In a charmingly illustrated picture book by debut author Sanders, a young boy must learn proper table etiquette to prepare for his fancy birthday celebration.
Prince, a 6-year-old African-American boy, lives an ordinary life with his parents, brother and a hamster named Popcorn in New Rochelle, N.Y. When his mother reveals his birthday surprise—a trip to Broadway in New York City and a fancy dinner at the New York Hotel—Prince knows he must learn how to behave at an upscale restaurant. But when his mother tries to teach him the rules, he gets distracted, daydreaming “about discovering a new species of lizard and kicking the winning goal at the next soccer game.” Luckily for Prince, Popcorn later coaches him through his table manners in a dream. Sanders’ text then turns into a list of do’s and don’ts, but Ditya’s cartoon illustrations bring out the humor, showing who’s behaving properly by placing a green checkmark over Popcorn’s head and a red X over Prince’s. Prince’s initial reluctance to learn table manners (“His mother always found a way to turn something fun into homework”) may resonate with young readers, who, like him, may not immediately see the importance of knowing the proper order for using forks. But after Popcorn’s clever coaching, kids will likely be rooting for Prince to succeed. Although the text is somewhat long for lap reading, young independent readers will find the vocabulary manageable. It’s refreshing to see a modern African-American family depicted for a picture-book audience—a too-rare occurrence. However, some readers may find one depiction of Popcorn as a stereotyped Native American uncomfortable. The story does make New York City seem magical and glamorous, which even children who live far away from the big city will appreciate. Prince is a charming hero, and Popcorn is an adorable sidekick, and they’ll certainly draw readers back for future episodes in the series.
An eye-catching, clever take on teaching table manners.