let’s have dinner with the highbrows (or not)

Ahem. It’s time to sit up straight, place our napkins in our laps, and make polite conversation at the table.

Or, we can fling meatballs at each other.

I leave it to you to decide which would be more fun and/or politically correct. 🙂

To help make up your mind, why not take a bite or two of Dinner with the Highbrows: A Story About Good (or Bad) Manners (Henry Holt, 2014) by Kimberly Willis Holt and Kyrsten Brooker?

Bernard could hardly wait until next Saturday. He was invited to eat dinner with Gilbert Highbrow’s family. Bernard had never eaten at a friend’s house.

Bernard’s mom is all a-fluster. The Highbrows live in “a fine house” and only the best manners will do for such posh people. She coaches Bernard all week on the essentials: compliment and thank the hosts, say a blessing, no elbows on the table, don’t talk with your mouth full, no singing!, help clear the dishes. Bernard practices and practices, hoping he’ll be able to remember all the rules.

Art ©2014 Krysten Brooker

On Saturday, he’s excited but nervous. When he finally gets to the Highbrows’, he’s greeted by shouts and cheers and quickly whisked off with the family to Antonio’s restaurant in a white limousine.

But once there, the Highbrows do just the opposite of everything Bernard’s mom taught him. Napkins around necks! Talking with mouths full! Elbows and feet(!) on the table! Burping! Food fight! Teeth picking! Even singing! Bernard has never seen spaghetti and meatballs eaten with such gustatory gusto.


The Highbrows may be upper crust, but their manners are all a-crumble. Plus, they’ve got tomato sauce all over their faces.

Despite the noise and mealtime melee, Bernard maintains his cool, ever the model of good behavior. He remembers to bow his head for the blessing, carefully places his napkin in his lap, keeps his mouth closed while chewing, and politely thanks the Highbrows for a lovely meal. Naturally, they all think Bernard’s peculiar — especially when they see what he does right after dinner (too funny!).


Kids will lap up this lively, hilarious lesson in table etiquette. It will give them a chance to be vicariously naughty for a few delicious minutes. Learning by negative example is often more effective than straight-up preaching, and coming to this story with an attitude of “knowing better” is also empowering.

Readers will be hooked by the sheer anticipation of seeing what the Highbrows will do next. Who would believe anyone could be that loud, unruly and messy in a public restaurant — and get away with it? We all love to see people doing things we dare not do from a safe distance, and it’s definitely fun to see how Bernard reacts when faced with the unexpected.

The fact that money cannot buy good manners, or that people are often not what they seem on the surface are good topics for parent-child or teacher-student discussions. Also interesting to consider is that no two families are alike. Though the Highbrows are sloppy eaters, they were welcoming and friendly towards Bernard. They might have thought he was strange, but they accepted it and never intentionally made him feel uncomfortable.

Kyrsten Brooker’s wonderful oil and cut paper illustrations are a study in exuberance, comical caricatures, retro threads, highly emotive facial expressions and cool mustaches. They ramp up the humor and effectively capture the chaos and cacophony of the rambunctious Highbrows, and by contrast, the earnest efforts of unsuspecting guest Bernard Worrywart. I love how collaged details (especially Mrs. Worrywart’s dresses/aprons and Mrs. Highbrow’s hat) create an old-fashioned feel for this timeless message: good manners never go out of style.

Munchkins will likely ask for second helpings of this rib-tickler, if only to pick up meatball flinging tips. Oops.

If there is a mischievous bear in your midst, mind he doesn’t lick the pages or steal all the meatballs in the book. Pass the sauce! 🙂

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DINNER WITH THE HIGHBROWS: A Story About Good (or Bad) Manners
written by Kimberly Willis Holt
illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
published by Christy Ottaviano Books/Henry Holt, 2014
Picture Book for ages 4-7, 36 pp.
*Love the adorable endpapers 🙂
**Will make you crave spaghetti and meatballs

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Have you ever seen customers misbehave in a restaurant? Do tell. 🙂


Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.


16 thoughts on “let’s have dinner with the highbrows (or not)

  1. What a fun way to discuss manners–good and bad–and the surprises in store when you dine with other families. I hope Cornelius didn’t pick up TOO many bad habits!


  2. This reminds me of my old Highlights magazines and Goofus and Gallant. Someone should collect those old cartoons about manners into book form, at least the ones that stand the test of time.


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