Why I Love “The Incredible Book Eating Boy” And How it Taught my Kids About Misinformation

I serendipitously stumbled upon this picture book by Oliver Jeffers a few years ago when my five year old picked it out of a pile of books in the library. She spied an odd bite mark on the back cover and insisted I read it to her.With little hope for substance, I swiftly scanned the pages and thought it another silly book that might give her a laugh or two.

I read the book to her. Then I read it to myself — slowly this time. I took the book home and read it to my family. I read it to my friends. And finally, I read it to my students. Suffice it to say, I was in love with this book.

Why do I love this book? Well..

We live in a time where we can know almost everything about anything at anytime. We collect facts. Enough facts to make us feel informed, equipped, intelligent. After a while, it becomes difficult to distinguish between what we’ve collected and what we’ve acquired, and we graduate ourselves to experts (or well-informed-responsible-citizens, for the more humble of us). We spew out information, odd tidbits, facts here and there, enough to satiate our covert conceit. But unlike computers, our facts are tinged by our biases — our experiences (or lack thereof) — so they become muddled, and then further fuddled by algorithmic echo chambers. Finally, out comes a misinformed generation who thinks itself a demigod to its own subject universe.

Phew. Well that is bleak.

Knowledge is slow. And we’re losing our ability to be slow. This book highlights for kids why when we rush to consume information we become confused. We need “time to digest it properly.” Time to take it in and turn it from something we’ve collected into something we understand.

…otherwise logic will be lost,“2 + 6 [will equal] elephant,” and George Orwell will have missed the mark by about 30 years!

“The Incredible Book Eating Boy” by Oliver Jeffers

Teaching Tools:

  1. What happened when Henry consumed too much too fast? (he became ill; he made mistakes; he became confused)
  2. How did Henry feel when he first started eating books? (smarter; excited; happy)
  3. Was Henry really smarter? (no, he became confused)
  4. What did Henry realize in the end? (you need to ‘digest’ what you consume; you can be smart but it takes time)
  5. What do you think it means to be smart/intelligent? (have knowledge)
  6. What is knowledge? (recipe for knowledge: take information, add guidance to it, knead it into understanding, sprinkle it with experience, and bake it into application).
  7. What is the difference between information and knowledge? (information is facts we collect, but knowledge is an understanding we can apply; information stays in our brains, but knowledge manifests in our hearts and limbs).
  8. How do we acquire knowledge? (from verified and trusted sources: books, teachers, experts)

wage beauty| published in McSweeny’s Internet Tendency; Anchor Magazine| recipient of the 2018 SCBWI Emerging Voices Award

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