I Really Like Slop! written by Mo Willems, a New York Times best-selling author and illustrator, is part of the Elephant Gerald and Piggie series. Gerald and Piggie are best friends, who on the surface appear as complete opposites —Gerald is cautious and perhaps even a little dour, while Piggie is quite boisterous. Together, they have amusing escapades that often involve nudging Gerald past his reserve to try something new. Indeed, this is the case in I Like Slop!, where Piggie introduces Gerald to his very favorite food, slop. Not just any slop of course, but Piggie’s special slop that is spicy, tastes of old shoes, and attracts a good many fly to the bowl when ripe. Predictably, Gerald does not share Piggie’s enthusiasm for slop. He shouts, “NO WAY!” when invited to taste. However, Gerald is Piggie’s best friend and slop is an important part of pig culture, so he decides to give it an (anxious) try. Willems’s artistic talents shine through in the seven colorful pages portraying Gerald’s reaction to one very, tiny taste of slop. The book ends with Gerald saying that he doesn’t like slop, which disappoints Piggie. Nonetheless, he is glad that he tried it, because he really likes Piggie, an ending that makes them both quite pleased with one another, and slop.
Why I love this book:
This delightful exchange between elephant and pig models and supports several important aspects of eating competency.
First, being positive about eating and about food, shouldn’t be equated with actually liking any one food or types of foods. Gerald doesn’t like slop and that is ok. A lovely part of this book is that we see Gerald’s positive eating attitude; he shows appreciation for the process of tasting a new food. Eating competence isn’t about liking every food (a state of being), it is about being positive about the process of eating and about food.
Next, promoting curiosity is a helpful strategy in support of learning to like new foods. Gerald is initially revolted with the very idea that slop is to be eaten (“You EAT that!” he exclaims). He overcomes his revulsion when he learns that slop is part of pig culture. His revulsion transforms to curiosity, a very helpful outlook that can be modeled by parents. Selective or cautious eaters in particular may benefit from hearing that adults sometimes aren’t so sure what some foods will taste like and nonetheless taste a nibble.
Gerald and Piggie remind us that although parents are highly influential in food choices, friends hold sway as well. Food acceptance for oneself and others can help a child learn to navigate and appreciate cultures, places, and people. These are important life skills, not just eating skills.
Lastly, while Piggie doesn’t do a perfect job of not pressuring Gerald, he does a pretty good job of it. Indeed, he does such a respectable job that they both feel good at the end of the book even though Gerald truly dislikes slop. Notice that Piggie doesn’t tell Gerald that he will like slop or that he will not like it. He says, “Maybe you will really like slop!” He leaves the possibility open. Piggie doesn’t bribe his friend to try it. Not only does Gerald decide whether to eat slop, but also how much slop he wanted to eat (a very small taste as it turned out).. He accepted Gerald’s judgement of slop without arguments like “But, it is so healthy! Everyone I know likes slop! Your brother likes slop!” Children are more likely to keep trying new foods when they feel that their likes and dislikes are respected.
For a special treat, watch Mo Willems make Piggie's Slop!
Keep in mind that Piggie and Gerald are friends and not all their interactions deserve modeling by parents! Piggie provides a play-by-play commentary of Gerald’s slop tasting, “You are close to trying slop! You are closer! Closer! You TRIED it!” Gerald’s increasing anxiety is clearly illustrated as he sweats and the perspective focuses in tight. This is an excellent example of what not to do. Remember, parents decide what and where to eat, children decide how much to eat (division of responsibility). Pressure, even in the form of praise, may work in the short-term, but is not a recipe for long-term success in building eating competency.
Family Conversation Starters:
- Gerald was surprised that slop was food. What food do you eat that someone from another planet would find strange? Why?
- Why do you think that Piggie’s feelings were hurt when Gerald first refused to try slop
- What food do you like that (brother, sister, parent) does not like? What food do you not like that (brother, sister, parent) likes?
- Do you think that Gerald told his parents that he tried slop? Why or why not?
- Do you think that Gerald will ever try slop again? Why?
- Why do you think that Gerald was glad that he tried slop even though he didn’t like it?
If you have read this book to your child, what did you talk about? Tell us about it in the comments.