alexandra alger


Archive for the month “September, 2015”

Food in Kids’ Books

The MC in my new manuscript likes food. It’s not her defining characteristic or anything, but she lives in Brooklyn, New York’s foodie-est borough. You have to try really hard (or be a two-year-old) to avoid good food in Brooklyn.

Middle-grade characters known for a food they like or dislike: It’s a rare breed. There’s only one character who pops into my head immediately: the grumpy, quirky heroine of Harriet the Spy, who ate a tomato sandwich (white bread, mayo) for lunch every day. When I read Harriet back in the day, I was as revolted as author Louise Fitzhugh probably wanted me to be. Tomatoes were like lettuce to me: watery, tasteless. What was the point in eating them? There were no organic Heirloom tomatoes trucked in from upstate farms in the 1960s, when Harriet the Spy was first published, or in the ‘70s, when I was growing up.

Then there’s the poor giant in Roald Dahl’s The BFG, who subsists on snozzcumbers, probably the foulest vegetable (real or not) in children’s literature. Sophie the orphan can’t even swallow one bite. “‘It tastes of frogskins,’ she gasped. ‘And rotten fish!’ ‘Worse than that!’ cried the BFG…’To me it is tasting of clockroaches and slimewanglers!’” (I looked that up, in case you were thinking I had amazing recall.)

There may be others. Overall, though, I’d say that food has not been a big motif in kids’ books for the simple reason that it hasn’t been a big focus for kids. It can be a source of enjoyment (Yay, pizza!) or conflict (Mom insists you eat breakfast, but you’re late for the bus; a mean kid at school makes fun of your lunch). But traditionally—both in life and fiction—eating is something done in between activities; it’s not an activity in itself.

That’s changing a bit. Kids are way more sophisticated about food than they were even ten years ago. More and more, they have tastes that span the globe. They eat fish tacos and Bánh Mì pork sandwiches and sushi and Pad Thai. Last week, the Wall Street Journal published a story on the American child’s expansive palate. According to the Journal story, households with children under 18 are twice as likely as households without children to have eaten Korean, Indian, Thai, Hispanic or Caribbean in the last three months.

Have children actually become more adventurous eaters than their parents? That would be quite an extraordinary thing. If the Journal is onto a real trend, I’m guessing we’ll see increasing numbers of fictional characters with foodie sensibilities.

We’re already being introduced to a few characters who know their way around a kitchen. Gladys Gatsby, the protagonist of Tara Dairman’s Four Stars (2014), is a budding chef; Moses LoBeau, of Sheila Turnage’s Three Times Lucky (2012), steps in when needed to run the breakfast service at Miss Lana’s café (she comes up with a menu she can handle—“a full line of peanut butter entrées”). A kid chef with a TV show—that’s coming next. I’ll be looking for it.

GoButler, Chapter 2

Update on GoButler, the free text-based butler service I joined a few weeks back:

If you read my original post, you know that I was put on a waiting list for my “butler.” Eleven days later, I got a cheery text: “Hi and welcome to GoButler! 🙂 I’m Ian—what can I help you with today? I can order food, make reservations, book travel…whatever you need!”

Naturally, I sent back a cheery hello and a I’ll be in touch soon. Funny thing was, with my husband’s birthday out of the way (it was a big success—I’m off the hook for another year), I couldn’t think of a task for Ian. Order groceries for delivery? Giving a list to Ian to give to some delivery service is more work than my doing it myself (Freshdirect couldn’t be easier). Order take out? I suppose I could say, “Ian—one order of Massaman curry, thanks!” but that would go against the grain. Like many New Yorkers, I have my usual places I order from; I don’t want curry from just anywhere. I suppose I could ask Ian (Eloise-like), “Please order me Massaman curry from Café Chili on Court Street, thank you very much!” But….am I really so busy that I can’t call Café Chili myself? Honestly, I’m not too busy to call myself.

So I didn’t contact Ian right away. A few days went by. He must’ve guessed I was at a loss. Or maybe he just needed something to do. He sent this: “It’s Wine Wednesday—let GoButler get you some nice old grape juice, some cheese, and help you unwind. Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll get started! :)”

I was charmed by his idea—wine and cheese! I happened to be in St. Louis last Wednesday night, but I suggested I might order some wine for Friday night. A rosé, for toasting the final days of summer.

But what bottle, exactly? This would not be an issue if I were stopping by the neighborhood wine shop. I’d swiftly choose a bottle in the quasi-random way I usually do. I could’ve asked Ian for advice, but that seemed risky. I suggested a Sancerre rosé, about twenty bucks, which I remembered having earlier in the summer and liking.

I asked where Ian was going to shop for the wine, and he told me GoButler used an online service called MiniBar that checked pricing and availability in stores around me. So far so good, but then guess what—Ian informed me that Minibar had a minimum of $25 for a delivery.

Ha! There it was, the catch: If you want your butler to order you wine, you gotta spend at least $25. I couldn’t offhand think of a $25 bottle of wine, so I added an Albariño to my order. Total spent on my GoButler experiment: $40 (which I paid through a link GoButler sent me, connecting me to PayPal).

The wines were really nice. I suppose I could see myself texting Ian some Friday to send over another bottle of that rosé. But I think I’m much more likely to stop by my local wine shop.

It seems clear that for GoButler to succeed, people like me have to order frequently and spend more money than they might otherwise spend. I may not be the ideal client, but Ian may get a bit of work from me yet. I wonder if he knows who gives the cheapest facials in the ‘hood?

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