The Horribly Hungry Gingerbread Boy: A San Francisco Story

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
The Horribly Hungry Gingerbread Boy: A San Francisco Story Book Poster Image
Friendship, kindness sweeten vibrant retelling of folktale.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Strong messages about making up for harm you've caused and how to be a good friend. City landmarks are identified and mapped in a helpful two-page spread at the back of the book. An author's note tells the background of the story of the Gingerbread Man and why Kleven chose to change it. Also includes a recipe for baking gingerbread people.

Positive Messages

Being selfish and rude is never OK, even when your feelings have been hurt. It's important to try to make things right when you've harmed others. Understanding and forgiveness are important for good friendships. Everyone deserves a second chance.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Shirley pursues her runaway cookie until the end, where she offers forgiveness and understanding. She and the Gingerbread Boy work out their problem and agree to be friends, and Shirley helps him with a special apology for everyone the Gingerbread Boy harmed. City residents respond warmly and welcome him.

Violence & Scariness

The Gingerbread Boy grows enormously large, lapping up Lombard Street and stretching over the Golden Gate Bridge.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Horribly Hungry Gingerbread Boy is a brightly illustrated celebration of San Francisco and a fun update on the familiar folk tale. Instead of getting tricked and eaten by a fox, this gingerbread cookie finds forgiveness thanks to a true friend who helps him become a better person. He grows enormously large, stretching across the Golden Gate Bridge and threatening to devour the sun. The book, by San Francisco Bay Area author-illustrator Elisa Kleven (The Paper Princess), captures the eclectic charm and diverse people of the city, from Chinatown and Golden Gate Park to the coastal redwoods. The book includes a recipe for gingerbread people and a guide to the landmarks pictured throughout the story.

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What's the story?

THE HORRIBLY HUNGRY GINGERBREAD BOY starts out as a cookie Shirley bakes and packs in her lunch after nibbling his thumb. But when she opens her lunchbox, the gingerbread boy has eaten everything else she packed -- and he's still hungry! She implores him to stop, but he runs off, unhappy she hurt him by taking a bite out of him. The gingerbread boy romps through San Francisco, stealing and devouring sweets, steaks, crabs, and more. He grows huge, threatening to swallow the bay and even the sun. Shirley chides him, telling him it's rude to gobble everything. She assures him she'd like to be his friend, but he needs to be polite. The gingerbread boy, delighted, helps bake cookies to deliver to all the people he upset during his rampage.

Is it any good?

This charming take on the familiar Gingerbread Man folk tale is a candy-colored confection -- much like the city of San Francisco itself -- with a sweetened lesson about compassion and friendship. A sly fox encounters The Horribly Hungry Gingerbread Boy at Land's End, but he gets not a crumb: In Elisa Kleven's retelling, the self-centered cookie is redeemed thanks to the faith and generosity of his friend Shirley.

The rhyming text occasionally stumbles, but the gorgeous artwork makes up for it. Kleven's richly colored pages -- a blend of watercolor, ink, pencil, and collage -- overflow with detail, rewarding repeat readers. And the themes of forgiveness and kindness make it a terrific conversation-starter with young kids.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the misunderstanding in The Horribly Hungry Gingerbread Boy. Have you ever had a misunderstanding get in the way of a friendship? How is Shirley a good friend to the Gingerbread Boy?

  • How is this version of the story different from others you've heard or read? What's fun about setting a classic folk tale set in present-day San Francisco? 

  • What does it mean to make amends? 

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