Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs

September 9, 2018
Subheader: 

Pointless with a chance of confusion.

Review: 

This is a weird book. It doesn't really go anywhere, and I'm not crazy about the framing device. A brother and sister live with their mom and their grandfather (it doesn't say where their father is). Their grandfather tells them a bedtime story about a place where food falls from the sky instead of regular weather. The people living in the place are fine with this, and there's an agency called the Sanitation Department which scoops up all the stuff that nobody eats and puts it in the ocean, feeds the dogs and cats for some bizarre reason, and puts some of it in the earth so that the soil can be richer for the people's flower gardens. One of the weird weather descriptions is the jello that sets in the west one night. How are they even supposed to reach that? But eventually the weather gets worse and dangerous things start falling from the sky, like a giant pancake, and more food than everybody can eat, and they can't get rid of it. So they just abandon the town on giant rafts made out of peanut butter sandwiches (which of course would get soggy in the water and melt and crumble and fall apart and all the people would drown, but hey, you know, whatever) and after sailing for a week they land in a coastal town and build themselves temporary houses out of the bread in a big open area that the town apparently had set aside for this sort of thing. They're surprised that they have to buy food now. But nobody ever went back to their old place because they were too afraid to figure out what happened. After this story, the kids go to sleep, and wake up the next morning and play in the snow. The end.

It's kind of surreal and doesn't make a lot of sense. Apart from the physics-defying part of it, the logistics are ridiculous. The Sanitation Department has an impossible job, and what do you do for the people who don't eat at a specified time, like people who are on the night shift? It says they save the leftovers for between-meal snacking, but one would think there might be a use for someone with access to large-scale refrigeration saving the food and reheating it if necessary for people. Even people who don't happen to like whatever's on the celestial menu for the day. And that would involve selling and buying food. It's almost like people being surprised that, despite there being rain and rivers, we pay for water. Sure, you could go drink out of the gutter, but you'll get sick. And speaking of "sanitation", I'm not sure how sanitary it is to eat food that's been falling from the sky. It just keeps showing people holding out plates or other random objects to catch the food, and that's gotta be hard to clean. Not to mention the food that lands on people's roofs. If the density of skyborne food is large enough for people to just haphazardly hold out a hand and grab something falling from the sky, that means there's a massive amount of waste. And people are shown driving in the street when pancakes are raining from the sky. That seems like a visibility hazard. And despite knowing the schedule the food will fall on, people always seem surprised when it happens. A high-school football game is "called on account of pie." What did they expect, scheduling it during dessert? Something was going to cover the field. Maybe pie wasn't in the weather report, but they would have been ankle-deep in dinner food before the pie even got there. And does this mysterious land not have microorganisms? I don't want to imagine the smell after it rains chicken broth. Ugh.

And there's one particularly weird image-- a roofless "restaurant" has a family entering, and for some unknown reason, the little boy in the family has a pair of Groucho Marx glasses on and big funny ears, like he's supposed to be in disguise. I don't get that. Is it a reference to something that I'm unfamiliar with?

And do the wild animals eat the food that falls from the sky? There's a picture of a deer drinking from a lake, surrounded by baked potatoes on the ground. Do the deer eat the potatoes? Exactly what ecological niche do they fill in this bizarre world? And the reason for the weather suddenly becoming worse is not explained, or even wondered at. The people just seem to think, "Oh well, this is how it's always been, so we'd better eat as much of these disgusting and/or enormous foods as possible so there's room for everyone to keep walking around." The inhabitants of the place also seem to have fairly modern conveniences as well, which you would think require trade with the outside world. Unless cars, gasoline, and television sets (with apparently extremely limited reception so they don't know about other places) also fall from the sky. This is almost like the Truman Show with its insane lack of knowledge of the outside world, like someone is keeping them in the dark about the rest of humanity. If they have news broadcasts, chances are they've got telephones that can contact other countries, and ask for foreign aid about the weather problem. Do they make their own films for their movie theater? Or do they selectively import movies that never once mention grocery shopping? Or if they're completely isolated from the rest of humanity and coincidentally managed to have parallel development of practically all modern technology, why in the world do they have what is apparently a Christian church? (Are they, in fact, disciples of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?)

I know, I know, I'm reading far too much into this. But all of this crossed my mind literally within 10 minutes of reading the book. It makes no sense, and it's unclear if it's supposed to. What is the point of this book? Where is it going with this meandering story? What is it trying to say? I have no idea. It basically just says, "Once upon a time, there was this place where food fell from the sky, and then all the people left." Why did you even bother telling the story? Is it just an exercise in storytelling? It's got some creative descriptions, but the world-building here is decidedly sub-par. And some of the text is just extraneous. The little girl, who is the narrator of the external framing device, says, "Henry and I were awake until the very end of grandpa's story. I remember his goodnight kiss." Why is that important? Is it implying that she wasn't telling the truth and it's actually a weird dream she had? Because it makes about as much sense as one. Otherwise, it's just saying, "I heard every part of the story I just related to you." Well, obviously. Otherwise, you wouldn't have been able to relate it.

Message: 

It's a good thing food doesn't fall from the sky.

Author
Illustrator
Awards
Publication Year
  • 1978
Age Range
Age Range: 
4-8
Number of Pages
Number of Pages: 
30
Number of Words on Typical Page
Number of Words: 
65

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