CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 24. . . .February 26, 2016
No More Beige Food, a follow-up to The Change Your Name Store, sees the return of Wilma Lee Wu, her brother Hector and their parents. The sequel opens with Wilma and Hector begging their parents to provide something other than bland beige food at mealtimes. The ever disengaged parents tell the pair to go out and learn to cook, thus beginning Wilma and Hector’s quest through the neighbourhood in search of recipes for flavourful food. The siblings encounter neighbours with various ethnic backgrounds who are eager to share food from their culture, including pad Thai, French mousse, and spiced kibbe. All of the dishes are eagerly gobbled up by the young pair with the exception of frog’s legs from Monsieur Poutine, their French neighbour. Hector and Wilma eventually return home to their distracted parents, still reading books and playing on cell phones, to declare that they now know how to cook and beige food will no longer be on the menu.
As with The Change Your Name Store, No More Beige Food is a multicultural picture book exposing young readers to characters from other cultures. Told in rhyme, the story is a joy to read aloud. The verse flows freely, and Leanne Shirtliffe’s writing has a distinct Seussian influence (Wilma Lee Wu/Cindy Lou Who?). Readers are also introduced visually to the traditional garments, decorations and diet of various cultures, including Khun Joe’s Thai hat, Señora Cruz’s Mexican piñatas and Ms. Azar’s hijab. While the international theme is an important one for children, Wilma Lee Wu, as an independent, adventurous role model, is just as important.
Tina Kügler’s illustrations are vivid and colourful, most spanning two pages, and were created using digital paint and ink. Kügler’s previous experience as a storyboarder for Disney and Nickelodeon is evident. While the characters of Wilma and Hector could easily make the transition to a small screen, the neighbourhood scenes sometimes feel a bit overstylized. Although charming and simple, the illustrations could have been adapted from an animated television show or computer game. Illustrations of the completed dishes and the inclusion of a simple recipe or two for readers to try would both have been welcome additions.
Shirtliffe is a teacher, and her book lends itself easily to classroom use. Extensions could include a discussion of international cultures as well as thematic units on food, clothing, geography and language. An online activity guide with lesson plans, worksheets and teacher’s notes is available for Shirtliffe’s The Change Your Name Store and would be a valuable tool for use with this title as well. Until such a guide is created, this book is still a wonderful read-aloud and talking point for young children eager to experience what lies beyond their own beige world.
Cate Carlyle is a librarian at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax NS. Her children are all grown up, but she can still recite Goodnight Moon in her sleep.
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