We Don't Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins
Hopefully you already know Ryan T. Higgins from his quartet of books about Bruce, the curmudgeonly bear who heads out looking for a meal and ends up with four goslings imprinting on him. Higgins's illustration style is cinematic and dramatic and his characters are completely engaging. His storytelling is wryly charming. That said, I wasn't sure I could open my heart to a non-Bruce character from Higgins when I first read We Don't Eat Our Classmates. While she may be a little T. rex wearing pink overalls and an expression of worry on her face, Penelope has a fierce appetite. Whether it's ponies or the 300 tuna sandwiches her dad packs for her lunch, Penelope cannot resist a delicious morsel, especially when it comes to children.
On her first day of school, Mrs. Noodleman firmly lets Penelope know that we, "DON'T EAT OUR CLASSMATES," instructing her to spit them out immediately. The following two-page spread of a room full disgruntled of children covered in saliva is hilarious. At this point, I was bit unsure of where Higgins was going with his story, but Penelope was such a winning character, I was willing to follow.
Penelope tries her hardest to make friends, but her classmates are understandably wary of her. Offering her advice after a difficult first day of school, Penelope's father says, "Sometimes it's hard to make friends with children, especially when you eat them. You see, Penelope, children are the same as us on the inside. Just tastier." Penelope takes these words to heart, but still loses it and eats William Omoto the next day. Walter the goldfish (a Beta fish, actually) becomes Penelope's last potential friend, but a hilarious twist gives Penelope a lesson she desperately needs to learn. This experience with empathy causes Penelope to lose her taste for children - even when, "Cece Woodman spilled BBQ sauce all over herself," - and allows her to finally make friends.
We Don't Eat Our Classmates is a brilliant twist on the classic bully-getting-a-taste-of-her-own-medicine story - both in plot and character. Penelope the T. rex is utterly adorable, even as she keeps losing control and eating her classmates. Ultimately, Higgins's new book is perfect to read to a class of students where repeated behavior issues are a challenge. With gentle humor, Higgins's story makes it clear to kids that in order to connect with others, you have to control certain behaviors...
Source: Review Copy