If you’re looking for an engaging picture book with serious spiritual depth, look no further than Pickle-Chiffon Pie by Jolly Roger Bradfield. As kids’ books go, it’s one of the best books that I (and my son Matthew) have ever read: a delightful marriage of lively illustrations, clever plot, and important life lessons.
Pickle-Chiffon Pie was first published in 1967, and it has recently been reissued by Purple House Press, which reprints great kids’ classics. The illustrations in this book are absolutely fabulous. They have that happy, charming late-sixties-look that you just don’t find in kids’ illustrations anymore. They are intricate and colorful and whimsical. Just looking at them gives your spirits a lift.
And the story? It’s utterly delightful. There is a king who has a beautiful daughter, and many men want to marry her. So the king takes the three nicest suitors — the buff Prince Musselbaum, the bookish Prince Wellred (don’t you love those names?), and the plain but sincere Prince Bernard — and gives each of them a task: Go into the forest for three days and find the most unusual and wonderful and marvelous thing you can, and bring it back. Whoever brings back the most wonderful thing will win the hand of the Princess.
So they do, and in the forest, there are many strange and wonderful things (including a lion in a velvet vest juggling cans of root beer soup and an ogre so ugly that he scares leaves off of the trees). Each prince makes his selection and heads home, sure that he will win the contest. But Prince Bernard’s selection — a Three-nosed Snozzle who can bake the king’s favorite Pickle-Chiffon Pie — is simply not happy to go. He’s very sad about leaving the forest and his children, who have no one else to look after them. Bernard drags him along for a while, but then has to stop and reflect on his own actions. Is it right for him, Bernard, to take this Snozzle away if he desperately wants to stay at home?
I won’t give away the ending, though it does conclude happily for all parties. And it has a pretty deep message, too, one that applies to everyone everywhere. Bernard has to wrestle with his conscience and with some thorny questions — is it okay to prioritize your own happiness above someone else’s? Is it okay to pursue your own heart’s desire if it means hurting someone else in the process? And what’s so great is that these questions fit naturally into the narrative; there’s nothing pedantic about the story at all.
I honestly can’t think of a better book to teach children the value of empathy, or of putting themselves into someone else’s shoes for a while. I don’t think these qualities come instinctively to young kids, who are known to grab the best toy in the bunch and try to keep everyone else from playing with it. But kids need to become aware that our actions have a ripple effect, and that it’s important to consider how our choices will impact others. (Honestly, this is a lesson that many of us adults could stand to learn.) And I can’t think of a better vehicle for conveying it than this book — this engaging, delightful book, whose profound message is packaged in charming pictures and playful prose. It’s a gem in every way.
Copyright 2013 Ginny Moyer