Interview and Cover Reveal of The League of Picky Eaters by Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic
The other day I participated in one of those online memes where it will list something like 50 different kinds of food and you report how many of them you would willingly eat. My number was woefully low and after I reported it people started boasting their own numbers loud and proud. In our society it is a badge of honor to have a wide palette. One thing I noticed, though, was that members of my own family would write in and, like myself, they too had low numbers. Picky eating, it would seem, has family traits. Nature or nurture? Let’s leave that question to the professionals to explain.
On such professional is none other than debut novelist Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic. In this world, it is rare to find someone willing to stand so proudly behind their picky eating. So proudly that they wrote a book for adults called Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate. Of course you may already know her from such picture books as The End of Something Wonderful: A Practical Guide to a Backyard Funeral. Today she comes to us with a middle grace novel. One that is already near and dear to my heart.
Here’s the publisher’s description:
“A hilarious and heartwarming debut about picky eating, finding your people, and standing proud.
In Muffuletta, being good at Eating is the key to success. French fries and grilled cheese? Beginner food! Haggis and truffles? Delicacies!
After failing a school Eating test, picky eater Minerva is placed in the lowest eating track of all: Remedial Eating to Change Habits. RETCH class is full of kids with weird personalities and even weirder food preferences. And to make matters worse, Minerva’s best friends in the Gifted and Gourmet class no longer speak to her.
But soon Minerva finds she is not alone in her pickiness, and forms friendships with her new classmates. And together, they find a way to stand up for themselves–picky and proud!”
So . . . that’s one way of describing the book. But today, I’ve a special treat. Here now is the AUTHOR HERSELF describing the book. Ah-ha-ha!
Midsummer Mayhem meets Gertie’s Leap to Greatness and Secrets of Topsea.
A picky eating sixth grader tests into Remedial Eating at St. Julia Child Middle School and realizes that unhealthy friendships are sometimes hard to recognize and standing up for oneself takes strength fortified by new friendships and lots of French fries.
While using actual scientific research on super tasters and food aversions, THE LEAGUE OF PICKY EATERS is more than just a book about food. It’s about friendships and how they evolve as kids grow into different phases in their lives. THE LEAGUE OF PICKY EATERS is perfect for fans of both Masterchef Junior and those kids who would never dream of fileting (or eating) fish.
That’s just awesome.
And now, Stephanie herself . . .
Betsy Bird: First, very important, very serious, very professional question: What is your least favorite food? Which is to say, you are on a desert island, starving, and even that won’t get that food in your mouth. Mine’s creamed corn. What’s yours?
Stephanie V.W. Lucianovic: Oh, Betsy, the list isn’t short. Even in my mostly post-picky foodie days, there are still foods I avoid, like raisins and bananas. But if pressed to death, I will eat them. I think the food(s) that are guaranteed to make me gag if I am forced to put them in my mouth are either in the frozen vegetable arena — and succotash, truthfully, is chief among them — or fall into what are known as “texture violations.” I would consider your hated creamed corn to be a texture violation, but also oatmeal, cream of wheat, tapioca pudding, rice pudding … pudding in general, really. They are the foods that seem pre-chewed to me and the ones I cannot abide.
BB: A great author once told me that bananas are God’s failed attempt at soap, and I have never forgotten those wise words.
So let’s admit right out in front of the open that you’ve an adult book (gasp! faint!) by the name of Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater’s Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate. Honestly, one of these days your publisher needs to make a young reader edition of that thing. In lieu of that, however, you’ve written The League of Picky Eaters. So where precisely did this book come from?
SVWL: I LOVE the idea of a young reader edition of Suffering Succotash, truly.
Well, The League of Picky Eaters came from the same place Suffering Succotash came from, really. As a recovering picky eater turned food writer and culinary school grad, I wrote Suffering Succotash to talk about why some adults (specifically not kids) are picky eaters, how it feels to be one, and what it might mean for how we look at or address picky eating among adults.
I wrote that book because I felt there wasn’t much out there that came from the perspective of an adult picky eater — I was pretty picky until the ripe old age of 27. Instead, all I saw were books or articles that shamed adult picky eaters as immature or told them to “grow up, already.” I wanted Suffering Succotash to engender empathy among the non-picky, as well as make adult picky eaters feel seen and understood.
I came to The League of Picky Eaters in much the same way. I was seeing a lot of middle grade books that were steeped in young foodie culture. They’re lovely and delicious reads, but again, I thought about the lack of perspective of the kid who isn’t a foodie at such an early age. (I sure wasn’t.) I also thought about what it’s like to be a parent in these more food-forward times.
For instance, when I was an early mom, it was common for parents to brag about what “advanced” foods their 3 year-olds were eating just as much as they did about their kids walking or talking “early.” In writing Suffering Succotash, I spoke with many parents of picky kids and learned even more about how they were getting shamed or lectured by other parents whose own kids were already happily eating smoked salmon or pork belly. Common responses these parents got ran along the lines of, “If she were my child, I wouldn’t stand for that” or “Stop spoiling him — bend him to your foodie will,” etc.
Not only did I want to write a middle grade novel that young picky eaters would see themselves in, but I also wanted to mirror this new sort of parent pressure within it. In The League of Picky Eaters, Eating is a huge part of the school curriculum, so parents don’t just brag about their student’s superior Math skills, they also brag about their student’s superior Eating skills.
BB: I too consider myself a recovering picky eater (and I may have to steal the phrase “bend him to your foodie will”), but I also feel like there’s a genetic component at work. I don’t want to spoil Suffering Succotash for anyone interested in it, but what do you tell parents that ask you for advice about their picky eating kids? Heck, what do you tell kids about their eat-everything-on-your-plate adults?
SVWL: Okay, so I always preface this by saying: I’m not a doctor, but in my research with pediatricians, psychologists, geneticists, and feeding specialists, if your own pediatrician isn’t concerned with your child’s growth and development, you should chill a bit on freaking out about picky eating. I get that it’s annoying or extra work or frustrating to have a picky kid at your own table. (Believe me, as a parent, I get that 100%, and between you and me and everyone reading this, I don’t always follow my own advice.)
However, I do try to remember what renowned eating specialist Ellyn Satter advises: always serve your child at least one thing they like. Keep offering them the things they don’t on the off-chance that someday they will try it. But don’t force clean plates. Satter even advises not to force “just one bite,” but truthfully, I fail at that a lot. Satter also goes on to say that setting up a combative dynamic at the dinner table has the potential to lead to worse eating issues later in life.
Finally, I point to myself: pretty darn picky until 27 and not only did I live to tell about it, I went on to go to culinary school and become a food writer and cookbook editor.
As a parent, I can’t tell kids to defy their parents household rules, but I can try to give them tools to have discussions with their parents about their food comfort level. A 5th grader in my oldest’s class read Suffering Succotash on his own and then gave it to his parents to read, hoping they would understand him better. I hope the same can happen with The League of Picky Eaters. (That is, if parents allow their kids to read it at all! It would kind of be awesome to tout this book as “the book your parent doesn’t want you to read!”)
BB: Oh, absolutely, though I am reminded of the wise adage, “Be careful what you wish for.” Now The League of Picky Eaters uses “scientific research on super tasters and food aversions”. Has a lot of research been done on this subject? And why don’t more people know about it?
SVWL: Yes, there has been many scientific papers put out about supertasters and how being one could relate to having food aversions. Several times a year, I see the same articles come out in the media along the lines of, “Are You a Super Taster? It Might Be Why You’re Picky!” I do think it’s a subject that is on permanent rotation in the food writing world. However, as I explore in Suffering Succotash there are also so many other potential reasons for pickiness. Scientist and doctors still don’t know what ultimately causes someone to be a picky eater. I mean, aren’t our food preferences really is just a matter of individual taste (no pun intended!) —are there scientific papers out there trying to explain why so many people love the music of Justin Bieber?
BB: Would you say this is a standalone book or part of a larger series?
SVWL: This is definitely meant to be a standalone book. However, that’s not to say I don’t have ideas or haven’t strategically left a door or two open if future books in the world of The League of Picky Eaters were requested.
BB: And finally, what are you working on next?
SVWL: I am very excited about a new unannounced picture book that I think I’ll be able to talk about soon, and more lately I’ve been toying with writing in verse for a different project.
Thanks, Stephanie, for the low-down on rebellious taste buds.
And now, come one and come all, for the book jacket reveal . . . .
Full credit to jacket artist Alyssa Nasser and to Mary Claire Cruz, the Clarion/HMH in-house designer.
Look for the book on shelves October 12, 2021. Can’t wait to see it first hand!
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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