Saturday, January 09, 2010

Fluffer-Nutter: The Marshmallow Incident by Judi Barrett

2009 was a big year for children's books-to-movies events, what with Fantastic Mr. Fox, Where the Wild Things Are, Coraline: The Graphic Novel, and, of course, Judi and Ron Barrett's evergreen pantry staple, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs.

The Barretts, having left the kids of Chewandswallow sledding down that mashed potato mountain, apparently couldn't resist more fun food fantasies, coming out with a companion book, Pickles To Pittsburgh (Atheneum, 2000), in which the townspeople of Chewandswallow, their municipality filled with fantastic falling foods, organize to share their bounty worldwide, with eggplants to Ecuador, pickles to Pittsburgh, and, natch, chili to Chile.

Now comes another food fest, their latest, The Marshmallow Incident (Scholastic, 2009). It seems that the good people of two neighboring towns once had the same problem as the residents in Dr. Seuss' classic account of historic animosities, The Butter Battle Book: (New York Times Notable Book of the Year) (Classic Seuss), recounted in an old diary found in a box of stale marshmallows in a ruined castle.

The diary tells the story of two towns--the town of Left and the town of Right: everyone in the town of Left was left-handed, and everyone who lived in the town of Right was right-handed, and they had been that way for generations. The difference seemed so extreme to the people of Left and Right that they refused to have anything to do with one another. It didn't help that that someone had painted a bright yellow dotted line between the two towns.

The landscape of the side-by-side towns was also dotted by signage which constantly reminded the citizens of their forgotten dispute: RIGHT IS WRONG! proclaims one side. GO RIGHT HOME! the other side shouts back. THE RIGHT ANGLE INN proclaims one business; LEFTIES' RESTAURANT: WE PROUDLY SERVE LEFT-OVERS! retorts one from the other side. And presiding over this division proudly was the Order of the Ambidextrous Knights of the Dotted Yellow Line, dedicated to keeping those of Left and Right apart forever.

What can possibly restore unity to these disgruntled regions? Well, it involves a copious supply of marshmallows and a humongous food fight, in which the absurdity of it all finally hits the Lefties and the Righties, as buried under a blizzard of the fluffy blobs, the folks finally come to their senses and ditch their differences in a joint marshmallow roast and s'mores feast.

With this little parable about letting small differences overcome common sense, Judi and Ron Barrett's The Marshmallow Incident is a fabulously funny food fantasy with pictures over which kids will pore as they chuckle and chomp through the latest from this talented pair.

Pair this one with its gustatory predecessors or with multiple Caldecott winner, David Wiesner and his free-falling food fantasy, June 29, 1999.

And please pass the parsnips!

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