Updated: Jun 2
So, I haven't blogged in a while, and I should probably write something about how much fun I'm having sharing Hide and Shh! with friends at schools, libraries, and bookstores. I love watching young people connect with Dinah and Chloe, the sister stars in the story.
But I'm not.
Instead, I'm writing about amicivores, and yes, I made up that word. It comes from the Latin amicus, meaning friend (which actually comes from old Germanic) and vorare, meaning to devour. Think carnivore, herbivore, and omnivore. I suppose amicivores might really be omnivores, but I liked making up the word.
Why, oh, why, am I writing about amicivores, particularly in the context of picture books, you ask? Well, if you're a voracious (see what I did there?) picture book reader (or perhaps a liberivore? or libivore?), you might have noticed something I noticed a few years ago: There are quite a few picture books out there about eating (or rather, ultimately, not eating) one's friends, or someone who becomes a friend instead of a meal. When I first logged on today, I stumbled on another new picture book about amicivorous tendencies, and decided that instead of getting to work, like I should be doing, I'd share some of these hungry titles turned happily-ever-after.
I mean, we as children's authors do have a responsibility to impart appropriate life skills to our young (and older) readers ... and not snacking on your friends seems like a good one. Think of it as the first step to "playing nicely," or in more social emotional language, building empathy and developing self-restraint, maybe finding alternative solutions to problems or being open to new things.
More notably, this seemingly disturbing concept wrapped in utter humor endlessly delights young people (the same way so many of us have enjoyed Tom and Jerry, Wiley Coyote and the Road Runner, and Bugs Bunny's various narrow escapes with all their violent gustatory undertones). Why deny them?
So, without further ado, here are some amicivorous picture books that you might like to sample and savor with your hungry young readers. Maybe just feed them before you start.
Up first? A throwback! You think (not) dining on your friends is a modern concept? Hah! It has a long and glorious tradition. Check out this retelling of one of Aesop's fables.
And if you think that's an anomaly, anyone remember this "golden" throwback, surely inspired by the above? "Once there was a tawny scrawny lion who chased monkeys on Monday—kangaroos on Tuesday—zebras on Wednesday—bears on Thursday—camels on Friday—and on Saturday, elephants!"
That's right! It's the Tawny Scrawny Lion by Kathryn Jackson and Gustav Tenggren. Both our hungry lions learn the valuable lesson that you just might discover an unexpected benefit from not chewing up and swallowing someone smaller than you. I mean, they might have a skill or an idea that can save your life (or save you some pain) later ... plus, you might gain a Scrabble partner.
But to some more recent titles. I'll start with one of our favorites that we stumbled on a few years back. It has brought lots of laughter to my little fellow, Quinn, and makes his parents smile, too. If you haven't read I Will Not Eat You by Adam Lehrhaupt and Scott Magoon, you should. The sparse text is so much fun to read aloud, with strategic pauses, and the illustrations are wonderful. The eyes. I love the dragon's eyes! After our dragon turns down a few meals, something particularly annoying and tasty comes along ... and pokes him ... (Pro tip: If you're going to poke a dragon, better make him laugh.)
My next amicivorous picture book comes from the fabulous author-illustrator Ryan T. Higgins. What's a young T-rex to do when plopped down in a human school? The adorable Penelope soon learns We Don't Eat Our Classmates ... because, well, would we want our classmates to eat us? Hmm? It's the ultimate golden rule!
Then there's this one from the hilarious picture book author Ame Dyckman, who surely couldn't resist having a friend-eating book of her own, and illustrator Scott Magoon, who also illustrated one of the books above. (Not sure what that says about him.) Misunderstood Shark: Friends Don't Eat Friends demonstrates that amicivorous picture books can teach not only value lessons but also important science facts. Also, it's a good reminder that friends might give you indigestion and it's rude to litter in a friend's stomach. (It's also a sequel to Misunderstood Shark, which offers its own essential instructional content.)
My son and I love everything by Ed Vere, but the Max books are definitely his favorite. We read Max the Brave and Max at Night so many times that I could recite them and the cover and pages were worn down. So, we were thrilled when Max made another appearance in Max and Bird: An Amusing Cat Friendship Book for Kids. You see where this is going, right? Right. This one's great for developing keen negotiation skills that just might save YOU from getting eaten ... and get you that Scrabble partner. (Also, it's not nice to eat your friends before they're had a chance to realize their potential.)
Meanwhile, in Chez Bob by Bob Shea, a sneaky alligator on a mission finds something unexpected. What you want, after all, might not be what you need.
Another sequel by another dynamic duo also takes on our theme: Ninja Red Riding Hood by Corey Rosen Schwartz and Dan Santat is a fractured fairy tale that follows the classic carnivorous villain, the Big Bad Wolf, after he suffers an ignoble defeat in The Three Ninja Pigs. He learned the wrong lesson the first time, but he just might find something better than other characters to nourish him in this one.
I know I'm missing some. I remember there being more that caught my attention over the past few years but I can't recall or find the others at the moment. So, I'll end with the one that started the post: I Just Ate My Friend, a picture book from Holly McKinnon. It's not actually new. It came out in 2018, but I saw a post about this morning and (somehow) had not seen it before. I just put it on reserve at the library, and I hope you'll look it up, too.
Finally, if amicivorous books aren't for you, you can find many other amicable picture books out there about making and keeping friends and enjoying their friendship. Check out these lists:
Oh, and if you think of another picture book that belongs on this list, tell me in the comments!