Foreign food is un-American and weird, said a myopic children’s book author

I have found further evidence of a gaping hole in the children’s literature market. Last week it became clear that the children’s book Marvin Redpost: Class President was too American-centric to be suitable for international school students. This week, as we finished the book, it became clear that it was even too American-centric to be suitable for American students.

Near the end of Marvin Redpost: Class President there is a question and answer session between a fictional US president and a group of third grade students. The president uses this important moment in these children’s lives to impress on them the importance of doing their duty as American citizens:

“America is not just a place on a map … America is made up of all of its citizens. If we want America to be a great country, it is up to every single one of us … to be good citizens.”

While hard to read while sitting with a group of almost entirely non-American students, this passage is a perhaps a suitable message about civic responsibility for American students.

Unfortunately the mini-civics lesson did not end there. The author then delivers his second punch:

[Nick, a student, asks] “When you go to another country, do you ever have to eat really weird food and pretend you like it?”

The president nodded. “It happens a lot. I try to spread it around on my plate, so it looks as if I ate more than I really did.” 

“I do that, too,” said Nick. “What’s the weirdest thing you ever had to eat?”

“Probably jellyfish.”

“Oh, gross!” said Nick.

My eyes rolled up into my forehead and I inwardly blushed with the shame of being tacitly associated with this drivel by virtue of being an American.

The two-part, take-away message that my jaded mind latched onto was: Firstly, we Americans need to stick together to keep our country great. Secondly, those foreign people over there eat weird things and are not like us.

When I finished listening to the students read this bit of dialogue aloud, I restrained myself from throwing the book across the room and instead asked them about their experiences trying new foods.

Being the awesome and remarkable international citizens that they are, they completely ignored the opportunity to talk about “weird” foods that “other” people eat. Instead they immediately started fantasizing about their own food invention: the Giant Sushi Cake.

Three questions:

(1) Who is ready to launch an international children’s publishing house to compete against this garbage?

(2) Who will join me and a handful of second graders to further develop the “Giant Sushi Cake” concept?

(3) Can I sell the following “shocking true stories” book idea to a short-sighted American publisher? (Proceeds to be used to finance the first two ventures.)

Shocking true tales parody book cover _ expatlingo.com

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27 responses to “Foreign food is un-American and weird, said a myopic children’s book author

  1. *cringe* Yikes! You handled that really well! It is interesting how my perception has changed about things like this since leaving the States. I would have never thought twice about it before.
    And BTW…. I love jellyfish and fish eyes! 🙂

  2. One of the great joys of traveling is trying new foods. I always want to go to the places the locals like. A few bad experiences, but almost all have been delicious and fun. We need to teach our children about this opportunity. Myopia bad!

      • Maybe the author was making a subtle point about how ‘exceptional’ and closed-minded Americans so often are. Just guessing because I doubt I’m going to read it and, as I teach in a language center, I mean centre, I am teaching older students and there are plenty of horror stories in what’s being read, mostly decontextualized, at the higher levels.

      • Nah, that author was completely oblivious. But the book was written in 1999, perhaps children’s authors book writers and publishers (even those in America) have an more expansive view of the universe now!

  3. Yowzer! What a shame! Smithsonian Freer Gallery had a fabulous selection of international childrens stories including one about eating rice for breakfast that I remember giggling through. Unfortunately it was pre-kids and I didn’t buy them… Giant sushi cake though? I’m in.

    • The book was published in 1999, so I can only hope that the author has become more broad-minded in the meantime! I’ll have to look for the children’s stories you mention (thanks!).

  4. Will wonders never cease? If I was reading this story to a group of Int-ed kids, I think I would have had the same reaction. And you seemed to have handled it well.

    I’ll put myself forward to help start up the best damn books for kids. Giant Sushi Cake-a culinary journey of a group of 2nd graders in search of the best of ALL worlds.

    I know a great graphic designer as well….

  5. Working in educational publishing I of course had to google Marvin. Author of “Holes!” Random House! And yes, I will start that press with you. Assign me at will.

    • Consider yourself on the publishing team! Let’s also write a title for Hong Kong and Singapore called: “If you are eight you can put on your own shoes and carry your own bag”

      As for that author … sigh … I know “Holes” is popular (I haven’t read it) but Marvin was dreadful. Truly dreadful.

      • Thank you, very excited to join. Other ideas, “How to Do Homework During a Revolution” and “Why Foreigners Can’t Protest but You Can (with a Permit) – SG edition.”

      • ” Let’s also write a title for Hong Kong and Singapore called: ‘If you are eight you can put on your own shoes and carry your own bag’ ” I so second that. It is so unbelievable that this is happening in Hong Kong and the parents seem totally oblivious of what the effect of this is on their children, I have had to teach kids how to ask for something because they have never had to. They just say, “i want…or I don’t have…” and they get. The day they meet the real world could well be a terrible shock to them and to the rest of society depending on how they react. That’s why when they get to my class and they ask or they don’t get.
        I’m so glad to have found your blog and I’m ready for the sushi cake.

      • Glad you like my blog and the sushi cake concept!

        A follow on title, after “If you are eight you can put on your own shoes and carry your own bag” should be “Domestic helpers are actual people with feelings and rights too.”

  6. Even the marginally positive part of that book sounds like 1950s style indoctrination, although god knows they never called it that. It’s the kind of crap that gave civics lessons a bad name. Gack! (Can I work for that press you’re starting too??? I’m retired, don’t take orders well, and have a bad attitude. That should recommend me.)

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