Hello, and thanks for joining us at Tundra Telegram, the column where we talk about the subjects readers are stewing on, and recommend some tasty tomes for young readers to chew on.
This past weekend was Thanksgiving weekend in Canada. And for many people – at least the more fortunate among us – that means a large family feast with plates of delicious food. Often followed by days and days of leftovers. So, if you’re anything like us, food has been on your mind a lot.
Luckily, the many publishers for children and young readers that we sell and distribute have a veritable cornucopia of food-related books, if you’re hungry to read about the things we ingest. Come partake of some peculiar but very palatable publications.
Anyone who has had Thanksgiving dinner with family knows mealtimes can be filled with drama. And that’s the case in Frankie’s Favorite Food by Kelsey Garrity-Riley, where the school play will feature kids dressed as their favorite foods. Only one problem: Frankie can’t decide because he loves so many foods. So he becomes the play’s costume manager until he figures out a favorite food that will also be familiar to Thanksgiving diners.
Ten Little Dumplings by Larissa Fan and Cindy Wume is not about literal dumplings, but ten sons in a Taiwanese family who have that nickname (as having both sons and dumplings is auspicious). But the book also looks at the one sister to the dumplings, growing up in the shadow of her brothers and making her own way in life. And since it includes a couple of feasts fit for eleven kids (and featuring some actual dumplings), we’re counting it as a food book.
Though some Thanksgiving meals can be pretty routine, some home chefs get a bit more adventurous. That spirit of culinary adventure permeates Kalamata’s Kitchen by Sarah Thomas and illustrated by Jo Kosmides Edwards, about a girl and her alligator sidekick (Al Dente) who get over back-to-school anxiety by magically transporting themselves to an Indian spice market , where they realize trying new things – be they foods or experiences at school – is exciting!
How about a picture book from the host of Top Chef and Taste the Nation? Tomatoes for Neela by Padma Lakshmi and Juana Martinez-Neal celebrates family recipes and family time spent in the kitchen – a perfect subject for post-Thanksgiving reading. Neela and Amma go to the market to buy tomatoes to make her Paati’s famous sauce. And as Neela and Amma cook together, they find a way for Paati to share in both the love and the flavors though she is far away.
Let Me Fix You a Plate: A Tale of Two Kitchens by Elizabeth Lilly also celebrates how a good meal can bring a family together. Inspired by the author’s childhood vacations, it follows a family road trip, as they visit both sides of the family – American and Colombian – and revel in the two cultures and cuisines.
When the big meal is more of a potluck, it can sometimes turn into a competition of whose dish is the best. The characters of It Happened on Sweet Street by Caroline Adderson and Stephane Jorisch know that feeling all too well, as a rivalry among bakers causes havoc on one road that hosts a panoply of new cakes, cookies, and pies. The winners, as usual, are the ones eating the desserts.
Inspired by the spirit of, but not about the famous French chef and television personality, Julia, Child by Kyo Maclear and Julie Morstad features two young friends – Julia and Simca – who love cooking, preparing feasts for friends, and who agree there’s no such thing as “too much butter.” This is a playful, scrumptious celebration of the joy of eating, the importance of never completely growing up, and mastering the art of having a good time.
The titular character in Little Taco Truck by Tanya Valentine and Jorge Martin also loves making food for friends – or any paying customers, that is – but has trouble sharing at first, when other food trucks (Annie’s Arepas and Gumbo Jumbo, among others) begin to park on their street. Packed with flavor and cuisine from around the world, this is a great read-aloud about friendship and cooperation, for fans of both trucks and food.
And if you have a young reader who doesn’t just want to read about food, but wants to actually make it, there’s Cook It!: The Dr. Seuss Cookbook for Kid Chefs by Daniel Gercke. From Grinch-inspired Roast Beast to “Warm Whisked Wocket Waffles” and – yes – even, Green Eggs and Ham, this book features fifty recipes inspired by the books of Dr. Seuss (and accompanying Seussian photos from Christopher Testani) for kids and grown-ups to cook together.
CHAPTER BOOKS & MIDDLE GRADE
As might be expected, food stories lend themselves well to graphic novels, as it’s said we eat with our eyes first. Kicking off this shortlist of mouthwatering comics is Stephen Shaskan’s Pizza and Taco series about two best friends who also happen to be two delicious foods with lots of toppings.
Mika Song’s Donut Feed the Squirrels features two squirrel friends – Norma and Belly – who would probably gobble Pizza and Taco up. Lucky for them, Norma and Belly are focused on a donut food truck and the best way to steal its scrumptious contents.
The squirrels’ plight is probably understood by Weenie, the hero of the hilarious Mad about Meatloaf by Maureen Fergus and Alexandra Bye. As you may have guessed from the title, Weenie – a wiener dog with best friends Frank (a cat) and Beans (a guinea pig) – is obsessed with meatloaf and will try anything to get some – disguises, meatloaf traps, and much, much more.
And even Ben Clanton’s Narwhal and Jelly get in on the food action in their third book, Peanut Butter and Jelly. Longtime readers of the series know N & J love their waffles. But in this book, Narwhal becomes so enamored with peanut butter, they even want to change their name to peanut butter! This is another fun adventure about trying new things, favorite foods, and self-acceptance.
Thanksgiving usually involves cooking with your family, something that happens in a very public forum in Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster by Rachelle Delaney. Alice’s father is a culinary historian, who enters into a reality cooking show – Culinary Combat – with his daughter, much to her chagrin. Even worse: a saboteur is mixing up some mayhem backstage, and Alice and a few new friends take it upon themselves to solve the mystery.
Tanya Lloyd Kyi’s Mya’s Strategy to Save the World is mostly about Mya Parsons and her attempts to prove herself responsible so she can get a phone. But it’s also about Mya’s growing social justice interest, her involvement with the school’s Social Justice club (particularly campaigns to assist Rohingya refugees from Myanmar, where her mom hails from). Along the way, she takes some cooking lessons from her aunt and readers are treated to a few curry recipes to try at home!
All these fictional stories about food are great, but what if you want . . . the truth? Yummy: A History of Desserts by Victoria Grace Elliott chronicles, in graphic novel form, the inventions of pies, ice cream, brownies, and more. Learn about the true stories behind everyone’s favorite treats in the most mouthwatering nonfiction book ever.
Anyone who has stuffed themselves sick on Thanksgiving dinner knows eating and romance are inextricably linked. There are many YA novels linking food and love, like Radha & Jai’s Recipe for Romance by Nisha Sharma. In it, Radha gives up her dreams of becoming one of the greatest kathak dancers in the world and discovers a new love for Indian cooking. Then Jai, captain of the Bollywood Beats dance team, enters her life and the two get a taste of what happily ever after could be like.
Jared Reck’s Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love mines the romance of Scandinavian cooking, as it follows Oscar Olsson, who runs a Swedish food truck with his grandfather. That is, he does until he’s pulled away more and more by Mary Louise (Lou) an overachiever who ropes him into a project reducing food waste at their high school. Will love blossom over uneaten apples? You bet it will!
Jennifer Yen’s A Taste for Love combines matchmaking and baking in all the best ways. Liza Yang agrees to help her mother, owner of the popular Yin & Yang Bakery, set up a junior baking competition at the store. But Liza finds she’s been tricked – all the baking contestants are eligible young Asian American men her mother thinks would make a perfect partner for her daughter. (Now who amongst us can say they’ve ever had a Thanksgiving with nearly as much romantic potential?)
Magical muffins are at the heart of A. R. Carpetta’s The Heartbreak Bakery, in which a teenaged baker, Syd, sends ripples of heartbreak through Austin’s queer community when a batch of post-being-dumped brownies turns out to be magical – and makes everyone who eats them break up with their romantic partners! So it’s up to Syd and cute bike messenger Harley to try to fix things – because Thanksgiving is all about making amends.
Love from Scratch by Kaitlyn Hill lets the sparks (and flour) fly when two interns – Reese and Benny – start at a wildly popular cooking channel in Seattle. When the two competitors have to work together on a video shoot, audiences begin to ship them, even as their rivalry intensifies. But all baking relies on good chemistry.
Finally, the Pocket Change Collective book Food-Related Stories by chef and food activist Gaby Melian and illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky, looks at Melian’s journey through food, from growing up in Argentina, to becoming a street vendor, and later Bon Appetit’s test kitchen manager. The book explores how creating a meaningful relationship with food – however simple or complicated – can be a powerful form of activism.
Happy reading (and eating)!