Starting with the Stone Age, the informative text and numerous zany illustrations in watercolor, gouache, and pencil take us century by century through the history of cooking and all the utensils we use for eating. It describes the food habits of mostly the well-to-do, who had time to fuss over such notions as good manners. Amazing facts and advancements abound: during the Middle Ages, banquet tables were set with spoons, with one soup bowl for every two guests, and one drinking glass that was passed around the table. Guests brought their own knives, and ate not off a plate, but off a thick slice of stale bread called a trencher.
Children will particularly appreciate the section on the table manners the Knights of the Crusades followed, which include: "A gnawed bone should never be put back on the serving platter. Lay it on the table or throw it on the floor." and "Do not blow your nose on the tablecloth or wipe it on your sleeve." And there's "Do not lick your greasy fingers or wipe them on your coat. Wipe them on the tablecloth." Your kids could learn a thing or two from this. You could take them out to dinner, even. The page on the development of chopsticks in China includes step-by-step directions on how to use them. Get some inexpensive chopsticks at your local Chinese or Japanese restaurant or supermarket, and have your children practice picking up and eating small chunks of fruit before you set them loose on dumplings or rice. There's even a final section on table manners for today's children. This is such a refreshing way to look at world history. Be sure to have a globe handy as you read about different countries so you can point them out.
Reviewed by JF.
THEMES: BEHAVIOR. FOOD. MULTICULTURAL BOOKS.
Simon & Schuster , 1999
Suggested Ages: 7-10