WHAT INSPIRED ME TO WRITE “CAN I EAT THAT?”
I have two sons: Auggie who is two, red haired, good natured and eats everything and Achilles, who is four, blonde haired, complicated and eats only cream cheese sandwiches. Like many a parent of a picky eater, dinner has become a battlefield. There is more than one battle line. There’s Achilles, who is both extremely sensitive when it comes to flavours, odours and textures as well as extremely cunning when it comes to exerting power. And there is me, a middling cook (and in this case, that’s immaterial) but a very discipline-heavy father who sees this debate more about intrafamilial power than one about dining preference… [Auggie is happy to just cram as much of what is in front of him into his mouth as he can possibly fit.] All this to say, that food is not an unfraught topic at our house.
As this dynamic was unfolding and becoming somewhat intractable I was — and still am — reading an inordinate amount of children’s books at bedtime. There are, as many know and for fairly obvious reasons, many children’s books about going to sleep. There are fewer about food. And many of those about food either anthropomorphize food (i.e. the very enjoyable The Runaway Dinner) or fanaticise food (Mickey and the Midnight Kitchen, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs). What I missed was a book that engaged food as a thing to be eaten. So much of my discourse with Achilles had become a contentious cycle wherein I would say he must eat something, he would refuse and my wife would offer bread. I wanted to find a way to talk about food with him that was fun, not overly prescriptive and, hopefully, interesting.
Writing the book also gave Achilles, Auggie and I something to work on together. My sons should really share my byline since so much of the book was written from actual conversations I had with my boys. The copy, I would say, has been extensively focus-grouped with an extremely focused group of two toddlers.
One of my proudest moments as both an author and a father was when we received hardbound review copies of Can I Eat That? Auggie, Achilles and I sat on the couch together and opened the book together. Auggie laughs at everything anyway but Achilles doesn’t. And even though I knew — and this was extremely moving for me — he was laughing in part because he knew it was important to me, they genuinely responded to the book’s give-and-take. Now they ask to bring the book to school nearly everyday. The pages are ripped. The dust jacket destroyed. But I’m okay with that. The book is being used just as it is meant to be so in my case, it’s a happy ending.
By Joshua David Stein
Follow this link to the book.
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