Great Reads for Culinary Kids

One breezy Chicago summer, my brother and I built a treehouse.

Isn’t that nice? But before my mother objects, let’s rephrase: one sweaty Chicago summer, my brother and I nearly killed each other nailing two boards into a tree. We pounded rows of crooked nails into little boards for steps, and as high as we could get, two larger boards for seats. It wasn’t much, but it was up in the leaves, perfect for neighborhood spying and perfect for summer reading. I would make two separate climbs before settling in: one toting a snack-filled Partridge Family lunchbox, and another dragging a library bag full of books.

It won’t surprise you to hear that many of my favorite reads, both then and now, feature food. But what I really love are books that don’t announce they’re about food — they just are: Heidi toasting cheese in her Alps, Jo March eating apples in the garret, Mary and Laura pouring maple in the snow. These were the bits I read and reread, and then snacked and read again. Don’t even get me started on The Bobbsey Twins’s luau and the pig roast. Now that was a page-turner.

Lucky for me — or no accident at all — my daughter tasted books the same way. Here’s a list we compiled together of great culinary reads for kids, all so good and so timeless, this adult likes to sample them now.

Fanny at Chez Panisse: A Child's Restaurant Adventures with 46 Recipes

Fanny at Chez Panisse: A Child's Restaurant Adventures with 46 Recipes

by Alice L. Waters

This is a truly charming story-plus-cookbook by a culinary royal. Alice Waters describes how her young daughter, Fanny, spends her days at mom’s famous Berkeley restaurant, sorting tiny eggplants, hiding in stock pots and watching chefs at work.

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Bread and Jam for Frances

Bread and Jam for Frances

by Russell Hoban, illustrated by Lillian Hoban

Frances will only eat bread and jam, so her mother gives it to her for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If I wrote this book? It'd be "Deep Dish Pizza for Marilyn."

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Eloise in Paris

Eloise in Paris

by Kay Thompson, illustrated by Hilary Knight

I was lucky to inherit a stack of 60’s-era Eloise books, and Paris was my favorite. Her champagne cork necklace! Baguettes! Dinner at Maxim’s! It was all rawther delicious.

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Blueberries for Sal

Blueberries for Sal

by Robert McCloskey

The Caldecott-winning, classic picture book of blueberry picking, a bear cub, mothers and life in Maine.

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In the Night Kitchen

In the Night Kitchen

by Maurice Sendak

Though there was controversy over the depiction of a nearly baked-in-a-cake naked boy, all I saw was a fantastical look at how a bakery worked overnight. Sendak’s illustrated world — especially with flour and sugar — never fails to stop me in my tracks.

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Amelia Bedelia

Amelia Bedelia

by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Fritz Siebel

I always liked the many good qualities of free-spirited Amelia Bedelia: she was a tall, skinny smiler, and she cheerfully screwed up absolutely everything. I particularly admired the way she could neutralize any angry person by feeding them lemon meringue pie.

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This book also appears on Children's Books That Grownups Will Love

 
 
Strega Nona

Strega Nona

written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola

A wise Italian witch with the power to conjure up pasta. What’s not to love?

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The Very Hungry Caterpillar

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

by Eric Carle

The classic caterpillar eats every food in sight, until he finds all he really needs is one plain and perfect green leaf. The truth? I didn’t want him to eat the leaf. I wanted him to keep eating salami and ice cream.

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Little House in the Big Woods

Little House in the Big Woods

by Laura Ingalls Wilder, illustrated by Garth Williams

I could write all day for a year about the Ingalls family and how they rest in the mind of most every woman I know — but for now I’ll just serve highlights: maple syrup snow, sideboard of pies, sour pickles, a crackling pig’s tail. Onion wreaths in the root cellar. Makes you want to move to a log cabin, doesn't it?

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This book also appears on Little House on the Prairie

 
 
The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories

The Little House Cookbook: Frontier Foods from Laura Ingalls Wilder's Classic Stories

by Barbara M. Walker, illustrated by Garth Williams

So memorable were Laura’s food passages in the book above that they eventually filled this cookbook. You and your child could enjoy many a blizzard-filled afternoon recreating the frontier delights within. Johnny cakes, anyone?

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Heidi

Heidi

by Johanna Spyri

One of my all-time favorites, the story of a Swiss girl and her grandfather in the Alps is really about toasting golden cheese, curing sausages, warm goat’s milk, and soft white bakery rolls. Don't be fooled by the jacket copy — it’s all about the food.

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Anatole

Anatole

by Eve Titus

I love — absolutely love — this book about a mouse. Yes, a mouse. But a mouse who wears a beret and tastes cheese in the cheese factory. When I first read it I was dazzled by his little scarf, and all those Bries and bleus. Ah, to be une souris.

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Strawberry Girl

Strawberry Girl

by Lois Lenski

A terrific book I never forgot — Lois Lenski’s story of hard living for rural Florida "crackers," a detailed, often sad picture of Birdie Boyer and the tough world around her. Strawberries are everywhere, all about growing them, picking them, eating them. A classic for 9- to 12-year-old readers.

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James and the Giant Peach

James and the Giant Peach

by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Lane Smith

This book made me dream of waking up, rolling over and eating chunks of peach from the wall. Enough said.

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