CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 26. . . .March 11, 2016
Head to Toe Spaghetti and Other Tasty Poems.
David Booth. Illustrated by Les Drew.
Oakville, ON: Rubicon, 2015.
81 pp., trade pbk. with flaps, $14.95.
Grades 2-5 / Ages 7-10.
Review by Harriet Zaidman.
Hamburg to Go
Hamburg to go!
Carton of fries,
HONK that horn,
We’re in the mood –
No time to waste!
Snappy, rhythmic poetry delights young children. It makes them dance, inspires them to sing and to create their own rhyming couplets.
Some poems are timeless –Dennis Lee’s “Alligator Pie,” for example, still charms children despite having been written in 1974. Its cultural references to furry hats and hockey sticks still resonate, even though the demographics of Canadian society have changed.
Some cultural norms, though, do go out of fashion. One notion we’ve discarded is that fast food gluttony is something to celebrate. Stuffing ourselves with greasy, salty, low-quality, carbohydrate-heavy ingredients, as well as sugary drinks, was a habit that developed when every family got a car and began heading to drive-in hamburger joints. It mushroomed further when McDonalds, Burger King and Wendy’s took over the market, turning out millions and billions of relatively inexpensive meals that satisfied children’s fussy palates and relieved parents’ food budgets.
Children today get far less incidental exercise than in past generations. Most families have two parents who work and have great demands on their time, which means more families eat processed and fast food as regular meals rather than occasional treats. Food companies tinker with food chemistry so we can’t resist overeating all those salty, fatty and sweet desserts that line the grocery store shelves.
The result of this overabundance and sloth has been disastrous for public health. According to Statistics Canada, nearly 60% of adults are overweight or obese, and at least 26% of young people between 2 and 17 years of age are overweight. Most adolescents who are heavy do not lose their extra pounds as they become adults, compounding health issues as they age. There’s a real possibility that today’s young people may die at younger ages than their parents because of poor eating habits learned as children.
Bad habits die hard; public education about eating better quality foods is taking a long time to take hold. Teachers still see children zip open lunch boxes filled with ready-made artificial cheez-‘n-crackers, pudding packs and other store-bought chemical brews, with nary a piece of fruit in sight. And the obesity epidemic continues.
Schools now ban sweet drinks and candy, instead heavily promoting the consumption of fruits, vegetables and other healthy food choices along with increased physical activity.
So poetry exulting gourmand-ish habits feels like it came from a time gone by. That’s the type of poetry found in Head to Toe Spaghetti, David Booth’s collection of food-related poems written over 40 years. Although they likely elicited laughter at one time (and certainly children in previous generations would have seen themselves in these poems), most school-age children today don’t identify with the characters Booth portrays – licking their fingers dripping with grease from deep-fried chips or attacking a bucket of dubious chicken parts.
Booth is well-known and respected in the field of education as a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), for his writings on teaching methods in language arts (It’s Critical, This Book is Not About Drama: It’s About New Ways to Inspire Students, and many, many more) and a prolific editor and author of books for children (The Dust Bowl, Til All the Stars Have Fallen: Canadian Poems for Children and more...)
The poems are written in commonly used meters (Pile on the pancakes, etc.), but some have uneven rhythms that disrupt the reading:
There’s an ant in the middle of my sandwich,
There’s an ant in the middle of my sandwich.
Oh teacher would you like
To share my sandwich?
Oh teacher would you like
To share my sandwich?
I’m so glad the teacher
liked my little sandwich.
The Philippines then followed
Until all the food was swallowed.
But we found we had omitted
Les Drew ably decorates the bright white pages of the 80-page book, showing personified hot dogs, kids in the throes of pain after ingesting hot sauce and other humorous line drawings. His chopsticks seem to be energetically knitting strands of spaghetti and his pile of pancakes is truly impressive. Rich black letters announce the title of the book on a bright yellow cover and the same font is used in the titles of each poem. A lively collage of forks are aptly found on the endpapers and the nutritional label on the back cover is a nice touch, prescribing the number of calories per serving (0!) and the serving size: Large.
Children would be surprised to find such a collection of poems in their school library. A sample reading to young students did not produce the reaction to these verses Booth would likely hope to have. It might be time, in this era of the ugly produce movement, to poke fun at misshapen fruits and vegetables staring out from our lunch boxes. If parents and teachers don’t turn around our children’s eating habits, society as a whole is in trouble.
Recommended with Reservations.
Harriet Zaidman is a teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.
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