A couple years ago, we renovated our kitchen and installed a big bookcase between the new kitchen and family room. I’ve got dozens of cookbooks, and although I don’t necessarily refer to them everyday, it’s nice to cook knowing that Deborah, Marcella, Irma, Marion, Nigella, Mark, Alice, Mollie and the rest are up there supervising our work.
But even I don’t have enough cookbooks to fill an eight foot bookcase, so the bottom shelves are full of picture books; when we’re waiting out something in the oven, or a dozen other times a day, it’s handy to choose a book and cuddle up on the couch together to read. At first it was a random collection of picture books, but a year or two ago, it occurred to me to gather all our food related stories — from Bread and Jam for Frances to Eating the Alphabet.
Now, no matter what changes we make as the boys grow older — childproof latches have come off cupboards, the play kitchen has given way to a bigger art area — I don’t see all these picture books getting packed away anytime soon.
So it made me deeply sad last week when I read this piece in the Times about the end of picture books. Apparently publishers are scaling back the number of picture books they release every year because parents are buying fewer of them. Anxious to push their kids ahead, parents are urging chapter books on pre-K kids and, in some cases, even forbidding their children from reading picture books.
Now, I have no problem with kids reading beyond their age or grade level — I have one kid who’s been doing that since he was three — but we’ve kept the picture books in constant circulation even as he moves to chapter books and (more recently) software programming guides. Meanwhile, my other kid, at nearly five and a half, is still just occasionally interested in sounding out words. And he, too, gets read to daily: picture books, chapters from longer books, whatever he wants (no software books). I can’t imagine ever shutting the door on the rich imaginative world that picture books offer. They are gorgeous and funny and serious and clever and moving and tell multiple stories — just like chapter books, just like all books — but they do so in thirty-two pages. They invite you into their world and then, five or ten minutes later, send you on your way. Usually only a poem (which, of course, many of these are) can do that so concisely, and they’re rarely so beautifully illustrated.
So of course when Chronicle Books offered me a review copy of Just One Bite, I was delighted, because we love picture books and, of course, we love food.
Just One Bite is a treat. Eleven boldly illustrated spreads show what different animals — from worm to sperm whale — eat in just one bite. It couldn’t be more straightforward, and it couldn’t be more fascinating. The bulk of the book presents the eleven animals and life-sized illustrations of their increasingly-large bites. A graphic two-page chart at the back offers facts for older readers. Did you know that the common octopus has a toothed tongue with which to drill holes into the shells of its prey? Did you know a komodo dragon can eat five pounds of food per minute? Or that a cottontail rabbit has open-rooted teeth that are constantly growing, to make up for the wear and tear on its constantly grass-chewing choppers? I did not. But I will certainly not forget, because these little tidbits, and more, are presented so winningly in this new book. It’s making me think a little differently (gratefully!) about my children and their eating habits.