Feeding a Love of Reading by Cory Putman Oakes
“You’d better check the milk,” Charles Wallace said to Meg now, his diction clearer and cleaner than that of most five-year-olds. “You know you don’t like it when it gets a skin on top.”
“You put in more than twice enough milk.” Meg peered into the saucepan.
Charles Wallace nodded serenely. “I thought Mother might like some.”
“I might like what?” a voice said, and there was their mother standing in the doorway.
“Cocoa,” Charles Wallace said.
I have always been a fan of food in books but this passage, from A Wrinkle In Time, is my all-time favorite. It’s from Chapter One, so all we know about the story so far is that it’s a dark and stormy night, that school is all wrong, and that there might be a tramp on the loose. But now there’s hot cocoa on the stove. And that small fact instantly transforms Meg’s chilly, storm-wracked house into a warm, safe haven from everything going on outside. We still know that something’s about to happen – but now we know that it can’t be all bad. Not when there’s cocoa.
To this day, I can’t make cocoa without hearing the distant boom of thunder from that storm. And I can’t drink it without picturing Fortinbras curled up at my feet, or wondering if Mrs Whatsit is going to drop by. The image of the hot cocoa on the stove has kept this book alive in my head since the first time I heard it. I can’t remember how old I was, but since I remember the book being read to me, I must have been pretty young.
I’ve always had a thing for the food in books. From the “Eat Me” cookies in Alice in Wonderland, to the baked peaches aboard the Maggie B, to the bowl of something “sticky and crunchy and very sweet” from The Blue Sword (which I’m still trying to find in real life), whenever my imagination has been caught by the food in a book, that story has forever had a special place in my heart. Even when the food turns out to be tastier on the page than in actual fact (I’m looking at you, Turkish Delight from Narnia – bleh!). And replicating the food from books is the best antidote I have ever found to counteract the mourning period that inevitably comes when you finish the last page of something really, really good.
I take the tradition of food in books so seriously, that I knew I had to continue it in my own writing. At first, I didn’t see any obvious way to introduce a meaningful, sensory-enticing food item into Dinosaur Boy. My main character, Sawyer, is part stegosaurus. And after his dinosaur parts appear, he develops an insatiable hunger for large, leafy green salads (since stegosauruses are, after all, herbivores). It’s not until another character (a chef) encourages Sawyer to “spice things up” a bit and introduces him to a traditional Mexican sauce called molé, that things get interesting. Gastronomically speaking. And it might be just a coincidence (or it might be the effect of the chiles in his nasal passages) that after eating the molé, Sawyer starts to be a bit more vocal in standing up for himself.
While I was writing Dinosaur Boy, I was also teaching myself to make molé. I may have even gotten a teensy bit obsessed with finding the perfect sauce for my dino-lad. I combed through cookbooks, tinkered with countless recipes, and even became somewhat familiar with the intimidating wall of chile peppers at the grocery store. I made set-your-mouth-on-fire versions, ew-what-could-have-possibly-gone-wrong-here versions, and “accidentally”-put-in-way-too-much-chocolate versions. But eventually, I was able to come up with a recipe that I think is worthy of a dinosaur roar. (It’s on my website, if you’d like to try it for yourself.)
I wouldn’t dare compare my molé to the hot cocoa from a Wrinkle in Time. But there is chocolate in it. And maybe just a tiny hint of a dark and stormy night . . .
Cory Putman Oakes is a children’s book author from Austin, Texas. Her middle grade debut, DINOSAUR BOY, hits shelves in February, 2015 with its sequel, DINOSAUR BOY SAVES MARS, to follow in February, 2016. She is also the author of THE VEIL (a young adult novel). Cory is a former lawyer, a former Californian, and a current Mexican food enthusiast. When she’s not writing, Cory enjoys running, cooking, and hanging out with her husband and their two kiddos. You can find Cory online at http://www.corypoakes.com, on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/CPOAuthor, and on Twitter as @CoryPutmanOakes.