Pie," by Jennifer Donnelly, pictures by Stephen Gammell, Atheneum
Books for Young Readers, 2002, 28 pages, ages 5 to 8
Review by Louella Moreland
I have missed seeing books that remind
me of the old folk tales that taught life lessons to children!
Sometimes they were not pleasant stories, but they were stories
remembered by many generations of children. Jennifer Donnelly has
given us such a story with "Humble Pie." Stephen Gammell's
interesting illustrations reflect a time period of country serfdom.
"Humble Pie" is a story about a very
bad boy! Theo has about every bad character trait a child could ever
have. He behaves badly, is unappreciative and simply rude. In fact,
Theo is downright awful.
Although many of his
family members have theories about why he is so bad, it is his
grandmother who knows "the truth." She states Theo is just plain
spoiled rotten. Since Grandmother has figured out the problem, she
sets out to remedy the problem as well.
Grandmother gets her chance on baby
brother Tom's birthday, when Theo creates a mess at home and spoils
the strawberries for the birthday cake.
Since Theo knows he is in trouble, he
runs down to his grandmother's house to escape. There he finds the
most unusual sight! Grandmother has rolled out the largest, most
gigantic piecrust he has ever seen. I love the little song she sings
as she works: "Flour, butter, salt say I, plums and peaches, pile
them high, the child will shout, the child will cry, until he's
tasted humble pie."
When Theo asks her what kind of pie she
is making, Grandmother replies, "Humble pie." Of course, being the
spoiled child he is, Theo demands he wants some. Grandmother
responds that he "will have plenty." Being the greedy child he is,
Theo leans over the giant pie to grab a plum and Grandmother
promptly adds the top crust over him, crimping down the edges. Theo
wants out of course, but Grandmother tells him that "only he can do
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From there the story proceeds to
explain all the "lessons about himself" that Theo (stuck inside the
giant pie) learns as he rolls all over the countryside. Children
will identify with Theo's schoolmates who have been target of his
abuse and taunts. They will even be able to recall children who
throw horrible temper tantrums.
Before our readers begin to think that
Grandmother is a poster child for child abuse, we need to remember
that this is a story with a moral for children. We must always keep
in mind that Theo is a very bad boy; otherwise his change of
character after his ordeal would not be so unusual.
Folk tales have always used the
exaggerated to help convey the traits of characters. Exaggeration is
necessary so children understand the story is not real. Even the
very young understand it is impossible to make a pie so big that a
child can be rolled inside!
Oh, yes, Grandmother does amend her
song at the end of the story to reflect Theo's change of heart.
To read more
about Theo's adventures or other stories, come to the Lincoln Public
Library, 725 Pekin St.
[Louella Moreland, youth
Public Library District]