Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bread and Jam for Frances

Sometimes, I think my kids are going to develop vitamin deficiencies. I worry constantly about how much brown food they eat. And about how little colorful food they eat (I'm told rainbow sprinkles is not what they mean when they tell you to "eat a rainbow of food."). My pediatrician assures me that "toddlers seem to grow on air," and that my job is to just keep offering a variety of foods at every meal, and not fight about it. And that I shouldn't worry. But, telling me not to worry is like telling me not to breathe. It's just what I do.

On yet another night when my children ate little other than noodles for dinner, they chose Bread and Jam for Frances for their bedtime story. The book was new to our house, and it was our first time reading it--my first, as well as theirs. I'm not sure who enjoyed the story more. I suspect it might have been me, but just by a narrow margin.

Frances is a little girl (well, a badger, actually, but a thoroughly anthroprmorphized badger). She is a very, very picky eater. It seems whatever her family eats, she sings a hilarious little song about it, and then just eats bread and jam instead. Until her mother gets fed up with it. At which point she decides that Frances will only be offered bread and jam each meal. At first, this pleases Frances immensely. Until it doesn't. And then she finally relents and starts trying new things.

I seriously love this book. A lot. It might actually be my favorite children's book at the moment. Why? Let me count the ways.

1. Frances. Though this book is older (originally published in 1964), Frances is a very modern little girl. She is smart, outspoken, and very funny. I love her little songs. She sings to her soft-boiled egg, "I do not like the way you slide. I do not like your soft inside. I do not like you lots of ways. And I could go for many days, Without eggs." I feel the same way, though I never put the reasons quite so elegantly. Another song has become a family refrain for us (often when we make a meal that produces way too many servings of leftovers). "Jam for snacks and jam for meals. I know how a jam jar feels--FULL...OF...JAM!" I love it. I just cannot get enough of Frances and her sassy songs.

2. Frances's mother. She is quite a character. A character I identify with and appreciate. It is also obvious where Frances got her sense of humor. After a few meals and snacks of bread and jam, Frances asks her mother, "Aren't you worried that maybe I will get sick and all my teeth will fall out from eating so much bread and jam?" Her mother answers, "I don't think that will happen for quite a while. So eat it all up and enjoy it." I actually laughed out loud at that scene the first time I read it. Mother has the best semi-sarcastic, understated, funny lines. She is so much fun to read.

3. Food. I am a sucker for books about food. (As evidenced by my 350+ cookbooks. But that is a whole different blog, and probably a problem.) This book shows such respect for good food. And the foods are delightfully dated. How early 1960s Frances and Albert's lunches are! So fun! At the end of the book, Frances has a thermos with cream of tomato soup, a lobster-salad sandwich on thin white bread, celery, carrot sticks, black olives, two plums, a tiny basket of cherries, and vanilla pudding with chocolate sprinkles. Albert has a cream cheese-cucumber-and-tomato sandwich on rye bread, a pickle, a hard-boiled egg (with a cardboard shaker of salt to go with it), a bunch of grapes, a tangerine, a cup of custard, and a thermos of milk. So elaborate. So unlike Lunchables. You could almost see a Betty Draper-type housewife lovingly packing such a lunch. My foodie self is completely enamoured with the retro foods, so carefully described, in this book.

4. The lesson. Even with Frances being a little sassy, the point comes across loud and clear. Food is fun. Bread and jam gets boring. Try something new. You might even like it. Oh, and don't underestimate Mother. She will win. Every time.

If you have a fussy eater, you need to go read this book. Even if it doesn't change your child's mind, you will empathize, and get a good laugh in the process. Perhaps we should all start singing little songs to our meals.

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