The Children's Book Garden

Reading and weeding through the best and worst of children's literature

Yummers, by James Marshall June 19, 2011

This book has confounded me for a long time. The story starts off with a pig realizing she’s gaining weight, doesn’t know why, and should exercise. (I can empathize.) Her turtle friend shows up and suggests they go for a walk. Lovely, except everywhere they go on their walk, Emily Pig finds food to consume; she can’t help herself. By the end of the book, after she’s had dozens of treats, scones, ice cream, pizza samples, sandwiches, she’s so ill, Eugene the turtle calls her a taxi.

Sounds fairly straightforward, right?

Here’s where the book has confused me:

1) The turtle friend, Eugene – whose restrained appetite contrasts with Emily’s voraciousness throughout their excursion – he doesn’t stop her, in fact he encourages her. When she can’t choose between favorite sandwiches, he suggests she have more than one.

“I don’t want to make a pig of myself,” said Emily. “I’ll just have a tuna fish and a jelly delight.”

“That sounds sensible,” said Eugene.

But it’s not sensible, at all; she’s on a walk to lose weight, not gain it.

And the next day, after she makes herself sick overeating, Eugene visits.

“What do you suppose was the matter?” asked Eugene.

“It must have been all that walking,” replied his friend.

Eugene smiled. “Maybe you should stay in bed an eat plenty of good food.”

“Oh, yummers,” said Emily.

2) So, I’m baffled by the ignorance of the turtle (obviously, Emily’s lack of awareness is part of her problem). But even more so, I’m totally thrown that the above interaction IS THE END OF THE BOOK. There’s no moral to the story. There’s no resolution of the issue. It seems a strange tale for children (especially in the Land of the Obese).

What the heck?

Mystery Solved

We’ve had the book for a while, it’s always seemed strange to me, but we’ve enjoyed Marshall’s pictures, and I always appreciate how well he writes for children – funny characters, witty exchanges, but pared down verbiage so it’s not too dense or rambling. The George and Martha books are favorites. Still, never really got the point of Yummers.

Until last night.

When, while reading the book, I flashed to something I’d written the day before on my other blog, about body image:

As I try to understand myself as not in my body but as my body – I am my body – any idea of  it being wrong – any part of it being shaped “wrong” – is ridiculous, irrelevant. That would be like a tree wanting to bulk up or slim down, a pig feeling her figure needs to be an hourglass – well, it would seem silly, no? Why? Because they are the shape they are supposed to be, right? Can you apply that logic to yourself?

So I’m reading about Emily Pig wanting to lose weight, and when she says, “I don’t want to make a pig of myself,” – well, she IS a pig. Pigs are not supposed to be thin.

It struck me that the story of Yummers is exactly what I’ve been ruminating on regarding how we treat our bodies. The whole episode launches when Emily decides to try to be something she isn’t; it backfires on her. Isn’t this true for real people, too? I know it is for me. I almost experienced the very same thing. A month ago I went on a calorie-counting diet, and I weigh more now than I did before I started. Part of me rebelled against the whole idea of limiting my food and I overate to compensate for all the hunger I put myself through.

My two quandries about the story – Eugene’s support of Emily’s bingeing, and the seeming lack of a conclusion to the story – make sense when I view the story, not as a story about how the pig can’t stop eating and makes herself sick, but as a story about a pig who tries to go against her nature and makes herself sick. Eugene supports Emily following her gut (literally). And the conclusion/resolution of the conflict is that Emily goes back to being herself and not trying to lose weight, but eat. Ah – it all falls into place!

A moral did exist in the story – I just couldn’t see it, because it wasn’t the moral, even the story, I thought it must be.

Eating, Hunger, Kids: Sigh

It seems tricky to argue that the pig should eat if she wants to – we don’t want our kids to take that as a cue to eat whatever they want, whenever they want, without any self-control. So let’s turn to Eugene’s character – who slowly eats one scone while Emily has a couple of platters of them, who chooses skim milk while she has three ice creams, who gets jasmine tea at the supermarket while she feasts on pizza samples. Eugene is not trying to diet; he’s not trying to show up his friend, either. Eugene is making choices about what to eat and how much based on an internal sense of what makes sense to him. He is self-regulating. He is listening to himself.

If we teach our kids how to listen to their bodies, not to fight them, I think we will find that they can learn – over time – how to eat what they need. I mean, we have to trust our bodies. The more we fight with ourselves, try to control our hungers, the more we set up an endless internal war, where someone has to lose. This is not happiness or health. This is misery.

Following our nature, be it pig or turtle, we find inner peace. Yummers!


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