BEETLES, LIGHTLY TOASTED
Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Out to win the annual essay prize (subject: conservation), Andy devises three protein-rich recipes with unusual ingredients. Designed to elicit the sort of ingenuity the prize-donor likes to remember in his late fifth-grade son (lost in a tumble from a local Iowa silo), this year's topic at first provokes yawns. But when rival Cousin Jack enters, Andy is galvanized into action. Writing to an expert for ideas, he soon produces brownies flecked with crunchy beetles, crisp fried worms, and grub-laced egg salad, each of which is tried on unsuspecting friends and relatives, though Andy himself (the ultimate picky eater) abstains. Jack and Andy tie as winners, and Andy courageously faces the consequences: he consumes his inventions for the benefit of the local papers photographer--and to the satisfaction of the previous unwitting samplers. Reminiscent of Rockwell's every-popular How to Eat Fried Worms, this almost-as-funny story is a bit less frivolous. With its realistically-drawn extended farm family and classroom rivalries and friendships, it is more than humorous. Andy's aversion to prickly Aunt Wanda's cooking (featuring Okra Surprise) and his friendship with Sam, whose family has opened a soul-food restaurant that serves delicious food, suggest thoughtful consideration of what people find edible and why. And the final scene where the three boys share Andy's concoctions is not only hilarious but also one of those moments of truth where old antagonists see each other with new appreciation. This should be popular.