Yi-Shan Tsai blogs with us today. She has been a Primary School teacher in Taiwan for three years. Yi-Shan completed her MPhil degree in the University of Cambridge. Her MPhil research looked at the depiction of emotions in postmodern picture books. She is currently doing a PhD as part of the Children’s Literature research group, @CamEdFac, University of Cambridge. Her PhD research focuses on British young people’s engagement with Manga.

“ENEMY PIE”: a relational view

Derek Munson’s Enemy Pie comes top of my list of my favourite books because the little boy’s father has a secret method to get rid of enemies that just completely wins my heart. The little boy in this story has not had a particularly great summer because his new neighbour, Jeremy Ross, has upset the applecart. Jeremy laughed at the little boy when he struck him out in a baseball game. He invited everyone to a trampoline party in his house including the little boy’s best friend. But the little boy was left out.

Now, the little boy’s father saw he was having a bad time and so decided to help him. The secret lay in making an enemy pie. Making the enemy pie did not require disgusting ingredients like earthworms or chewed gum. In fact, it smelled so good that no enemy in the world could reject it. However, the magic of the enemy pie could only work if the boy was willing to spend a day with his enemy and be very nice to him. It was tough in the beginning, but the little boy started to find that hanging out with his enemy was kind of fun. It turned out that Jeremy Ross was not a very good enemy after all. So the little boy tried to stop Jeremy from eating the enemy pie but failed. Surprisingly, Jeremy does not come to any harm. Nevertheless, the enemy pie did work. The little boy had just lost his big enemy on that day.

Enemy Pie by Derek Munson

Cover of Enemy Pie by Derek Munson.

Let’s take a further step to deconstruct this story to two basic narrative elements: problem and solution. The problem that the little boy faced was having an unpleasant neighbour who was a perceived threat to him in sports and his social circle. This could cause anxiety in a child who was seeking for recognition and identity in school and among his peers. The solution that the little boy came up with was “an eye for an eye”. He first created an enemy list for Jeremy Ross. Then he joined the plan to make an enemy pie that he believed would do something horrible to his enemy. This solution did not exactly work out because his father had a better solution in his mind. That is to build up a relationship with the enemy. By spending time with the enemy, the boy got to know his enemy better. Eventually, he got rid of his enemy by turning him into a friend. This can be a story to simply teach readers to challenge existing stereotypes. However, it also points us to see parents’ engagement in a child’s education.

First of all, the boy’s father engaged when the boy encountered a problem in his life. The father could have ignored it and chosen to do something else that mattered to the family’s finance or whatever he saw as more important (perhaps simply lying on the couch and watching TV). Instead, he went to the effort of spending hours making a pie to help his son solve a problem.

Secondly, the father simply acted as a counsellor and a facilitator. He could have gone to knock on the door of Jeremy’s house and accuse his parents of failing to raise their child well, or perhaps he could have tackled Jeremy directly. Instead, he let the little boy be the one to amend the relationship and build a friendship with Jeremy. He gave the boy an opportunity to explore his own problem and the possible solution. He used an implicit way to show his son that a self-centred mind could blind people’s eyes whilst an open mind could help clear up misunderstanding. He did not take over the little boy’s opportunity to learn to solve problems in his life.

Thinking about this story in a real-life school context, I believe we should try to engage parents in education so as help students develop through an active partnership between parents and teachers. Perhaps one principle we can take away from Enemy Pie is that we should not stand in the way of our children’s right to learn. We should stand with them.

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