I finally have to admit it. I think I am a little bit obssesed with picture books that have food as a central plot point. (Ok, let's be totally honest, all books that have food themes...) Frequently, by the time I reach the third book in the pile of titles I have chosen to read at story time, I will notice that it is yet another book featuring food. Maybe I'm not obsessed - maybe food really IS a central theme of the bulk of (good) children's books? I mean, little kids don't have much going on in their lives besides sleeping and eating, right??? I am sure that this is why I love both Spoon, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Scott Magoon and Spork, by Kyo Maclear and Isabelle Arsenault. But, I think I can also honestly, objectively say that these are just plain fabulous stories with wonderful illustrations. The stories are simple, but told elegantly. In Spoon, the main character learns to feel good about himself. In Spork, the main character finds his place in the world.
Spoon comes from a large, diverse family. But, he begins to notice that other utensils get to go places and do things that he doesn't.
For is so useful, for poking and twirling. The chopsticks are so exotic and always together. The knives, well. They are knives, after all.
Spoon's mother patiently listens to his observations. He is not a whiny spoon and it never really sounds like he is complaining, just noticing, which I think is one of the reasons that this book is so winning. Mom lets him know that a fork will never know the pleasure of having a soak in a warm mug.
Or know the sound of a "clink" on the side of a cereal bowl. We also get a peek at the other utensils and find that they think Spoon has it pretty good. Knife complains that everyone is always so serious with him. And, best of all, the other utensils will never know the joy of diving head first into a bowl of ice cream.
However, the ending of Spoon has to be one of the best ever. Given much to think about, Spoon can't fall asleep in his silverware tray bed. He calls over to mom and dad, in their own section, and mom says, "Come, Spoon." Spoon hops over the side and that is exactly what this sweet, happy family does!
The message in Spork, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault is a little bit less universal than that of Spoon. I know, I am frequently complaining about picture books with messages, but I am equally ready to champion a book with a message that delivers it with subtlety, charm and wit and not the usual didacticism and heavy handedness, and Spoon and Spork both embody these good qualities.
As author Kyo Maclear says on the jacket flap, she is the daughter of a Japanese mother and a British father. And she grew up in Canada. As she says about herself on her website, quoting directly from her book, "I was born a spork at a time 'when forks were forks and spoons were spoons. Cutlery customs were followed closely. Mixing was uncommon.'" She goes on to say,
No matter how diverse our backgrounds, what I quickly discovered was that sporks tend to share remarkably similar experiences – foremost being the experience of not fully belonging in the culture of either parent. With minor variations, the stories we exchange have consistent themes. There are recurring stories about the pressure to “pass,” that is, to identify as one thing to the exclusion of another; funny stories about category confusion (generated, in some cases, by something as simple as a change of hairstyle or apparel); and inspiring stories about the pleasures that arise when household cultural traditions mingle and merge (in my own case, fond memories of sushi served alongside shepherd’s pie).
"Spork was neither a spoon nor fork... but a bit of both." Mom and Dad thought Spork was perfect and loved him just as he was, but, elsewhere in the kitchen things were different. “Cutlery customs were followed closely. Mixing was uncommon.” Of course, "there were rule breakers: knives who loved chopsticks, tongs who married forks. But such families were unusual.” Spork was tired of being asked, "What are you, anyway?" He decides it might be easier if he tries to "pick just one thing to be."
In an effort to be more "spoony" Spork dons a bowler hat. But the fork find him too rounded...
In an effort to be more "forky" he Spork makes himself a crown, but the spoons find him too pointy...
Then, one day, "the messy thing" arrives, wreaking havoc in the kitchen. The messy thing can't scoop the liquids and can't poke the solids but really wants to eat! Spork jumps down from the spot on the counter where he often watches the other cutlery being put to use (not only does he not fit into to a peer group, but poor Spork never gets chosen for use as a utensil. The messy thing turns out to be a BABY!
Brilliant! Maclear and her husband cooked up this story on the eve of the birth of their first child. It works wonderfully for a child born to parents of different cultures, religions, countries and more. But, the beauty of the book is it works perfectly just as a story! There is enough detail and drama in the tale to keep readers hooked from start to finish. And, I didn't even mention how fabulous Isabelle Arsenault's illustrations are! A mixture of painting, drawing and collage, they capture the emotions and drama of the story perfectly.
If you need to give books to any little listeners in the future, I think that Spoon and Spork make the perfect pair!