Vintage Friday: How My Parents Learned To Eat By Friedman & Say

When I was writing about Monday’s book and thinking of Japan and cultural differences, this book came to mind. I love this book. Monday we talked about a Japan bath house. For this vintage Friday, I bring a love story about ways of eating. Whether you eat with chopsticks or use utensils the American way or the British way, you’ll love this story. Take a look at How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman, illustrated by Allen Say, 1984.

A little girl sits at a table in a kitchen wearing a red kimono, holding chopsticks and a bowl of rice.

The story opens with a little girl eating at a table with chopsticks and wearing a kimono. She tells the reader that at her house, sometimes they eat with chopsticks and sometimes with knives and forks.

A white boy in a sailor suit stands next to a Japanese girl in a black skirt and top with a scarf around her neck. She is holding a brown bookbag and they are looking at each other while standing in a market.

She then tells the story of how her parents met in Japan – her mother, Aiko, as a Japanese schoolgirl and her father, John, an American sailor. They loved to walk together every day, but they never dared eat together. John was afraid that he’d be a fool with chopsticks, and Aiko thought John would think she is silly to not know how to use a knife and fork.

The sailor sits at a table holding chopsticks and a bowl of something, He is looking at little kids sitting next to him also eating with chopsticks.

Finally, John’s ship is about to sail but he really wants to marry Aiko. He doesn’t feel they can marry before they have eaten together! So he goes to a restaurant and asks the waiter to teach him how to use chopsticks. He then calls Aiko to make a dinner date.

Aiko lays on a mattress on the floor with her head on a hand and staring blankly towards the floor where a book lays upside down and open. John sits on a bed, holding two pencils like chopsticks and scratching the back of his head. A picture of Aiko hangs on his wall.

Aiko is nervous about eating properly, so she visits her Great Uncle who learned to eat the Western way when he visited England. She asks him to teach her how to eat with a knife and fork. Now they are set for a dinner date… but things turn out differently than they intended, and yet still hilarious, charming, and a delightful love/family story.

Aiko sits at a table holding a spoon mid-air. On the table is a Western table service with a bowl of soup. On the right picture, a close-up of a hand holding a fork upside down with a pile of potatoes holding 5 peas.

What a super fun book. I just love the tone of this story. It truly feels like sitting at a meal with a couple and having them share about how they met. It also reminds me of “The Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry, in how they each try to please the other and cross details! I also love that the opening and closing show the little girl – eating with a kimono and chopsticks and then closing with American clothing and a knife and fork! Such charming details.

John and Aiko sit at a table eating steak, peas, and mashed potatoes with knives and forks. They are staring at each other.

This book does feel vintage in text style and even the more calm illustrations. I still love it, and maybe more so because of its dated feel. It fits the story. And you cannot argue with Alley Say illustrations. Such a classic. The story is just charming and makes me “Awww!” every time we read it. I love the celebration of culture and connection. I love the celebration of food and the willingness to try new things to meet each other. And I love that it feels like a family telling a special, family story. A delightful book.

I was wishing I could find a clip of it being read on Reading Rainbow, but no luck yet. If you get your hands on a copy, I hope you love it too.

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