Allison's Book Bag

Hungry Johnny by Cheryl Minnema

Posted on: April 7, 2015

Hungry Johnny by Cheryl Minnema is a picture book with high appeal. The story of a young boy being forced to wait to eat at a community event will feel very familiar to readers. I also appreciated how Hungry Johnny serves as an example of how one can capture a family story to paper. Finally, the accompanying artwork by Wesley Ballinger assists in showing a blend of old and new in this Ojibwe tale of family and community values.

From one observation of her brother, Minnema has created a story that will connect with readers. Johnny likes to eat, eat, eat! This leads him to start reaching for food in his grandma’s kitchen. Only he’s told to wait, because the food is for the community feast. When Johnny and his grandma arrive at the community center, Johnny hurries to eat. Except he’s told once again to wait, because the elders get to eat first. What child (or adult) hasn’t felt their stomach rumble before it’s mealtime? Who hasn’t waited at a social function for their table to be called? Who hasn’t waited their turn in line at a potluck? To top everything, who hasn’t stared at a spread of mouth-watering food, impatience building as those ahead pile their plates high with all the best food?

Like the young boy in Hungry Johnny, Minnema’s little brother used to run into the kitchen, just about to snatch something to eat. The idea is a simple one, yet it inspired a picture book. As a writing teacher, this little piece of author background inspires my creative juices. My students often think they have nothing worthwhile to say. Yet everyone has memories of meals. Of course, not everyone turns those memories into stories. After all, the memory seems like such a small moment. But Minnema has shown that even the littlest events in one’s life can prove fodder for an entertaining tale.

Finally,  I need to talk about how this Ojibwe tale shows a blend of old and new both in the text and in the artwork. The text refers to traditional foods, the custom of praying before meals, and the allowance of elders going first. Yet Johnny also pulls modern toys out of his pockets such as mini-monster truck, cartoon stickers, and plastic buddies. The artwork shows a community center or a gathering space where Native Americans maintain traditions and relationships with one another. The elder’s vest shows Ojibwe beadwork, of the type that Minemma is known for. Those of the Ojibwe culture will no doubt find other examples too.

I read lots of nicely-written and illustrated picture books. Every now and then, one comes along that inspires me as a teacher. Hungry Johnny is one of these, because I could see teachers talking about how Minnema draws on family and culture to tell her stories. In turn, I could see students being inspired to write their own stories of being made to wait for a meal and other such small moments.

My rating? Bag it: Carry it with you. Make it a top priority to read.

How would you rate this book?


3 Responses to "Hungry Johnny by Cheryl Minnema"

Sounds like a great book to discuss patience, manners, and justice with a child–thank you for sharing!

You’re welcome! Yes, I think Hungry Johnny has a lot of lessons to teach, all without being preachy about them. 🙂

A great balance I am trying to achieve–not an easy one, I can tell you 😛

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I am focusing this year on other commitments. Once a month, I’ll post reviews of Advanced Reader Copies. Titles will include: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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