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.
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.
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."
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.
by Robert McCloskey
The Caldecott-winning, classic picture book of blueberry picking, a bear cub, mothers and life in Maine.
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.
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.
written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola
A wise Italian witch with the power to conjure up pasta. What’s not to love?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Recommending books so good, they'll keep you up past your bedtime. more...
About Marilyn Naron
A Chicago native living in Kansas, I love the Midwest and its piled-plate glory. I’ve been a chef, daughter, mother, writer, wife, entrepreneur and friend, but what I’m best suited for is just plain handing out delicious things and blogging the stories that go with them at Simmer Till Done.
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