How My Parents Learned to Eat

Ages 4-8. Review by Josephine Bridges: "When my mother met my father, she was a Japanese schoolgirl and he was an American sailor," the narrator of this story tells us. Every day Aiko and John meet to walk and chat in Yokohama, where John’s ship is stationed. It’s clear enough that these two like each other, but they have a problem. Aiko doesn’t know how to eat with a knife and fork, and John - you guessed it - hasn’t mastered chopsticks. Will the budding sweethearts manage a dinner date before John’s ship sails away? How My Parents Learned to Eat is written in English and aimed at Western children, but the author does a wonderful job of making Aiko’s difficulty with mashed potatoes and peas as believable as John’s with sukiyaki. "My mother looked at the small fork and the large fork on the left. She looked at the knife, little spoon, and big spoon on the right. Her head grew dizzy." Aiko manages the soup and mashed potatoes during her practice lunch with Great Uncle, who has visited England, but "the peas rolled all over the plate." For his part, John stays up all night before their first dinner, "pretending to pick up sukiyaki" with a pair of pencils. Are these two made for each other, or what? Allen Say’s watercolor illustrations are, as usual, just right. His pictures of sukiyaki ingredients make my mouth water, and if you look carefully, you can see that the mattress John sits on is just slightly compressed beneath his weight. It’s details like these - as well as signs in the streets that make me want to learn to read Japanese and coils of old telephone cords that evoke a certain odd nostalgia - that bring a children’s book alive. Ina R. Friedman is no slouch, either. It’s not easy to present a familiar culture as strange, but she’s up to the challenge. And John’s marriage proposal is one of a kind, as is Aiko’s acceptance. Read How My Parents Learned to Eat and then eat sukiyaki with chopsticks or roast beef, mashed potatoes, and peas with a knife and fork, whichever seems like more of an adventure. —
Year of Publication
Number of Pages
32 pgs.
ISSN Number
Average: 4 (1 vote)


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Review of the book "How My Parents Learned to Eat"

Field of Interest/Specialty: Elementary teacher
Posted On: 12/01/2015

This is a story that elementary children would easily relate to. It is a story of how a young girl's parents first met. The girl's mother, Aiko, was a Japanese schoolgirl and her father, John, an American sailor. The story takes us through their courtship in Yokohama.
When John and Aiko first met, both were embarrassed by their lack of knowledge of how to eat using each others implements. John would like to ask Aiko to dinner, but is unable to correctly use chopsticks. Aiko would like to be asked to dinner by John, but doesn't know how to handle a knife, fork, spoon. When John is told his ship will be leaving in 3 weeks, he wants to ask Aiko to marry him. So that they won't go hungry, he decides he must learn what foods Aiko likes and how to use chopsticks to eat that food. John goes to a Japanese restaurant and has a waiter help him learn the intricacies of chopstick eating. After many failed attempts, John succeeds. He is now able to ask Aiko to dinner. This forces Aiko to go to her great uncle for help. He had visited England and Aiko asks him to teach her how to eat with a knife and fork. With Great uncles encouragement, and practice at a western restaurant, Aiko masters the utensils after many tries. John and Aiko decide they can help each other to become better with their new ways of eating.
The end of the story leads us to John and Aiko's daughter. She explains to the reader that some days they eat with chopsticks, some days with knives and forks just as her parents have done since they met.
This story would hit a common theme with many of the students. A large portion of the children have a blended ethnic background. Those who do not have this mix within their own family, can certainly see it within others around them. There are many different traditions and practices brought to these families. The students could also relate to the feeling of embarrassment when trying something unknown for the first time. This book highlights the acceptance of others, along with patience in new and different practices.
The story lends itself to comparing and contrasting. The students in my class were able to list cultural differences between the parents. They also listed the food and ways of eating that food. The pictures in the book helped them with the comparisons. After discussing the differences, the children began to list the similarities. Over and over again the similarities in the main characters feeling kept coming up. The students agreed that the feelings were universal in the story.