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Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs – and Other Economic Lessons from Children’s Literature by Alleen Nilsen and Don Nilsen
Children’s literature is a good place to discover what a culture values because: • People who create stories and art for children rely on common objects with universal appeal. • Especially in old folktales and rhymes, the “wisdom” of the ages has been collected, condensed, and polished for a new generation. • The “classics” of children’s literature are shared by parents, teachers, and various media so that at the same time stories and poems reflect a culture, they also teach the values of the culture.
For example, advertisers, broadcasters, cartoonists, politicians and bloggers rely on these exaggerated characters: • CHICKEN LITTLE to represent alarmists. • PINOCCHIO to stand in for liars. • THE BIG BAD WOLF to warn us of danger. • THE FROG PRINCE to give hope to discouraged women of all ages. • HUMPTY DUMPTY to point out how easy it is to fall from grace.
There’s something cheerful about a smiling Humpty Dumpty sitting on a wall, but still he portends disaster. • We are affected because our emotions are stretched in both directions. • In cartoons, after his fall, there is usually a sympathetic crowd trying to put him back together. • But a surprising cartoon in 2009 showed him being shunned by a donkey and two wizard-like characters shouting “Salmonella!”
This New Yorker cartoon is more typical. • It is hinting to a Wall Street banker that there’s going to be a stock market crash. • The “Humpty Dumpty” nursery rhyme is so famous that even without the image, the phrase “All the King’s men…” is enough to deliver a warning. Our ASU library has over 100 items with these words in their titles.
It’s been 75 years since Dorothy and her friends danced up the yellow brick road in TheWizard of Oz. • L. Frank Baum, who wrote the original book, was terribly poor, which inspired him to think of the yellow brick road as a metaphor for gold and riches. • In the 1980s, APS used this image in a full page newspaper ad to illustrate the message, “We’re on our way to more efficient fuel alternatives.” • But in a recent cartoon, The Wicked Witch is saying “Forget the slippers. I want Tin Man’s oil.” • In another cartoon, Dorothy has sold the Tin Man to a recycling center in exchange for bus fare back to Kansas.
Of course “The old woman who lived in a shoe, with so many children she didn’t knowwhat to do” makes us think of economic matters. • Actually, we all live in our shoes, but just not as interpreted in the old nursery rhyme. • In the 1980s, she was featured in a cheerful advertising campaign for Hawaiian punch, which was such a bargain she could afford it for her whole family.
But cartoons have had different messages fitting with changes in the real estate market. • One drawing showed the shoe all boarded up with a “FORECLOSURE” sign on it. • In another one, a real estate broker is standing in front of the shoe and saying “It looked kinda dumpy, but appraised at a million-two.”
Hansel and Gretel are the ultimate example of economically deprived orphans. • In one cartoon, Gretel solemnly quizzes the Witch on the nutritional value of the food in her enticing house. • A TV commercial for an investment company showed Hansel and Gretel wandering into Wall Street and dropping bread crumbs to help them find their way out. • A more recent one showed an ornate drawing of the house with a sign reading “THIS STRUCTURE WILL BE TORN DOWN AND REPLACED BY A NEW 44-STORY COOKIE.”
What are the economic lessons in “Jack and the Beanstalk?” Grand old stories often accommodate various ideas. Is it a warning against street hustlers? Does it say that risky investments require adaptability? Or that the wives of ogres are often kinder than their husbands? Or that Jack was just lucky? Or maybe smarter then he looked?
Popular modern stories are also alluded to for efficient communication. The last seven words in this title have appeared in hundreds—if not thousands—of print and online descriptions. Author Judith Viorst modestly said it was because the kids who grew up reading her book are now running the world’s media. Some people say it’s because it is a perfect description of our troubled world. While others say it is popular because it scans so well— It’s folk poetry.
It’s a good beginning for a unit on economics because food and money are intimately connected in people’s minds, for example, • Breadand dough are slang terms for money. • And so is bringing home the bacon. • Salt is related to an old word for salaries, which used to be partially paid in salt. Saying that someone wasn’t worth his salt, was saying he wasn’t worth his salary. • Paper money, i.e. greenbacks, is sometimes called lettuce.
What do these terms have in common? FOOD TERM . . . METAPHOR COOKIE . . . COOKIE ON A COMPUTER SOUP . . . A SOUPED-UP CAR STRAWBERRY JAM . . . A TRAFFIC JAM STEW . . . TO STEW ABOUT A PROBLEM SALT AND PEPPER . . . A SALT AND PEPPER BEARD SPAM IN A CAN . . . SPAM ON A COMPUTER A DOUGHNUT HOLE . . . THE DOUGHNUT HOLE IN SOCIAL SECURITY/MEDICARE
One of the charms of the original 1978 book was its subtlety. • E.g., the title is not spokenbut simply hinted at in the background picture that the TV weatherman is pointing to. • Also, notice the doleful dog and the picture on the TV screen, that says “SOUP,” a term that really is used in relation to weather.
Food really does come from the sky through sunshine and rain, and it is refreshing to see such a basic truth exaggerated and treated with humor. • A good example of Ron Barrett’s subtle humor is in this drawing of a “salt and pepper wind” that brought in a “tomato tornado.” • Only careful readers notice that the woman in her chair is reading “Gone with the Wind.”
Young children will also enjoy Tomie de Paolo’s book. • As he is quick to point out, it is his original story about a foolish boy who does not know how to turn off Strega Nona’s spaghetti making machine. • However, the theme is similar to many versions of an old folk tale answering the question of “Why the Sea Turned to Salt?
Older students will probably be more intrigued by pondering economic issues related to the making and marketing of the films. • Promotional materials about the films provide some insights into “the magic” as well as the hard work that was involved in turning a 32-page picture book into a series of books and films. • It wouldn’t have been impossible without computer graphics, plus a lot of imagination and creativity. • Teachers might also want to get the 2009 book by Tracey Miller-ZarneckeThe Art and Making of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Even the reviewers were inspired to use food-related terms. • They talked about the “scrumptious sequel.” • And how even “foodies” weren’t crying out for a “second helping” of this animated “meaterology.” • They also assured readers that even though it lacks “lingering nutritional value,” the sequel is more than “just reheated leftovers” and viewers will enjoy the humor if their brains haven’t already been turned to “mush.”