its rightful owner..Reunited at last with his teddy bear, the bear relents, spits up the thieves, and returns to sleep, clutching his teddy to his side. If I were him, I would sleep with one eye open.

Wolves by Emily Gravett is a charming testament to the mesmerizing powers of a good book. When a rabbit goes to his local library and finds a fascinating book with numerous facts about wolves, he is so absorbed in his reading, he neglects to watch where he's going. We cringe as we watch him blithely stroll up a furry tail, and then a fuzzy gray back. Just as he is learning that rabbits are a wolf’s favorite dish, he looks down and finds he is standing atop two pointy ears, two terrifying eyeballs, and an ominous set of jaws. While the following illustration suggests the rabbit has gone the way of a tasty wolf snack, Gravett assures us that the story is a work of fiction. She provides an alternative ending in which the wolf sits down with the rabbit to enjoy a jam sandwich. You'd think cautionary stories about the dangers of reading would be rare, but you'd be wrong. The Book that Eats People is up next.

The Book that Eats People by John Perry is legitimately one of the creepier books on this list, and as such, one of my favorites. This book is indiscriminate in its bloodthirstiness. There’s no distinguishing it from other harmless books, no outsmarting it, and no running away. Despite the fact that the book winds up (no joke) behind prison bars, he is a master of disguise and manipulation, an unstoppable psychopathic killing machine, a la Hannibal Lecter. Eventually, the book always escapes. He could be sitting on your bookshelf this very moment, patiently waiting for your curiosity to get the better of you, so he can bite off a finger the second you slip up and crack the spine. If you do come across this book, a few words of advice from the author,“Never read this book with syrupy fingers. Never read it with cookies in your pocket. Never turn your back on it. Never NEVER EVER read this book alone. Because this book is ALWAYS hungry. “  

Penguin by Polly Dunbar is a quirky and adorable story, which is ultimately about the power of friendship,. I think…Little Ben befriends penguin. We’re not sure why. The problem is that penguin isn’t much for chatting. Ben goes to great lengths to elicit some kind of reaction (including, but not limited to) tying said penguin to a rocket ship and shooting it into outer space, but his friend remains frustratingly unresponsive. Much like me when faced with an uncommunicative boyfriend, Ben finally reaches a boiling point and begins to shout. A lion eats him for being “too noisy”.  In a touching finale to the story, Penguin steps up, bites lion with his beak, the lion coughs up Ben, and we learn that actions are more powerful than words when it comes to love.

Bark George by Jules Feiffer is a cute, toddler-friendly tale, and parents of young children will undoubtedly relate. Much to his mother’s embarrassment, George the puppy, hasn’t learned to bark. Every time George tries, the wrong noise comes out. “Meow”, “Moo”, “Oink” etc. His frustrated mother takes him to the vet and they discover what’s been going on. Much like human toddlers, George lacks self-control when it comes to sticking things in his mouth. The vet reaches down into the puppy’s stomach and retrieves a slew of various animals.Suddenly, George utters his first bark! A proud mother, she parades her puppy down a crowded city sidewalk. “Bark, George!” she asks again. George responds with “Hello.” Ba dum cha!   

Class Two at the Zoo by Julia Jarman, in rhyming text, documents the events of a class trip to the zoo which goes horribly awry when a rogue anaconda begins binge-eating children. This anaconda don’t care if baby got back or not. Everyone is on the menu. While the other students are still salivating over cute, fuzzy koalas and monkeys, the one kid actually paying attention to the situation saves the day by jamming a large stick in the snake’s mouth.The feeding frenzy comes to a halt and her grateful classmates climb from the snake’s belly, one by one. Jarman sums up the moral of the story, ”Let this be a terrible warning for you. When you go on a safari or visit a zoo, keep your eyes open, whatever you do.” It might be easier to just steer clear of zoos.

The Gingerbread Boy by Paul Galdone is a classic retelling of the original folktale.The story remains universally beloved among people ages 3 to 103. And we all know how this one turns out. So, if you are a cookie and you are STILL reading this, farewell and good luck.You’re gonna need it....