Noodlephant by Jacob Kramer and K-Fai Steele
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
There is a lot that can be unpacked in Noodlephant. This deliciously engaging picture book tells the story of a noodle-loving elephant who, despite her generosity in sharing her passion and her pasta making skills with friends and neighbors, is halted by overzealous kangaroos who control all the lawmaking power in the town of Rooville. Told that semolina and eggs are now off limits to her and that she should, "Buy some acacia branches, and don't even think about noodles," Noodlephant, as her friends lovingly nicknamed her, engineers a creative workaround, the Phantastic Noodler. This machine turns pens into penne, cans into cannelloni, and radiators into radiatori. But, the Phantastic Noodler is soon discovered by the kangaroos and Noodlephant is put on trial (in kangaroo court...) and is eventually imprisoned in the zoo, where she goes on a hunger strike.
Her friends find a way to slip her the Phantastic Noodler and she turns the bars of her prison into slurpy udon noodles, escaping to throw a pasta party in the park, with everyone welcome, "so long as they brought something to share." When the kangaroos try to shut it down, Noodlephant turns their law book into lasagna, topped off with her grandma's secret wild mushroom sauce. The food is so delicious that all the kangaroos toss their law books into the Phantastic Noodler and join the feast. The book ends with the celebration going long into the night, the revelers singing,
When the laws are so unjust
Misbehavior is a must!
Together we will make new rules
To share along with fresh noodles.
'Cause noodles are for me's and you's!
We won't be locked up in the zoos
We'll slurp them down on avenues
At the beach and in canoes!
Yes, noodles are for me's and you's -
We'll even share with kangaroos.
Noodlephant, at its heart, is about injustice and how individuals and communities respond to it. In an interview at 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast, Kramer shared that, during rewrites, his editor asked him, "What is it Noodlephant is committing to make happen through noodles?" Jacob responded,
It made me wonder about myself, too. What am I committing to make happen? This was the spring and early summer of 2016, and I was thinking about state violence and how our unjust criminal punishment, caste systems, austerity, and oligarchy keep ordinary people from thriving. But I was also thinking about all the good stuff that we marshal in opposition to those things - community, creativity, resourcefulness, and rebelliousness. So, the challenge became trying to show these forces at play in the context of a picture book and in a way that was true to Noodlephant's character.
Kramer's story definitely conveys the oppression of an oligarchical government in a way that all kids can understand - through love of noodles and loss of noodles. In fact, 10% of all proceeds from the sale of Noodlephant will be donated to Black and Pink an organization in support of LGBTQ prisoners that advocates for the abolition of all prisons. Somehow, Kramer and Steele, whose illustrations are filled with energy and action, a range of emotions, and playfulness and pasta - lots of pasta that will make you hungry - balance the seriousness of the central theme with a triumphant story that ends joyfully, with a shared meal and a song. That, to me, seems even trickier than engineering a Phantastic Noodler...