Family and community values underpin this tale of a young Ojibwe child forced to wait while local elders get first crack at a communal feast.
“I like to EAT, EAT, EAT,” is Johnny’s constant refrain as his grandma repeatedly restrains him from chowing down on wild rice, fry bread and luscious sweet rolls before and during a banquet at the community center: “Bekaa,” wait, she admonishes, “we let the elders eat first.” So well does Johnny finally absorb this lesson that, when his turn does at last come, he hesitates not at all to call an elderly latecomer over to take his seat at the table before grabbing a single bite. Happily, instead of eating, she plunks him in her lap, and after that, it’s goodbye, sweet roll. Ballinger’s illustrations are clearly influenced by an animation aesthetic, and young readers may find the huge, staring eyes and oddly contorted mouths of the figures a distraction, but it’s great to see a trim, modern grandma in jeans and a baseball cap, her hair initially tied back with a scrunchie. In both text and illustrations, the attitude-modeling is delivered in a gentle, nonlecturing way. Both author and illustrator are members of the Milles Lacs Band of Ojibwe.
Children less patient (or good-natured) than Johnny aren’t likely to take a cue from his example, but the episode certainly opens the way to further discussion and socialization. (Ojibwe glossary) (Picture book. 4-6)