Review: The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom

The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom

by Michal Babay, illustrated by Paula Cohen

Charlesbridge, 2022

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Shirley Reva Vernick

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The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom is a hilarious contemporary retelling of the Yiddish folktale popularized by Margot Zemach’s 1977 book, It Could Always Be Worse. In Babay’s story, the students at Parley Elementary tell their principal, Mrs. Mensch, that the cafeteria is too noisy and crowded. Mrs. M. responds by moving more and more things into the lunchroom – things like science projects, classroom pets, and school sports teams. When the situation reaches peak chaos, the principal finally returns the cafeteria to its original state. The students are now thrilled with their suddenly roomy and quiet lunchroom. The end note summarizes the original Yiddish folktale and explains the story's importance to the author.

The Incredible Shrinking Lunchroom is a warm, smart, and funny demonstration of the importance of gratitude and a positive perspective. Young children, guardians, and teachers will relate to the setting (crowded school spaces), and they’ll laugh out loud at the riotous illustrations of the hijinks. Students are shown as diverse – varying in color, physical ability, and religion. Highly recommended for home, school and library.

A strong contender for the Sydney Taylor Book Award, this action-packed, witty story deftly shares the Jewish value of being content with what one has (sameach b’chelko). It would be a natural springboard for conversations about coping with difficult situations.

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Reviewer Shirley Reva Vernick is a middle-grade and young-adult novelist. Shirley’s debut novel, The Blood Lie, is a Sydney Taylor honor book and the winner of the Simon Wiesenthal Once Upon A World Book Award. Her latest Jewish-themed MG novel, RIPPED AWAY, was released by Regal House Publishing on February 8, 2022.