We children’s librarians spend a lot of time discussing the book jackets of children’s novels or non-fiction selections. Now consider how often you critique a picture book’s cover. Once a week? Twice? Or are you like me and you hardly ever think to critique them at all? I confess that I take a lot of picture book jackets for granted. Every consumer, whether they mean to or not, judges books by their covers. It’s the natural course of things. It’s how the world works. So when I see a really good cover, I mean a really really good picture book cover, I should give fair credit where credit is due. And I consider Food Hates You, Too and Other Poems to be a wonderful example of a successful picture book jacket. There’s something about the title combined with that big old tomato blowing you a raspberry (so to speak) that appeals to kids and adults alike. As collections of poetry go, Robert Weinstock has a fine and twisted sense of humor that may not be entirely consistent, but at least stands out in the field.
Nineteen poems. Nineteen straaaaaaange poems. In them, food gets its due. Whether it’s the contemplation of the taste of space, the recommendation of one cat-related ice cream flavor over another, or an ode to toast long departed, Robert Weinstock has a strange but consistent feel for what works as a poem. Kids reading this book will find themselves locating limericks, sonnets, and other forms. You ain’t never seen anything quite like it before.
Now in terms of the poems themselves, they’re a bit touch and go. Some work better than others. I was quite fond of “Eleanor Isabel Abigail Rhoda” (any poem that rhymes "South Dakota" with "small iota" has my respect) and “Mom” (more about that one later). Sadly the titular poem “Food Hates You, Too” didn’t quite gel for me. The lines scan, sure but the concept is tough. Each line argues that maybe different kinds of kids gross out different kinds of foods (rather than the other way around). So you have sentences like, “That Trudys gross out rainbow trout, / And Rachels skeeve out schmaltz? / That Tommys make pastramis pout, / And sardines cringe at Walts?” You can see what Weinstock’s going for here, but it’s almost too ambitious. Taken as a whole the poem is too long for its concept, and so it drags a bit in the telling. There were others that also didn’t work, but the poem “Cheese Sonnet” grew on me. At first I discounted it… then I noticed how nice a little sonnet it was. Strange? Oh heavens my yes. But in a good way.
I’m one of those swelled head librarian types. I like to think that I’m familiar with all the children’s books out there. That a name like “Robert Weinstock” would stick in my little cranium. But as I read through this book I was under the distinct impression that this was the first Weinstockian fare I’d tasted before. Then I got to the what would become by favorite poem “Mom”. It’s basically Goodnight Moon, only with husband-eating praying mantises (Mantids? Manti?) talking about devouring their mates. Trust me, it works. I admired the little details around the room. The fact that the little mantis in bed has four little slippers sitting on the floor. The spiders that are providing mommy mantis’s knitting material. And then I glanced over at the bedside table and what did I see? Why, none other than a copy of one of the strangest and most enjoyably weird picture books I’ve read in years, Giant Meatball. Giant Meatball? Giant Meatball! I’ve read Robert Weinstock before because he wrote Giant Meatball! That makes an infinite amount of sense now that I’ve put two-and-two together. After all, only a guy who tells a story about an inconsiderate house-sized meatball is going to come up with poems about sweet-flavored meats and meat-flavored sweets. I’m just sorry I didn’t realize it sooner.
Though it’s drawn in a rough colored pencil kind of way, Food Hates You, Too is chock full of amusing details right from the start. For example, there’s the table of contents, a section that most poetry books throw together without a second thought. Here, however, you see that the contents are (appropriately enough) within a person’s body. The person is all bones (the funny bones are giving off tiny “ha ha”s) and if you look closely you’ll see that the person is covering up their private portions with their hands. It’s not immediately apparent, but great when you catch it. Throughout the book you’ll also see small creatures make snarky comments to varying degrees of amusement. My favorite? Undoubtedly the shellfish that accompany the poem “Pernicious”. Says one “That’s not kosher!” Says the other one, “Neither are we”. I’m a big proponent of children’s books that contain in-jokes for the adults that have to read them over and over and over again. So in this way, Mr. Weinstock wins.
And just to go back to Giant Meatball for a moment, how weird is it that Mr. Weinstock likes to give pink normally inanimate objects socks and loafers? The Giant Meatball was a shoe wearing bloke. And looking at this book so too is the brain on the last (very last) page. Pink wobbly thing with socks and loafers it is. Psychologically mesmerizing.
To be perfectly frank, the books that would pair most perfectly with this title would be Adam Rex’s Frankenstein fare (Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake respectively). Rex and Weinstock share a fine appreciation for the gross coupled with the snort-worthy. In a way, this book felt to me like the lovechild of Adam Rex and Shel Silverstein. Goofy, mildly disturbing, almost always funny fare. In the end, I’m willing to overlook a wonky poem or two if it means I get to read a book full of clever details and cleverer rhyme schemes. Definitely recommended for those kids who want to read poetry that always keeps ‘em guessing. Cause brother, you will have no way of predicting the products of Robert Weinstock’s brain.
On shelves now.
First off, it’s Poetry Friday, pups. Head on over to Read, Write, Believe for the round-up.
Um… okay grown-up type persons. Run, do not walk, over to Robert Weinstock’s website. A brave sampling of how the guy’s head works, it explains a lot. For the record, I think that everyone should have a website where they provide a sampling of "Four Chins I Don’t Have". Ditto the Medicine Cabinet. And I applaud his musical taste, particularly in The Magnetic Fields selection. Why are you still here? Go. Shoo. Scat.
Finally, The Poppy Seed Tree has created plush characters from the book. I kinda love ’em. Take a look: