Top 10 Books for Making Lunch (or Dinner, or Breakfast) by Helen Labun Jordan
Three years ago, Bear Pond Books started a series of school year workshops at the store to bring together authors and educators to talk about topics that interest them both. Last November, as part of national Agriculture in the Classroom month, we hosted an event focused on learning about food. Vermont happens to have a very strong statewide organization called Food Education Every Day (or FEED) with lots of resources we could use for the event.
Vermont is also home to Gail Gibbons – an author who has written 169 picture books that Vermont kids grew up reading. Her first farm-related book was The Milk Makers, which became a Reading Rainbow book. She chose that topic because her normal driving routes went past many Vermont farms, and one day her young daughter asked why she hadn’t done a book about cows. So, she did a book about cows. As Gail did more food related books, and traveled to more schools to talk to students, she discovered that just like her daughters drove past cows every day without necessarily knowing much about them, a lot of kids didn’t know about the food they ate every day. They didn’t believe her when she said eggs came out of chickens and carrots were pulled up from the ground. Her interest in writing on this topic only grew. Including her seemed to make for a perfect combination.
Kids’ interest in the food topic also turned out to be almost limitless. I know that when I was a kid, the idea that I could make food fascinated me. My mother sat through endless trays of Snickerdoodles from a Junior chef cookbook. I remember being thrilled to read that putting an Alka-Seltzer in Kool-Aid made homemade soda (that actually didn’t work very well). Inspired by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I tried to invent a gum that kept its mint flavor forever…or at least a solution that could restore flavor after it faded.
Talking about how food gets to our table offers a chance for kids to learn about all sorts of things, about agriculture, nutrition, history, science, the environment, and the basic lesson of looking at everyday things and wondering: what is the story behind this? Or, what new thing could I invent from this? In that spirit, here’s a list of 10 picture books to help us all take another look at lunch or dinner or breakfast.
Food System Books:
These books offer a glimpse at all the parts of the system that gets food to our table.
Before We Eat by Pat Brisson and Mary Azarian
Bold, colorful block prints by Caldecott Award Winner Mary Azarian illustrate this simple, rhyming overview of everyone who can be thanked for the food on our table.
To Market, To Market by Nikki McClure
This beautifully crafted book follows a mother and her son through the farmers market and explains how the foods got there.
How Did That Get in My Lunchbox? by Chris Butterworth
A recommended resource for November from the national Agriculture in the Classroom organization, this book answers the title question with information on how common foods are produced.
Vegetables and Gardens
The Vegetables We Eat by Gail Gibbons
As I mentioned earlier, there are 169 Gail Gibbons books to choose from, many of which have a food or farm tie in. This book shows the diversity of vegetables, with information on growing your own.
Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens
A retelling of an American folk tale, this story about rabbit tricking bear by promising half of the garden (divided by top or bottom) is a fun way to learn about how different vegetables grow. A Caldecott Honor Book.
The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
This story combines learning about diverse vegetables with learning about diversity in a community, sharing different cultural traditions and, of course, tasty food (even if the vegetables in the dish looked “ugly”).
Everybody Bakes Bread by Norah Dooley
This book is one in a series that includes others like Everybody Cooks Rice, Everybody Serves Soup, etc. The books show commonality and diversity in different cooking traditions.
The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall
A simple story that follows an apple tree through the seasons and through the production of fruit that are made into, of course, apple pie.
National Geographic Kids Cookbook
This new book from National Geographic offers simple recipes for kids and parents to try, its emphasis on learning activities surrounding the foods and the organization by month of the year makes it a good resource for the classroom as well.
Fairy Tale Feasts by Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple, illustrated by Philippe Beha
Pairing fairy tales (some well known, others less so) and recipes, this book offers a unique, literary way to enjoy food and cooking.
Helen Labun Jordan works at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, VT, where her area of bookish expertise is (no surprise) cookbooks. She had help from Jane Knight, the children’s room buyer, in finding the best picture books to put on the Top Ten list.