I noticed while trying to select picture books for BoyChild recently that there are innumerable books for small children that revolve around food. (Friends, family, and feelings finish off the list of the four f’s of children’s literature, I think.) As I browsed the shelves and picked the mind of our branch children’s librarian, I found that the food theme isn’t limited to picture books! Below you’ll find a selection of books with more than a passing concern for victuals for a wide range of ages and interests–books about food, books with a lot of incidental food included, chef biographies, cookbooks, and cookbooks about food in books. It’s rather astonishing, really. Bon appétit!
The Baker’s Dozen: A Counting Book, by Dan Andreasen (2007): When the clock shows the early hour of 5 a.m., we see the baker start his day by making one cream éclair. By the time 6:20 rolls around, he’s on seven tarts, and when the clock strikes 8:00, he’s got twelve small cupcakes ready to go to open the door to his thirteen waiting customers! Cute illustrations of a very cheery chef making a diverse collection of treats will entertain young readers and counters and more definitely inspire requests for a snack! Perfect for preschoolers and early elementary children.
Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle (1990): In this leveled reader (Ready-to-Read Level One), Jack has to gather what his mother needs to make pancakes (from threshing the wheat to milking the cow!) before he can have his breakfast. While many of the words may be unfamiliar to a child who hasn’t farmed the land, they are at least simple to sound out, and the pictures and progression of the story lend themselves to predictions and picture clue strategies for understanding the text. Don’t let the scary pancake face on the cover fool you…there are no talking breakfast foods in this book! Good for early readers (particularly those fond of pancakes and/or Eric Carle books) and a great mentor text for writing a simple story about putting together a meal (and then doing so)!
Perfect Pancakes if You Please, by William Wise, pictures by Richard Egielski (1997): King Felix is a greedy and picky ruler, and he promises the hand of his daughter Princess Elizabeth in marriage in exchange for the perfect stack of pancakes. Her mother comforts her by saying that there is no such thing as a stack of perfect pancakes…unless you used “black magic itself,” and only Maximillian, the Evil Inventor, still used it in their kingdom, and he is so old that she believes he is probably dead by now. She is, unfortunately, incorrect, and when Princess Elizabeth refuses to marry him, he leaves his pancake-making invention to keep making pancakes until they overwhelm the kingdom. A tall, handsome scientist whom Princess Elizabeth had admired during the contest invents a flying machine to take the pancake-making machine to the moon, and the evil inventor gets trapped inside and shipped off with his machine. Princess Elizabeth marries the handsome young scientist, and not another pancake is eaten in all the kingdom ever again. Best for early elementary independent reading and read-alouds.
Gator Gumbo, by Candace Fleming, pictures by Sally Anne Lambert (2004): A bayou version of The Little Red Hen, Gator Gumbo tells the story of Monsieur Gator who is so old he can’t catch food anymore and is endlessly mocked by his former prey while he sadly eats his vegetables for every meal. One day he gets so angry at their taunts that he gets “hot…red hot…hotter than…Gumbo!” and gets a great idea. You can tell that there’s something stewing in his head more than in his pot by the look in his eye as he asks possum, otter, and skunk if they will help add each ingredient and gets the response, “I ain’t” (instead of “Not I!”) from each of them, so it’s barely a surprise when finally agrees to let the loafers try some tasty gumbo…and they all fall in the pot, the last and best ingredients in his gumbo. A little macabre, sure, but you have to tip your hat to Monsieur Gator for his ingenuity! A good read-aloud for preschool and early elementary or independent read for middle elementary readers.
Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off, by Herman Parish, pictures by Lynn Sweat (2010): I already wrote about the cake and some of the book elements in a previous blog entry, so you can get the details there. In short, in this installment in the series (written by the nephew of the original author after her death), Amelia Bedelia (who we already know is a good cook!) helps out in a bakery with her cousin Alcolu (whose name I cannot pronounce! AL-coe-loo? Al-COE-loo? AL-cuh-loo? Al-cuh-LOO?) as a favor for the baker who is taking the day off. Typical Amelia-Bedelia-ness occurs. And then she makes an impossibly perfect cake out of a basic (but tasty!) recipe. Sure to bring out giggle-fits in less literally-minded children with the background knowledge to understand the misunderstandings. :) An excellent choice for early elementary, particularly children with a pun-ny sense of humor and some baking experience in their personal history. Alternately, this book could be used to introduce some baking knowledge to encourage an attempt at baking (like it did with us!).
George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, by Gaylia Taylor, illustrated by Frank Morrison (2006): The author notes the inconsistency and scarcity of historical accounts about the creator of the potato chip, George Crum, a chef at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York back in the 1800s, but she pieces what she can together into a brief biographical story of the man whose feisty (love that word!) attitude and distaste for being looked down upon helped him stumble accidentally upon a recipe for one of America’s favorite snack foods. With its rich illustrations in acrylic and its text-heavy pages, this picture book is best as a read-aloud for a smallish group of good listeners or for independent middle elementary readers. (Three other picture book biographies I didn’t have a chance to actual read to review are Hiromi’s Hands, The Adventurous Chef: Alexis Soyer, and Bon Appétit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child, and they all look great!)
All in Just One Cookie, by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by Timothy Bush (2006): Grandma’s expecting company, so she’s baking up a batch of cookies. Her cat and dog (I don’t know why) go on a quest to discover where each of the ingredients originates. With each new ingredient (conveniently listed with instructions like amounts and how to mix it in) comes an explanation of where and how the ingredient is produced for use at home. While this isn’t the sort of book most kids will pore over alone, it would certainly go over well with the curious and those just wanting those chocolate chip cookies at the end! Best for elementary age children with an adult for assistance.
Chocolate Fever, by Robert Kimmel Smith (1972): I read this chocolate-themed classic for the first time ever when I was searching for books for this list, and I was pleasantly surprised. While the book clearly has some extremely silly parts (I mean, the kid breaks out in chocolate spots, for Pete’s sake), the gentle references to racism brought up by Mac (the truck driver from whom Henry catches a ride), his reminders to Henry about how his actions must be making his loving parents feel, and the bullying Henry faces on the playground because of his appearance all bring up important and serious topics within the funny framework of a boy catching chocolate fever. Chocolate-loving Henry makes a good story for middle elementary students for independent or group reading.
Lisa the Lollipop Fairy (Rainbow Magic: The Sugar & Spice Fairies), by Daisy Meadows (2013): One of the seven books in the Sugar & Spice Fairies branch of the Rainbow Magic series, Lisa the Lollipop Fairy tells the story of what happens when Jack Frost steals Lisa’s fairy charm and all sugary treats lose their sweetness. Just like in the tooth fairy book from the same series, Kirsty and Rachel save the day (as far as lollipops are concerned–stay tuned for the next book to see if they save ice cream, too!). GirlChild, for some girly-girl reason, really loves these books, so I’d say that the “appeals to 2nd-3rd graders” recommendation from the back of the book can be extended to include almost-first graders and that the “grade 4″ reading level might be overstating things a little. Heaven forbid your child wants to have this book read aloud (not my cup of tea, but maybe yours!), but they make fun, light reading for fairy-obsessed little girls.
Pie, by Sarah Weeks (2011): Alice’s Aunt Polly had run the town’s pie shop–just called PIE–for years, and her award-winning (and very secret!) crust recipe was the envy of all. When she dies suddenly, her will reveals the incomprehensible bequest of her secret recipe to Lardo, her cat, and the somewhat hateful cat to her niece Alice. After these already unusual events, Pie is robbed, and no one can figure out who would have done it. Alice and her friend Charlie investigate the mysterious goings-on and try their hands at some pies (much like everyone else in town). The epilogue isn’t the traditional predictable ending, and a lot of reviewers seemed upset by that, but I thought it was a perfectly reasonable outcome and satisfying closure. Recommended for mother/daughter book clubs, this book includes the recipes for the different pies mentioned in the story (but not the crust recipe!), and the book page on the author’s website includes a number of ideas for using the book in the classroom as well. Readers in middle elementary to middle school would find this simple (but not simplistic) book an enjoyable read.
Cookie, by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt (2008): While I had never heard of this author before finding the book while browsing the shelves, she is apparently quite the thing in places where they get a better selection of books written by English authors, and she deals with a number of tough topics in her vast bibliography of children’s books for a range of ages. Another common thread I noticed among her books is the relatively unusual names of her female protagonists, and Beauty, the main character of this book, is no exception. While the book’s main conflict comes from the emotional abuse dished out by Beauty’s dad to both her and her mother, it still ties in with the food theme for a couple reasons. Beauty’s father uses food as part of his repertoire of insults and intimidation (according to him, Beauty eats too much of it, and her mother is an incompetent cook), and the redemption in the end comes from Beauty’s mother overcoming his harassment and actually making a name and an independence for herself as a cookie baker. Beauty, through helping her mother’s new business and finding her voice in the world, regains the confidence and happiness that she had lost under her father’s tyranny. Serious themes, obviously, but a good book for upper elementary and middle school readers.
The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids, by Terese Allen and Bobbie Malone (2012): While you might not live in Wisconsin, you can use the subject search “Cooking–[your state name]” at your local library to find a similar cookbook for your own area! This particular book is organized by different “flavors from” categories, like forests (berries and maple sugar), waters and wetlands (fish and water-grown plants), meat and dairy farms (cheese, of course!), and foods from the different immigrant and native groups that have a strong presence in the area and an impact on regional cuisine. A brief introduction prefaces each section, and historical information is followed by a selection of relatively simple recipes that fit that category. Based on the complexity of the book and the somewhat mature palates necessary to enjoy many of these recipes, I’d recommend it for upper elementary and middle school readers and cooks (and their responsible adults at home or school).
Cool World Cooking: Fun and Tasty Recipes for Kids!, by Lisa Wagner (2013): I didn’t get a chance to try any of these recipes with GirlChild yet, but I love the set-up of the book. It is perfect for elementary age children to use with an adult or by themselves (with minimal adult help for safety purposes). There are several pages of cooking tools with pictures so kids know what they are and cooking terms with photo illustrations for clarity. Each section (Mexican, French, Italian, African, Middle Eastern, and Chinese and Japanese) includes information about the area, a pronunciation guide for the foods, a photo glossary of the ingredients needed for the recipes, and relatively simple recipes with some photographs for directions where it may be unclear. Lists of ingredients, tools needed, and symbols for warnings (oven use, sharp utensil use, nut warning) and variations are included on each recipe. Also includes an index and glossary at the end of the book.
The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook, by Dinah Bucholz (2012): One of several of her cookbooks based off of foods mentioned in some of her favorite books, this cookbook features recipes meant to replicate pretty much every single food or meal mentioned in the entire Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. The author includes a brief introduction to each menu or single recipe that includes a reference to where the food is mentioned in the books so you can look it up when you enjoy the meal. Many of the recipes are kind of complex, so this is definitely a cookbook meant to be used with an adult, not independently. While the index includes the food names, I do wish there were a section where the meals from each book were listed together so it would be easier to find the foods that went along with the book you’re reading without having to comb through the book for what foods are included. These recipes, as well as the ones in the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by the same author, are best suited to parents and children who are fans of the respective series (with reading ability of at least one of them in the upper elementary and above range), and they’d be great to use as part of a summer reading push or homeschooling unit.