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Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

An Imaginative Children's Picture Book

About.com Rating 5 Star Rating

By Reviews of Children's Picture Books

Cover art of Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs children's picture book
Simon and Schuster
It’s no wonder that Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Judi Barrett is a bestseller, with more than three million copies sold since it was first published in 1978. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs is a children’s picture book that features an imaginative and amusing story, which is made extremely enjoyable because of the illustrations by Ron Barrett. Barrett’s artwork expands the story with a great many humorous touches.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: The Story in Words and Pictures

One of the things I particularly like about this picture book is the way the tale is framed at the beginning and end. The book begins with a young girl's description of a family breakfast at which her grandfather accidentally flips a pancake onto her brother Henry’s head. According to the girl, "That night, touched off by the pancake incident at breakfast, Grandpa told us the best tall-tale bedtime story he’d ever told."

Up to that point, all of the illustrations in comic-style are sketched in black ink only. However, once Grandpa’s story starts, all of the illustrations are in color, with the black sketches filled in with watercolors. This is very effective in moving the reader from reality to fantasy. It reminds me of the classic movie version of The Wizard of Oz in which Dorothy’s life in Kansas is in black and white, but when she reaches Oz, it’s all in color.

Grandpa’s story is full of drama, adventure, and humor as he tells the story of the tiny town of Chewandswallow where there aren’t any food stores because all the food the residents need comes down from the sky at mealtimes. Instead of rain or snow, for example, soup or mashed potatoes might come down. In order to be prepared, everyone in the town carries their dishes, forks, spoons, and knives with them whenever they go outside.

Everything is fine in Chewandswallow until the weather starts getting worse and worse. Violent storms bring giant servings. A huge pancake covers the school, giant meatballs damage homes, and the residents finally decide they have to leave. They make rafts out of giant peanut butter sandwiches and sail to a new land. There they have to get used to going to the store for food, but they never again have to worry about getting hit by a giant meatball.

As the story ends and Grandpa tells the children goodnight, the illustrations revert to black ink on white pages. However, at the book's end, there's a touch of color. The morning after the story, when the children are out sledding, the illustration shows a yellow sun starting to rise behind the snowy hill. To the children it looks like a giant serving of mashed potatoes with "a giant pat of butter on the top." The use of color to show the children exercising their imaginations as a result of hearing Grandpa’s story is an inspired touch.

The Illustrations

Ron Barrett’s imaginative illustrations expand the story greatly. For example, the story only states that "something flew through the air headed toward the kitchen ceiling . . . and landed right on Henry." However, the illustration shows the dog running after the cat, bumping into Grandpa and knocking over a chair, so now we know not only what happened but why Grandpa lost control of the pancake he was flipping.

The most fun comes with Ron Barrett’s illustrations of Chewandswallow. One of my favorites accompanies a simple description of some of the foods that blew in one day at lunchtime. The illustration shows the dining room of a restaurant. The sign on the door says, Ralph’s Roofless Restaurant. The maitre d' greets a family at the door while diners frantically try to catch the frankfurters that are falling from the sky. What fun!

The Author and Illustrator

Author Judi Barrett and illustrator Ron Barrett have collaborated on several books, including Pickles to Pittsburgh, the sequel to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, and Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing. Never Take a Shark to the Dentist: and Other Things Not to Do, Which Witch is Which? and Things That Are Most in the World are among the other picture books written by Judi Barrett. Ron Barrett is both the author and the illustrator of The Nutty News. Their Grandpa's Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs Cookbook, published in 2013, is great fun for fans of Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs: My Recommendation

I recommend Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs for 4- to 8-year-olds, as well as for older kids. It’s a wonderful book to read aloud. You’ll find it sparks kids’ imaginations, and they will come up with all kinds of food-related happenings after enjoying the book. The book also serves as an excellent starting point for a creative writing unit for tweens (ages 8-12) and young teens, as well as an excellent addition to a creative writing and/or visual art unit for tweens and teens on storytelling through a combination of words and pictures. (Aladdin Paperbacks, Simon and Schuster, 1978. ISBN: 9780689707490).

Add to the Fun with a Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Story Sack

After you and your kids enjoy the book together, extend the fun by making a story sack. Sherri Osborn, the About.com Guide to Family Crafts, provides all the information you need to make your own Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs Story Sack, including directions for a spaghetti and meatball hat, a paper apron, a food collage and much more.

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