Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun: Book Review

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun by Maria Dismondy &Illustrated by Kimberly Shaw-Peterson

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun is the story of Lucy, a little girl who loves to eat spaghetti on a hot dog bun. Lucy is happy just being herself until a boy in her class, Ralph, starts making fun of her. At every turn, Ralph find something to get angry with Lucy about from her curly hair, to her lunch, Ralph is merciless all day long. Lucy’s grandfather, Papa Gino, reminds her to be proud of who she is no matter who is teasing her and to remember that everyone, even bullies, have feelings.

The next day, Ralph finds himself in a precarious situation and needs someone’s help. The other children laugh and refuse to help him, presumably because he’s mean and no one really likes him. However, Lucy exhibits excellent moral character and takes the opportunity to both stand up for herself and to offer kindness to Ralph even though he had not been kind to her.

The Message for Children

Though the subtitle of the book is”Having the courage to be who you are,” it actually teaches children about several aspects of moral character: respect, courage, and compassion. Early in the book, Papa Gino reminds Lucy that all people are different and that makes them interesting, not wrong. As the story progresses and Ralph begins teasing Lucy, she never seems to waver in just being herself. Although she is hurt and upset by her classmate’s bullying, she demonstrates courage by continuing to be true to herself. She stands up to Ralph twice, telling him, “Stop! It hurts my feelings when you do this Ralph,”  and “What you did was so mean!” Finally, when faced with a choice to show Ralph compassion or to get revenge, she remembers that everyone has feelings on the inside and chooses compassion.

At the climax of the story, Lucy must make a decision on what kind of a person she is. Is she someone that will focus on her own pain? Is she someone that will take revenge on the bully that has treated her poorly. Or is she the kind of person that lives by the golden rule that her Papa Gino has taught her? Lucy could have joined the other children in laughing at Ralph’s situation. She could have confronted him in anger and taken revenge by refusing to help. Instead, Lucy shows kindness despite how Ralph had teased her. She demonstrates true moral character through compassion. Ralph was not Lucy’s friend, but her courage and compassion allowed her to help him even though he had been mean to her.

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How Did My Kids Like It?

They love it! This book has been a great conversation starter to talk about how to be a good friend, that it’s ok to like things others don’t like, and what it means to show kindness even to people that aren’t your people. These are actually pretty deep issues for kids and at 4 and 6, the social development addressed in the book is right where they are. We also talked about the book from Ralph’s perspective. He’s left out, shunned, and laughed at by the other children in the book. While it’s true that he didn’t need to take that out on Lucy, it was a good talking point for being a friend to everyone. Beyond that, they love the silly notion of eating spaghetti in a hot dog bun. Guess what’s for lunch today!

For Teachers

This is a perfect book for K-2, especially at the beginning of the year. There is even a musical version that you can bring to your school! I’m even thinking of incorporating it into my children’s play unit at the high school level. Even though my students are too old for it as literature, the lessons are still relevant and can be discussed more freely if it is in the context of them needing to teach younger children.

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