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Children's Literature @ NYPL, Food for Thought

Lunch Hour NYC: Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf

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With the upcoming NYPL exhibit Lunch Hour NYC on the horizon, we can look forward to an in-depth look at the world of cafeterias, Automats, workers' lunches, lunch at home (including tenements), school and charity lunches, and power lunches too. Kids will get a glimpse of lunch in all its myriad forms, and we've whipped together a booklist of lunch-related titles they'll really enjoy. Today, let's examine one of those books and we may as well begin with that most horrorific of all lunch-related themes: school cafeteria food! [insert dramatic music here]

I remember being 13 or so and talking with a much older cousin of mine. When he asked me what grade I was in I told him seventh and he chuckled to himself. "Man, that was the worst." Was it? At the time I couldn't quite figure out what he meant. Sure middle school was awful but sometimes it's hard to separate yourself from what you perceive as "normal". Looking back on it now, I can see clearly just how awful that age is for a whole bulk of humanity, but who has the guts to go on out and say it? That would be two-time Newbery Honor winner Jennifer Holm, of course. Yet when you're dealing with a universal experience you really need to be able to make your book unique in some fashion. Enter artist Elicia Castaldi. Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf is a tale told via "stuff." Notes, detention slips, photos, CDs, invitations, shopping lists, you name it. A perfect blending of chaotic piles and orderly prose, this book gets to the heart of the best and the worst (more often the worst) of this most awkward and necessary of ages.

She had such plans for the year, Ginny did. Oh, it was going to be great. She had this whole To Do List with things like "Get a dad" and "Try to be friends with Mary Catherine Kelly." Seventh grade was going to be awesome. Okay, sure Ginny's bank account seems to stay at the unaccountably small ending balance of $5.00 at all times. And sure the aforementioned Mary Catherine Kelly has decided that Ginny just isn't worth being friends with anymore. But really, things didn't start to get really bad until Ginny's older brother Henry started getting in more and more trouble. Or when she didn't get her dream role in The Nutcracker and the aforementioned Ms. Kelly did. Or when that brat Brian Bukvic kept bugging her and, and, and... well, things are never easy in seventh grade. Fortunately, Middle School is Worse Than Meatloaf makes it clear that no matter how lousy things are, there's always a chance that things will eventually get better.

I can't think of many books for kids where points can be made with the eloquent use of tater tots. This is clearly one of the few. Consider the book a mix of catharsis and eye-popping visual stimulation. Food related titles are rarely so funny. Available in branches system-wide.

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