“Hello, Beautiful,” whispers Max, as he gazes at a cupcake with pink frosting. Anyone already familiar with the bunny named Max and his older sister, Ruby, the lovable creations of children’s book author and illustrator Rosemary Wells, knows that Max has a sweet tooth. In Max and Ruby’s Midas, Ruby tries to teach Max some lessons about good nutrition, in the guise of a somewhat revised but famous Greek myth:
Once upon a time in Ancient Greece there was a little prince named Midas who hated his fruits and vegetables.The prince Midas scorns such foods as his mother’s olive loaves, prune whip, spinach soup, and carrot muffins, even though his mother warns him, “You must eat a good breakfast, my little pomegranate.” Soon he finds that by focusing “laser-beam eyes” on the detested dish and muttering some magic words, such as “hot fudge sundae,” he can turn the food into sweets. Unfortunately he also turns his mom into a cherry float, his dad into lime Jell-O surprise, and his sister Athena into a slice of birthday cake.
Midas learns his lesson, but does Max? You’ll have to look carefully at the last page of the book to find out.
I still remember the day when our children’s librarian introduced our family to Rosemary Wells, nearly twenty years ago. Throughout our son's childhood, both he and I enjoyed the emotional depth of her characters, the warmth of her illustrations, and the beautiful simplicity of her stories. Of her extensive list of works, which includes several Max and Ruby stories, our favorites were her Voyage to the Bunny Planet Trilogy (First Tomato, The Island Light, and Moss Pillows), all of which feature in some way food as a source of comfort and emotional healing.
In First Tomato, Claire begins her morning by spilling her cornflakes and having her shoes fill with snow on the way to school. At school, she endures two hours of math, and lunch is her “least favorite—baloney sandwiches.” In gym class, she is the only girl unable to do a cartwheel. As Claire sits on a bench in the snow, waiting for a late school bus, we are told that Claire needs a visit to the Bunny Planet:
Far beyond the moon and stars,The second half of the book is written in delightful verse, as Claire spends a slow and peaceful summer day picking fresh garden vegetables for her mother, who uses them to make First Tomato Soup.
Twenty light-years south of Mars,
Spins the gentle Bunny Planet
And the bunny queen is Janet.
Janet says to Claire, “Come in.
Here’s the day that should have been.”
Each of the other two Voyage to the Bunny Planet titles follows the same pattern. In The Island Light, Felix suffers through being “sick in front of the whole art class,” getting a shot from the doctor, and having his parents forget to kiss him goodnight. On the Bunny Planet, he and his father spend the day together on their lighthouse island, his mother prepares apple pancakes and gingerbread, and Felix falls asleep holding his father’s hand.
Introverted Robert is the featured bunny in Moss Pillows. He is forced to visit his Uncle Ed, Aunt Margo, and their four boys, who all pile on top of Robert at once. He is served cold liver chili for dinner and is forced to hide in the bathroom to be alone. On the Bunny Planet, he is by himself in his
house in a sweet-gum tree,He makes a secret recipe for toasted tangerines and lies on a pillow of “emerald moss.”
Where I sing to myself in the whispering woods,
And nobody’s there but me.
What foods help you or your children to have the "day that should have been"?