The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom (Hardcover)

The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom By Michal Babay, Paula Cohen (Illustrator) Cover Image
By Michal Babay, Paula Cohen (Illustrator)
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(903-JV-Picture Books-Fiction)


This modern retelling of the classic Yiddish folktale and Caldecott Honor book It Could Always Be Worse asks: What do you do when the school lunchroom gets too crowded?

The students at Parley Elementary have a hard time using the space in their lunchroom efficiently. When they get tired of shoving and arguing, they write a letter to their principal asking for help. She responds by moving all the science projects into the lunchroom. Now it's even more crowded! Through a series of letters and increasingly hilarious scenarios, the lunchroom gets more and MORE chaotic. When the principal finally announces that the lunchroom is once again only to be used for lunch, the students are overjoyed with the result.

About the Author

Michal Babay is a former teacher and elementary school resource specialist who decided to follow her writing dreams. She is the author of I'm a Gluten Sniffing Service Dog and lives in California with her husband, three kids, three dogs, one cat, and a bearded dragon named Gus Pirate Potato. 

Paula Cohen has a BFA in Illustration from Parsons School of Design and was an editorial illustrator before returning to her first love, children's books. She is the illustrator of Honey on the Page. 

Praise For…

Can a principled principal help beleaguered students?

The students at Parley Elementary School are fed up with their overcrowded, noisy, messy lunchroom. Soliciting help via polite correspondence with their principal, Ms. Mensch, they receive peculiar advice: Science projects should be placed on lunchroom tables; classroom pets should be brought to the lunchroom; sports teams must practice in the lunchroom. After carrying out these odd instructions—and seeing the situation deteriorate further—the desperate kids fire off another entreaty. Ever optimistic Ms. Mensch’s new solution? Projects, animals, and athletes must exit the lunchroom pronto. The result? The lunchroom is wonderfully spacious, neat, and quiet! Readers will note and appreciate that Ms. Mensch, who enjoys eating privately at her own desk, receives ample rewards in the end. The author’s note mentions that this story was inspired by a wise, witty Yiddish folktale, which serves as the basis for Margot Zemach’s It Could Always Be Worse. This book succeeds as an updated, equally humorous parable that conveys the realities of today’s schools and educators while emphasizing the moral to put life in perspective and be grateful for what one has. Children will relate to the students’ predicament and chuckle over the extremes they undergo to achieve a “fix.” The riotous digital illustrations capably match the comical shenanigans. Students are depicted diverse as to race, ethnicity, and physical ability. Ms. Mensch is light-skinned; some children wear kippot, and one child wears a patka.

Sage, farcical wisdom for lunchtime or any time.

Kirkus Reviews

The clas­sic Jew­ish folk­tale about the crowd­ed house that becomes even more crowd­ed when the wise rab­bi sug­gests adding farm ani­mals to the mix has been told in count­less ver­sions over the years, some using the tra­di­tion­al vil­lage set­ting, oth­ers a vari­ety of unique twists. This new take on the sto­ry is set in a mod­ern-day school build­ing and, when the sto­ry begins, the lunch­room is packed with stu­dents. It is so crowd­ed that it’s hard to find a place to sit and food spills on every­one and every­thing. The stu­dents write a let­ter to Mrs. Men­sch, the prin­ci­pal, ask­ing for a solu­tion to the prob­lem. Much as the sage, learned rab­bi in the orig­i­nal tale, Mrs. Men­sch has her own meth­ods that are not appar­ent to the stu­dents. The sci­ence fair dis­plays are moved to the lunch­room, the class­room pets are relo­cat­ed to the tables, and the sports teams are invit­ed in for prac­tice. When the stu­dents com­plain about the over­crowd­ing, which is even worse than before, the sports teams return out­doors, the pets to the class­rooms, and the sci­ence projects to the hall­ways. The stu­dents can now enjoy the roomy lux­u­ry of their ​“new” lunchroom.

An author’s note cred­its one ver­sion of the sto­ry, It Could Always Be Worse by Mar­got Zemach, as the inspi­ra­tion for this rol­lick­ing book, with its amus­ing, car­toon-like illus­tra­tions and straight­for­ward yet delight­ful prose. Babay retells Zemach’s sto­ry, cit­ing the pos­i­tive effect it has had on her life and high­light­ing the Jew­ish con­cept of sameach b’chelko, or being grate­ful for all one has. Babay also uses the oppor­tu­ni­ty to reflect on the over­crowd­ing in many schools and the toll this takes on ded­i­cat­ed teach­ers. She express­es the hope that the sit­u­a­tion will improve and gives a well-deserved nod to edu­ca­tors who teach in over­crowd­ed schools, empha­siz­ing that a pos­i­tive point of view goes a long way in ame­lio­rat­ing con­di­tions while work­ing for change.

This charm­ing take on the clas­sic sto­ry can be used by par­ents and teach­ers to pro­mote dis­cus­sion, but it is also just plain fun.

Jewish Book Council
Product Details
ISBN: 9781623542948
ISBN-10: 1623542944
Publisher: Charlesbridge
Publication Date: July 26th, 2022
Pages: 32
Language: English