Broccoli. Younger siblings. Quiet time. School principals. Neatness. Fear of flying.
Have you ever decided that you didn’t like something before ever even “trying” it? Do you think it is a good idea to make a decision before knowing all the facts about a situation?
These questions provide some of the learning moments in Matt Bell’s delightful The Jellies and the Crunchers (Covenant Books), the story of a town divided over the population’s preference for exclusively eating either sticky jelly or crunchy crackers. The author must know a thing or two about such controversies over choice, given he is the father of nine very diverse children of his own.
Bell lays out the two groups, making clear that even though each group has a commonality in what it likes to eat, each member within has differences: They are young and old, tall and short, round and thin, have different styles of hair and dress. Yet at the heart of the conflict, “The Jellies think that the Crunchers are messy and loud. The Crunchers think the Jellies are messy and gooey.”
The daily congregation during meals at the many picnic tables in the beautiful town square exemplifies the conflict. Naturally, the two groups eat among themselves. But when the grounds become littered with jelly stains and cracker crumbs, the two groups predictably point fingers at each other for causing the mess. Each side has its champion: the Mayor, with a fresh jar of jelly in his hands, and the Sheriff, with cracker crumbs covering his face.
One thing leads to another, setting the stage for what Bell calls “the greatest food fight in the history of food fights.”
Yet, as the townspeople go back home to clean up the jelly and crackers all over them, a funny thing happens. The next thing you know, a little girl, “going against everything she had learned and understood” in life to this point, takes a bold step that changes everything. (Isn’t it always a young child who is able to cross the artificial barriers erected by his or her elders?)
Bell says he believes in the use of “imagination and conversation” as a tool to build relationships. In this book geared for elementary-school and reluctant middle-grade readers, he creates a fun, innocent differentiating factor to tackle far more serious issues about the randomness and even absurdity of what can cause people to develop prejudices toward each other and not get along.
Leave it to a child to be the hero and bridge the gap between a divided community in this marvelous work, which offers children valuable insight into an important social issue communicated so vividly in words and pictures. The Jellies and the Crunchers leaves us with plenty of food for thought.