Re-think children’s eating habits: How Peter Rabbit and The Very Hungry Caterpillar addresses eating behaviour

A child’s eating habits can significantly impact his/her life as an adult. A recent study conducted by Özgür showed a connection between child obesity and adult obesity. In fact, Özgür found that 26-41% of obese preschool children and 42-63% of overweight school children ended up being obese as adults.

Obesity is thought to be more dangerous when it starts before the age of 5 years or after the age of 15. It has been shown that the dramatic increase in obesity in children which has occurred in the last three decades can lead to depression and various diseases such as asthma, fatty liver, sleep apnea, hypertension, orthopedic problems and type 2 diabetes (Özgür, page 163)

Children’s literature also deals with topics of children’s eating habits. In The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Eric Carle traces the journey of a caterpillar as it transformed into a butterfly, bringing the reader along with its growing up process, its nutrition preferences and challenges which the soon-to-be butterfly will face. Beatrix Potter, in The Tale of Peter Rabbit also considers the theme of food. However, Peter has a different relationship to food from The Caterpillar. Nonetheless, both Peter and the Caterpillar feel sick after eating a certain type of food. Yet, Peter eats in a more spaced timing while the caterpillar is never satisfied, spending its early life going after food; The Caterpillar is more enthusiastic about feeding himself whereas Peter does not show quite excitement when it comes to food.

The first notable aspect that Peter and The Very Hungry caterpillar share is that they feel sick when they ingest some food. Nevertheless, the contrast between both lay off on what makes their stomach unease. Whereas the Caterpillar feels sick with a low nutritional value food such as sugar and fat, on the other hand, Peter feels sick with food primarily considered to be healthy, such as lettuce, french beans and radish. In cases like this, children can be taken as fussy eaters and often, the concerning parents do not look further into it, unaware that this behavior perhaps can be caused by a food allergy, disorder or simply the child’s preference. According to Walton, this concern may be exacerbated because of parents’ perception that their child’s refusal of certain foods constitutes disobedience or noncompliance such that parents’ focus becomes compliance to authority rather than the promotion of healthy or diverse food choices (page 2).

As agents of their own preferences and actions, children may resist eating foods that are unappealing to them. Many of these food selection behaviours that are considered normal in the development of children’s eating habits (i.e., neophobia and food jags) are often considered by parents to be ‘picky.’ (Walton, page 3)

Another relevant contrast between Peter and The Caterpillar is the timing and frequency they demonstrate to be hungry. One example of it is that despite the fact of Peter being in a garden surrounded with plenty food options, he only takes a few of them and continues his journey. Conversely, The Caterpillar is never satisfied, and it is always looking for something to eat. Although it can be illustrated to teach the reader about the metabolism of small insects, which is faster and for this reason they would eat more frequently as opposed to Peter Rabbit, the insistence of the author in stating that The Caterpillar “was not full yet” can be viewed as a compulsive eating disorder as well. As if, while Peter eats to live, the caterpillar lives to eat.

Finally, and perhaps the most interesting contrast between the Rabbit and The Caterpillar is the excitement of both main characters towards food. While the caterpillar shows to be more passionate about food, on the contrary, Peter prefers going after adventure in unknown and dangerous terrain rather than reaping blackberries with his siblings. In the first eating scene of both stories, Peter and The Caterpillar present a very different experience with what they ingest. While Peter feels sick, The Caterpillar grows stronger and healthier. Furthermore, Peter had an unpleasing life experience with food, horrifically losing his father to a tragic event where he was fed to humans. These very odd circumstances can have a high impact on the way both of them feel about food, and perhaps it explains in parts why Peter prefers other activities rather than feeding himself.

To conclude, both stories leave space to an open debate about food habits in childhood life, The Caterpillar more than Peter Rabbit. Throughout the stories, the authors show the relationship Peter and The Caterpillar have when it comes to food, each of them behaving accordingly to its unique personality. Both cases show that one of the challenges of growing up can be a proper nourishment understanding. Whether is discovering what makes children healthier, the frequency they eat or how they feel about what they are eating,  all this is part of a child turning into to an adult, discovering new flavours, whether it is suitable for them and what actions to take when the food that was supposed to make them stronger makes them sick instead. Growing up is a challenge, and teaching children about a healthy diet will positively reflect on their lives when these children become adults ready to share the acquired knowledge with the next generation.

Works Cited

Pirgon, Özgür, and Nagehan Aslan. “The Role of Urbanization in Childhood Obesity.” Journal of Clinical Research in Pediatric Endocrinology, vol. 7, no. 3, Sept. 2015, pp. 163–167. EBSCOhost, doi:10.4274/jcrpe.1984.

Walton, Kathryn, et al. “Time to Re-Think Picky Eating?: A Relational Approach to Understanding Picky Eating.” International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition & Physical Activity, vol. 14, May 2017, pp. 1–8. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1186/s12966-017-0520-0.

Carle, Eric, Allison Rice, and Adrian Peetoom. The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Jefferson City, Mo: Scholastic, 1989.

Potter, Beatrix. The Tale of Peter Rabbit. Publications International, 1993.

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Thoughts on Harry Potter

Born innocent vs child of experience – Where does Harry Potter fall and why?

On the first book, The Philosopher’s Stone, Harry Potter is this innocent and well-intended child who suffer from losing his parents and then for being poorly treated by his relatives.  I think that Harry Potter grows his character and personality throughout the story. His experiences in life, such as getting to know the dark side of people at a very young age, makes him more as a child of experience.

Hermione’s observation that “friendship and bravery” are “more important things” than “books” or “cleverness”

In this particular phrase, Hermione demonstrates to have empathy towards her friend, trying to make Harry Potter more confident on the challenges ahead and assuring him that everyone has its virtues and merits, which all can be considered and used for the good, however, it does not matter what you have in life, if you do not have someone to help you, if you do not have the courage the make positive or necessary chances or face your fears, it all will be in vain.

Enduring success of Harry Potter

From my perspective, Harry Potter talks about friendship, and this theme is embedded in a fantasy world. I think that because Harry Potter is in some aspects similar to us in real life – we all have relationship problems -but at the same time the plot involves magic and fantasy and on the top of that, children going through such a hard time, which is unusual, it makes people to be engrossed in the story. Also, Harry Potter grows together with the readers. He does not know more than us during the story; he is learning and developing himself through the eyes of the reader.

The Paper bag Princess: Aspects of an evolving society

In “The Paper Bag Princess,” by Robert Munsch and “The Snowy Day,” by Ezra Keats several components make them a breakthrough for the society. The “paper bag princess” brings up a determined, strong, brave and independent woman living in a society who have a stereotyped vision of how a girl should act, dress or live her life. Whereas the “snowy day” makes the reader reflect about skin colour and racism. Why is that the fact of the boy being black immediately draws our attention? Should we not be used to this by now? The point is that society has been going through a transformation in many of its aspects.

We started to question why girls are always represented as weak and fragile, while usually when we look up to the female role models in our families, they seem to be strong women. What is the reason why girls always have to be saved and never be the saviour themselves? Why is that even in countries mostly black and indigenous such as Brazil we only have access, in the vast majority of the cases, to white/caucasian characters?  Should we not treasure our culture as well?

Not that long time ago, the young women finding a partner, having children and settling down was just the right thing to do. The society did not know otherwise and certainly did not see the point of thinking about the women’s well-being. Why should she have the right to vote, to get divorced, to decide not having kids? Nowadays people don’t even blink twice when asked about women rights to vote or right to be listened to; the answer is undoubtedly affirmative.

The Society didn’t change overnight. It took a lot of affirmative action policies, several women that stood up for us in the past, suffering severe consequences for speaking up in a men’s world.

To conclude, I want to wrap it up with the princess’s saying which although it contains a soft touch of comedy and irony, it summarizes well how nowadays it is okay to give up the “perfect and lined up life” for the freedom of being who you are and love to be. “Your clothes are really pretty and your hair is very neat. You look like a real prince, but you are a bum” […] “They didn’t get married after all (Munsch, Robert, The Paper Bag Princess).”.

Where the wild thing are: Max’s feelings

Angryness

When Max was misbehaving, making holes on the wall, running after the dog and being rude to his mother by saying: I will eat you UP, he was showing traits of fury! He was disgruntled by something and it didn’t sound fair to him when his mother called him a WILD THING.

When he responded angrily back to his mother, he was taken by the moment by saying basically what a WILD THING would have done: eat her up.

This shows the angry Max was feeling and it is common when we are angry and someone says something to displease us, we respond exactly likewise.

Homesickness

Max goes on his adventure exploring a new world. He is having a great time being crowned king of the wild things, showing his power over them and then making new friends. Everything is okay, but suddenly he feels sad! This (first impression) inexplicable sadness, when everything seems fine can be characterized as missing home – After Max took his time in his new world, he realized that his place wasn’t so bad and there were people who loved him there as well.

Solace

When Max is back home, he is not feeling angry anymore! He comes back to a warm home and to his mother that after all loves him unconditionally. His facial expressions tell me that he was feeling comforted and happy in being back home.

How masks can be crucial to keep and at the same time, a burden

In “The Reluctant Dragon”, the author brings up several characters with a relevant characteristic to tell about each of them. It is right that the book reflects about some sort of how the real world operates, as we can see people living behinds their masks to help them get by difficult situations and overall, with the purpose of surviving. The book illustrates this very deeply, showing that these made-up identities, although it has its drawbacks, it can have a productive impact on society as well.


Let’s start with the boy, he seems to have a genuine care for others and his innocence prevents him to see the bad in others. For an adult this can help us to not trust the wrong person, however, it can make us too hard on people who can change and deserve a second chance. I think that is why we say kids are the hope, maybe they can see the tiny details that our experienced vision fails to see through.

Another character is the St. George, the one who came to save the whole town. He keeps his fears and worries to himself while he tries to put on a show for others and make them think he is a hero. St. George follows traditions and he plays the uptight person always looking for others approval. In the process, he evolved and came to learn that he could relax and trust his friends once in a while too. In this case, he made an exception to a rule, lie to people with the goal to save a friend. While the mask was important to create a feeling of safety around those people, breaking the rule for a major cause showed to be more beneficial for the villagers.


In addition, we have a dragon. He had his mask of a lazy beast. However, this mask didn’t stick with the others, instead, people chose to put another label on the dragon, as an evil beast who was dangerous to all. In the end, the dragon was good, but not lazy. He wanted some excitement to his life and making friends. He didn’t want to kill anyone, but the mask people put on him may be also the cause of his survival for so long until meeting the boy. People could be afraid of him and run away from fighting.

five reasons for the lasting success of Peter Rabbit

1- The story is concise

While the story is quite short, it addresses all important elements to arouse children’s curiosity in a few paragraphs. It talks about the importance of listening to our parents but at the same time, it provokes us to consider that not following rules sometimes can lead us to build something positive as well. For instance, Peter made new friends, discovered a new world, found out animals he only had heard about, like the cat. The book also addresses friendship, overcoming a bad situation and much more if we flesh out the story deeper. All elements of the story are put in a way that it does not get boring and in the end, it leaves space for creativity for children to imagine how the story went on the next day.

2- Animal versus Human 

As well put in the instruction, in general, children love animals and, in many cases, we relate the two of them. Both are cute, charismatic, draws our attention, have the innocence factor and so on. The book set the rabbit as if it was a child, so it saves the author’s time to make the readers (children especially) to like peter’s personality. It is also interesting the choice of a rabbit as the main character because it is known that there are some animals we are not usually promptly receptive about. Maybe if it was a different animal, like possums or bat, the book could not be as successful as it is. Another point that drew my attention was the old man. Usually, we picture elderly people as the good ones, however, the book brought a different approach which I believe is based on what being an adult is like from children’s perspective, as serious people and focused on work with no time to appreciate good things in life.

3- Children tend to not follow rules 

Another factor the helped the book to keep its success over the years is that following rules is something we have to teach kids every single day. Many things in the world are new to them yet so their minds are powerful when it comes to imagining how things look like out there.  To me, children can see themselves in the story and they can relate very closely to Peter. Maybe as an adult, reading the story for the first time, when Mrs. Rabbit said not go into the neighbours’ garden, we may have thought: Oh, that is right, is better just stay with the brothers gathering blackberries. On the other hand, I believe most kids, on that page would stop and think: Oh, I wonder what is there? Why is so dangerous? The author could capture it very precisely on children. Another situation that called my attention is the fact that Peter listened to his cousin and stayed away from the cat, but at the same time, he was there because he didn’t listen to his mom. Maybe when his cousin told him it sounded more like friendly advice than an imposed rule.

4- The plot can be perceived as suspense

While there is a glimpse of adventure, for the most part, Peter is trying to save his life running away from Mr. McGregor. The story holds our attention and breath until the very end by making us worried about what is going to happen to Peter and root for him as well. In general, movies and books with such a theme tend to be successful if well designed. I believe that the story genre had a lot to do with the book’s success because it is easier for kids to pay attention and be open to knowing more about the other characters and the story itself.

5- The story takes place in the family environmental

The environment is very familiar to children, with some concerns and issues that all families have. For instance, when our mother tells us to avoid certain places or shares a bad experience one had, for example, the tragic end of the Father and so on. The moment children go outside to play, which for them is the best part of the day. All of these things put the reader closer to the story and putting altogether with the illustrations it can bring the kids to imagine as if they were Peter themselves.

Children Literature

Recently I have developed a taste for children’s book in a way I’ve never thought I could be. To me, these books are pretty straight forward and that was it, a simple story containing a moral lesson at the end. Fortunately I was wrong! It takes a lot of study to write a book, and every little detail are thought before hand, nothing is there by chance.

The most famous one, perhaps is “Where The Wild things are” by Maurice Sendak. This amazing book initially was supposed to be called Where the wild horses are. However Maurice couldn’t draw horses well enough (or so he thought), and he decided to go with the title we know now, besides, “things” are more open to imagination, so at the end, he could draw whatever he wanted.

The book talks about anger and rage. A kid who does not get the attention from his mother he believes that he deserves. He is sent to his room because of his mischief, and then he navigates into an imaginary world with monsters, so the adventure begins.

As I said, none tiny detail on these books is there by chance. For instance, in Maurice’s Book, you can see that a white frame gets pushed further away until it fills up the whole page. The first time I read the book, it went unnoticed to me, and when my professor told me about it, I was jaw dropped! Really? How come I haven’t seen that before?

There are some interpretations of why Maurice did that, and my favourite one is that this is a kid imaginary world and the white frame is the real world, the boring plain reality from a kid’s perspective. Children need to get away from reality. The world is too big for them, many things they don’t know yet and they are always curious about everything. We need to give them space to flourish their creativity because one they will start to be down to earth, and that is when they will become adults, leaving the dreams, fantasy and innocence behind.