October 29, 2015


Do I Have to Say Hello? Aunt Delia’s Manners Quiz for Kids and Their Grownups. By Delia Ephron. Drawings by Edward Koren. Blue Rider Press. $24.95.

     Emily Post this isn’t. Or, rather, Emily Post this is, sort of, but with a far lighter approach to life and far less concern about minutiae. Delia Ephron spends no time on matters such as the correct order in which to use utensils in a fancy restaurant. She is much more interested in asking what you should do in that fancy restaurant if you notice a fly swimming in your soup. The three choices: “Do you swat it?” “Do you eat it?” “Do you say, ‘Excuse me,’ to the waiter, ‘but a fly is swimming in my soup’?” Lest there be any uncertainty about the best response (there is no answer key here!), Edward Koren’s perfectly apt but marvelously outlandish illustrations show a little girl standing by a giant bowl of soup, wielding a fly swatter; a little girl about to devour a fly that is as large as her head and is sporting a bewildered expression; and a little girl talking politely to the waiter as a fly almost the size of the soup bowl does what appears to be the Australian crawl.

     Ephron and Koren have so much fun with matters of manners that kids (and parents) will inevitably have fun with the topic, too. And a good thing: upcoming holidays are always fodder for figuring out the right thing (and many wrong things) to say. For example, “Which of these are appropriate subjects for Thanksgiving dinner conversation? Whether the turkey knew it was going to die. The time cousin Michelle laughed so hard while eating that a hot dog came out of her nose. Stink bombs. Pilgrims.” Remember, there is no answer key!

     Most pages of Do I Have to Say Hello? are filled with questions and potential answers, but a few are crammed with illustrations that may make some adults wonder whether they have wandered by mistake into The New Yorker, to which Koren frequently contributes cartoons. For example, one two-page spread is called “The Noise Chart” and asks, “Which noises are acceptable at the dinner table?” There are 10 possibilities here, and examining the kids’ expressions will not provide any clues: whether going “cluck,” “ugh,” “moo” or “yech,” the kids are smiling and appear to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. Parents should warn of incipient expression changes if their kids are caught making most of these sounds (“mmmmMMMMMM” is acceptable).

     There are the usual subjects here for kids interested in manners (or being forced to pay attention to them): visiting, eating, car, school, playground, birthday party. But there are some unexpected areas as well, and some possible responses that may take a bit of time to think through. Under “Beach Manners,” for instance, is the question, “Which of these things is it okay to say in a loud voice at the beach?” There are six possibilities given: “Oh, it’s so beautiful here.” “The sand in my suit is making my butt itch.” “Why is that man so fat?” “Boy, did that bathroom smell.” “Aunt Delia, that woman isn’t wearing a top.” “Sharks! Sharks!” Now, the first of these is clearly intended to be the right answer, but maybe it would be all right for a child to comment on a topless beachgoer, and it would certainly be acceptable to shout about sharks if there were in fact any swimming around. Do I Have to Say Hello? invites kids and their parents to discuss just these sorts of issues – that is, to consider what it is appropriate to say, where and when, and under what circumstances.

     Among the other out-of-the-ordinary sections here are ones on soccer manners (including goalie and referee bonus questions), movie manners (including bonuses for the candy counter and for popcorn – with response ratings ranging from G to R), and video game manners. From this section: “Yikes, a zombie is coming after you. Aunt Delia says, ‘How was school this week, sweetie?’ What is the most polite answer?” The choices are: “Not now, I’m busy.” “NOT NOW, I’M BUSY!” “May I please tell you later? I’ve got zombie problems.” “You just made me die.” Now there’s a scenario missing from all old-fashioned etiquette books!

     The point is that Do I Have to Say Hello? is distinctly and deliberately not old-fashioned, and yet there is an undercurrent of politeness and deference to others here that is just as important as in more-traditional etiquette books. And just as Ephron is expert at coming up with three or more bad choices for every good one, so Koren does a wonderful job of finding lots of wrong things to show and just one or a few that are right. The Ephron-Koren team is a winning one throughout. One page in the video-game section, for instance, is a “Facial Expression Chart” proffering the question, “Which expressions are the most likely to get you more time for playing video games? Which are the least likely?” Kids can look at the eight possibilities, then look in a mirror, and try to figure that one out on their own. There is a pervasive sense of fun here – not something usually associated with manners books. Even soup can be fun, and not just when there are flies in it. A page called “Tricky Question 4” asks, “Who is using the soupspoon properly?” There are only three drawings here, one showing a girl eating soup, one showing a girl using a gigantic spoon as a canoe paddle, and one showing a boy during a downpour, using a huge spoon as an umbrella. The answer, obviously, is that all three are proper soupspoon uses – if you happen to have a gigantic spoon and no paddle or a huge spoon and no umbrella during heavy rain. This is probably not the intended answer, but at least kids who use the spoons those ways won’t end up eating flies. But beware, parents, of children who think about their responses too creatively: they may grow up with a sense of humor akin to those of Ephron and Koren. Uh-oh.

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