by Hallie Durand, illus. by Christine Davenier
Third-grader Donahue Penelope Schneider’s nickname is “Dessert.” She loves dessert. She also loves her teacher, Mrs. Howdy Doody, and her family: Daddy and Mummy, and three younger siblings, plus their devoted dog, Chunky. Dessert comes from a “food family.” Her parents run the Fondue Paris restaurant. Dessert has her own way of doing things, and, after several tries, she convinces her family to eat dessert first—before the entrée at dinner, instead of after. Mrs. Howdy Doody helps Dessert achieve that goal (with her advice, “Timing is everything,” and urging the students to “March to [your] own drummers”). Then one day, Dessert comes home to her mother baking her favorite: Double-Decker Chocolate Bars. Her mother says they are “off-limits.” But late the following night (at exactly 12:32 a.m.), Chunky needs to go out, and Dessert winds up in front of the fridge: “The next thing I saw was that my hand opened the box and touched the top of one of the [Double-Decker] bars… my hand raised the bar out of the box and all the way into my mouth.” Her hand continues to raise the bars, and her mouth continues to eat them until the Double-Decker Chocolate Bars are all gone!
Isn’t that just how it feels to a child, when they do the wrong thing? They wonder, “How did that happen?”--almost as if it’s an out-of-body experience. The important thing is not how it happens, but how the child takes responsibility for it. And luckily for Dessert, she has Mrs. Howdy Doody to confess to, and who tells her about a similar experience she’d had at Dessert’s age. She doesn’t excuse Dessert, nor does she tell her how to repair the situation. She advises, “You should probably look your parents straight in the eye when you get home, and you should probably start talking. It’ll be okay,” the teacher reassures her. “I sit here beside you today as proof.” Things don’t go exactly as Dessert might have wished, but she figures out a way to make it up to her family. In addition to this being an entertaining early chapter book with plenty of suspense, it’s a terrific conversation-starter if your youngster is having trouble with the idea of thinking through the repercussions of their actions.
Full disclosure: Hallie Durand is a close friend of mine. We were editors together a long time ago at HarperCollins. But I wouldn’t showcase a book here that I didn’t love, and I’m here to tell you that if Hallie Durand shares any characteristics with Dessert Schneider, she has certainly learned to take responsibility for her actions. She is an excellent friend.