Format: Picture book
Author: Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrator: Marla Frazee
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Reprint edition (reprinted August 2000)
[Update: Little E’s magical fairyland daycare turned out not to be a magical fairyland after all. We have parted ways, and not amicably. They sure did make nice bowls there, though.]
Little E goes to a magical fairyland daycare. Seriously. I sometimes can’t even believe it’s a real place. They do yoga. They paint watercolours by the lake. They make dancing ribbons to twirl with during their daily music session. They play with wooden toys from Denmark. No macaroni noodles glued to construction paper here — E and her friends rolled out clay with lace and over weeks of glazing, created these artful bowls. F’reals — this was made by my three-year-old.
Some days, when Little E is kicking up a fuss about leaving the house, I want to say, “Fine, kiddo. You stay here and care for the grumpy baby” — it’s molar time for Tiny J — “and I will go to daycare for you.” Spend a day playing dress-up, romping outside with the bunnies and the chickens (I’m not even kidding), and napping? Sign me up.
At Magical Fairyland Daycare, they also eat beautiful, homemade meals made with local, organic ingredients, and the kids eat everything that is put in front of them. So when the lovely caregiver who runs Little E’s daycare recommends a kids’ book about picky eaters, I’m all ears. She’s been working with kids for a long times, and she knows what she’s talking about, and I could use some of her magic.
Mrs. Peters, the beleaguered mother in The Seven Silly Eaters, has a new baby boy named Peter (yes, Peter Peters). Peter “did not like his milk served cold. / He did not like his milk served hot. He liked it warm… / And he would not / Drink it if he was not sure / It was the proper temperature.” Mrs. Peter is one patient lady, and she’s okay with this. Then along comes baby Lucy, who will only drink pink lemonade. Little Jack is next, who will eat nothing but applesauce. You see where this is going: seven children has Mrs. Peters, and not a one will eat the same thing as the others. Between all the demands, the poor mother can hardly cope: “Creamy oatmeal, pots of it! / Homemade bread and lots of it! / Peeling apples by the peck, / Mrs. Peters was a wreck.”
The day before Mrs. Peters’ birthday, she goes wearily up to bed, to gird her loins for another day of drudgery, but the children concoct a plan to make her breakfast in bed. Unfortunately, not a one of the kids can cook, and all their favourite foods get mixed up together and thrown in the oven. When Mrs. Peters awakens, the whole family is floored to find that they have made “a pink and plump and perfect cake!” Everyone is overjoyed and the Peters Cake becomes their everyday meal — ” A single simple meal — just one — / A meal that’s good for everyone.” And best of all, “they all take turns in mixing it. / They all take turns in fixing it. It’s thick to beat and quick to bake — ” / It’s fine to eat and fun to make / It’s Mrs. Peters’ birthday cake!”
The sprightly rhymes of Mary Ann Hoberman bounce right along and Marla Frizee’s rich illustrations are worth looking at carefully: watch the seasons change, notice Mrs. Peters’ descent into frazzle-dom as more and more children are added to her life, and enjoy the realistic depiction of family life: a runaway baby during a diaper change, the constant need for more groceries, a little boy sitting on the toilet in his winter coat with the bathroom door open as his brother merrily brings an armload of snowballs into the house. Little E enjoys pointing out what all the characters are up to in the different scenes (her favourite is when baby Mac dumps a spoonful of oatmeal on the cat while the dog is eating out of his bowl) and the mess in the Peters household somehow made me feel a tiny bit better about the current state of my own home.
The best part of the book? The take-home message is that everyone needs to be involved in making food for the family, and that being a pickypants is not helpful. It’s also been a reminder to me to involve Little E more in meal planning — though my attempts to do so have met with limited success: we leafed through the wonderful Weelicious cookbook together and she conceded that she might be willing to try one new recipe as long as it is in nugget form. At Magical Fairyland Daycare, though, I am told that she eats everything that is put in front of her. Maybe if we read this book a few more times, that attitude will (magically) take hold here too. Although I suspect we would meet with more success if we ate cake at every meal too.