Learning Table Manners Can be Hilarious!

Of all the rules of life’s road we learn, table manners are probably among the most valuable.  A meal is a social situation where the people participating are mindful of curbing the expression of  heart-felt feelings others might find unpleasant.  However, a small person in a high chair next to the table is acquiring table manners at a glacial rate, so everyone else must stifle their preference to enjoy their food a safe distance away..

But how to teach the small person that flinging pureed peas from a spoon makes a disagreeable mess no one wants to clean up while the lemon chicken grows cold?  Some public-minded picture book artists have ridden to the rescue by pairing clearly expressed standards with funny illustrations.

Diane Goode’s inspiration for Mind Your Manners! (2005) was The Child’s Spelling Book (4th ed.: Hartford: Increase Cooke & Co., 1802), which includes a section of thirty-five explicit prohibitions for good behavior at meals, such as “Throw not any thing under the table” or “Take not the salt with a greesy knife.”  Goode puts courtesy into action by imagining that a well-mannered family has accepted an invitation to dine at the Abbotts.  She teases a narrative out of a cleverly chosen sample of prohibitions that demonstrate how the Abbotts cheerfully embarrassed their guests. The dining room table extends across the double-page spread, which provides ample room to show the various things four adults, four children, two dogs and one cat ought not have done that evening.

Dinner is well underway.  On the left, Mr. Abbott and his son are shouting over their guest, who, with a pained expression on her face, remains silent, remembering the rule that “If thy superiors be discoursing, meddle not with the matter; but be silent, except thou art spoken unto.”  On the right, Mrs. Abbott is holding forth even though she should know that polite people “Drink not, nor speak with any thing in thy mouth.”  On the floor there is a stand-off between the spaniel and the cat, who don’t care that they are breaking the rule “Stare not in the face of any one (especially thy superiors) nor fix thine eye on the plate of another.”

The puzzle picture with a test is central to the pedagogical strategy of the husband and wife team Caralyn and Mark Buehner (she’s the writer, he’s the illustrator) in It’s a Spoon not a Shovel (1995).  Each full-page illustration shows a set of characters negotiating sticky social situation.  On the facing page, the problem is posed as a question with three possible answers.  After choosing the one he or she thinks is best answer, the reader can check to see if the letter he chose is hidden in the picture, along with teeny pictures of a dinosaur, rabbit, cat, and bee just for fun.  Here is the dilemma of Wolfgang the Wolf when he introduces to his brothers his buddy Lambert the Lamb, who will be staying for dinner.

Should Wolfgang say:

a. “Lambert, this is Howler, Snarler, and Fang.”

b. “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”

c. “Hubba Bubba!”

“Pleased to meet you,” Lambert bleats, and the very hunger wolves politely growl:

d. “Mother’s red pajamas.”

e. “Where’s the salt and pepper?”

f. “We’re so glad to have you for dinner, Lambert.”

If one fails to find the letter(s) of the right answers (and they are not very easy to find) there is a key with the locations of the letters in the pictures printed upside down on the final page.  Try the tailpiece if the previous picture stumped you.

For pure verbal and visual ingenuity, Table Manners, the edifying Story of two Friends whose Discovery of good Manners Promises them a glorious Future ( 2001) by Chris Raschka and Vladimir Radunsky, takes the cake. The two friends are Chester, the tall, thin, green-complexioned alter ego of Rashka, and Dudunya, the squatty, slow-witted, round-faced orange fellow who channels Radunsky.

The process of civilization begins when Chester gently, affectionately says to his smutty-faced friend,  “Dudunya, if I may say so, you look like a pig.”Chester shows Dudunya that the importance of the place setting–plate, glass, and napkin–lies in its power to prevent human being from eating like a wild animal.  With a knife and fork, it is possible to  divide a big baked potato into sixteen cubes  “small enough to fit into your mouth.”  Chewing is essential to good digestion, but not at the expense of spraying the members of your dear family with bits of candy sprinkles, bread crumbs, shwarma or drops of cream sauce.  “This,” notes Chester sagely, “I learned from my father’s father’s father.  One day you will pass this on to your children’s children’s children’s.”   But when Chester lays out of a schedule of meal times and what is typically served when, Dudunya is rapt: “Oh wow.  What a busy day of eating.”

The most critical question of them all is addressed in this colorful, dynamic double-page spread.   Provisions have been made at the bottom for the eater to select the sweet of her or his choice… 

Chester demonstrates how to eat messy foods like roast duck dripping with sauce without soiling his hands or shirt, but Dudunya needs a few more lessons before passing the test with flying colors (yes, this picture book also features a multiple-choice test to measure mastery).  Alas, he draws the wrong lesson from his education in manners, but luckily Chester sets him straight and prevents him from starvation!

How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea (2017) by Kate Hosford and illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska teaches something just as important as remembering that a spoon is not a shovel. The spoiled queen goes around the world in search of the best of the best, when she can no longer tolerate the slop being offered her at breakfast.  It turns out that it is not the method of making the tea that matters, although she enjoys the cups of tea Noriko in Japan, Sumil in India, and Rana in Turkey brew using completely different equipment and recipes.  The queen takes the secret back home with her and invites her new friends to a royal tea party.

The truly charming and not alarming person knows that extending warm hospitality to the people around the table will make them feel more welcome than the most exquisite tea served in the most beautiful china cup with pinkies up!

 

Where in the World is little Holly Healthy!?

Politicians have joined movie stars and rock icons in the ranks of aspiring children’s book authors.  Years before Karen Pence published  A Day in the Life of the Vice President (the book that inspired Marlon Bundo) Catherine Pugh, the mayor of Baltimore and fitness fanatic, created the “Healthy Holly” series to inspire children to improve the physical and mental well-being of themselves, their friends and families. Persuading couch potatoes of any age that eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly will make them better, more beautiful people is a hard sell.

One indirect approach to changing eating habits is to write a cookbook for kids, full of easy recipes for dishes that taste good and are good for you.  So nutritious and delicious that everyone will compliment the cook by asking for seconds.  Weave a conversion narrative around the recipes and you get…

Jules Bass. Cooking with Herb the Vegetarian Dragon: A Cookbook for Kids. Illustrated by Debbie Harter. (New York: Barefoot Books, 1999). Cotsen in process.

Herb is relentlessly upbeat about changing eating styles, but he gets it  when aspiring vegetarians fall off the wagon once in a while on their journey.   And if a ragon in chef’s whites can push a wheelbarrow brimming with fresh produce around the Kingdom of Nogard, anyone can!  But it’s his recipes that work magic on people who never thought they could give up m–t.

Herb’s no-meat patties with their dynamite secret ingredient puts the King of Nogard off his favorite wild boar burgers forever.  For his service to the arteries of the kingdom, Herb is knighted. 

Herb’s spicy chili full of textured vegetable protein, kidney beans, and grated cheese makes a believer of his buddy Meathook.  When Meathook has his friends over for dinner, no one can get enough of Herb’s veggie pasta.   Maybe Meathook will pass along Herb’s name to Drogon, Rhaego, and Viserion for the wrap party of Game of Thrones, season eight….

Not all anthropomorphized animals pressed into service as role models are perfect like Herb.  There’s Tiffany Dino, who gorges on pizza, chocolate chip cookies, and peanut butter sandwiches and loves every bite, even though the chair is groaning from the strain.  When her shirts ride up over her belly button, she decides it is time to turn over a new leaf.  Maybe Tiffany can get her act together.  Tiffany Dino belongs to the fallible but loveable category of animal stand-ins for children.  She eats healthy and works out for a week, but when she weighs herself, not one ounce less than six hundred pounds.  She decides to accept her big green self just as she is after making a new, very large friend who likes Tiffany  because there is so much to hug.

So how does Holly Healthy compare with Herb and Tiffany as role models? For a review, see the one Carlos Lozada ran in the Washington Post. At the time of writing this post, it was not possible to obtain a copy of any of the four titles: “Healthy Holly: Fruits Come in Colors Like the Rainbow;” “Healthy Holly” Exercising is Fun!;” “Healthy Holly: Not all Vegetables are Green;” and “Healthy Holly: Walking with My Family.”  There is some confusion as to their whereabouts–if indeed they were ever written, published, and distributed.   Perhaps putting out this call to the readers of the Cotsen Curatorial Blog may produce the results which will solve the mystery of the picture-book writing major of Baltimore.  Any or all of the titles would be welcome additions to  Cotsen’s collection of children’s books by politicians or their wives…