Jean Schroeder, The IDEA School, Tucson, AZ and Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH
HOLLY: We end our discussion this month on a lighter note with the picturebook, I Just Ate My Friend (2017) by Heidi McKinnon. Turning our theme, “connections across differences creates community,” on its head, this charming picturebook is about looking for a sense of belonging but such connection involves a huge risk. Noting that not only has the character eaten his friend, he admits that his friend was a good friend, but now is gone. The play on words just made me laugh! In search of another friend, he is dissuaded from becoming friendly with others who offer a variety of reasons for why they cannot be friends. Finally, he meets someone who says they will be his friend, ultimately in a way similar to how he was a friend. I mean, really, one can expect no less! I found myself thinking, “Yep, cannot eat your cake and have it, too!” What did you think of this, Jean?
JEAN: I laughed out loud! I made an immediate connection to a book called Tadpole’s Promise by Jeanne Willis (2005) with a parallel theme. The story is an interesting conundrum considering our theme: best friends maturing into a disastrous relationship and repeating itself. It makes me think of what is often referred to as love/hate relationships. I wonder about all the rejections the main character meets along the way. Were those invited to be a friend giving us truthful responses? They made sense as we take in the illustrations — too big from a miniature winged bug, too slow from the creepy crawly with a gazillion legs. But were those just excuses for not being friends with the one who eats his/her friends? One reason I think I laughed was because when I was teaching I watched friendships among my young students build and then explode. What do you think are the main monster character’s endearing features that would attract new friends? I notice he/she has some idea of what might make others a good friend with the decision to NOT ask the roaring beast!
HOLLY: What endearing features, you ask? Well, I am going to answer this outside the context of the story. I mean, every invitee already knew what kind of friend this character would make, but then think about it. How often does someone admit they do not have a friend, but would like one? I mean, that is somewhat humbling and thus, rather endearing. Unfortunately, there is that risky aspect of being friendly with someone or something that has the ability to devour you! Aside from its humorous element, this book is pretty insightful. If we treat one of our friends badly, we may have difficulty getting another, and when we do, they may treat us just like we treated someone else. Hmmm, not such a simple little book after all, and just another example of why picturebooks are important to older readers as well as younger ones. This is a lovely book to read on multiple levels. What do you think of our choices overall this month, Jean?
JEAN: First, I need to add that every friendship we choose to engage in requires an investment of ourselves — our time, our social–emotional energy, our own enduring qualities as well as some that may not be so endearing! But the idea of being friendless is very troubling. I also recall watching very young children thinking about devouring a classmate because they really and truly did not know how to go about making a new friend. As for the four books we targeted this month I have to say that through the process I kept being reminded of symbiosis and how two seemingly oppositional beings depend on each other for existence. Relationships are always a challenge and they are what we make of them.
Title: I Just Ate My Friend
Author: Heidi McKinnon
Publisher: Simon and Schuster
Date Published: June 26, 2018
Throughout November 2019, Jean and Holly give their take on books focused on youth taking action. Check back each Wednesday to follow the conversation!