Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett, illustrated by Ron Barrett
By turns silly, funny, and scary, but always imaginative, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, originally published in 1978, has achieved the status of a classic. This book has a very simple plot, but the detailed drawings and the unique idea of food falling from the sky make it a perennial winner with kids.
One morning at breakfast, a pancake is accidentally flipped onto a young boy’s head. Later, his grandfather uses this incident as inspiration for a bedtime tall tale. He begins by playing with the phrasing and style of television weather reports to describe the town of Chewandswallow and its very unusual weather. At first, the idea of food falling from the sky and carrying dishes around everywhere seems fun. Much of the food is even kid-friendly—the ordinary weather of Chewandswallow includes hamburgers, pancakes, fried chicken, pie, and hot dogs. In just a few pages, Judi and Ron Barrett create a charming and surprisingly logical mini-society, even describing the town’s environmentally responsible ways of dealing with leftovers.
When the weather starts to change, the story becomes a true tall tale. First, Chewandswallow gets unappealing foods like Gorgonzola cheese and overcooked broccoli. My favorite drawing in this book has always been the picture of an unfortunate birthday party where the cake is made out of peanut butter, brussel sprouts, and mayonnaise. The expression on the face of the girl in the foreground of this picture is a perfect depiction of the disgust of a kid who doesn’t like what she’s being served. Then, the weather turns dangerous, with enormous pancakes, bread hurricanes, and tomato tornadoes. (While the townspeople certainly appear annoyed, no one seems hurt, keeping the book appropriate for younger children.)
Like the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, the real world is pictured in black and white and the imaginary world is pictured in color. The overlaid text and the use of panels give it an almost graphic novel feel.
Details like plates stacked in a coat closet, a couple fighting over a hog dog, and a baseball marquee reading “Game Called on Account of Pie,” keep children looking closely at every illustration. Ron Barrett’s unique style of line drawing captures both domestic settings and almost epic landscapes equally well. A few of the drawings have a definite 1970s flavor, which may invite discussions about what Mom, Dad, or Uncle Harry looked like when they were little.
This light and charming story is almost guaranteed to make readers hungry.