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Wonderful food images in children's literature


Fat Guy
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I saw a big ice cream sundae the other day, and it reminded me of the "Day of Wrath" sundae from Daniel Pinkwater's Slaves of Spiegel: A whole eggplant, pistachio nuts, assorted vegetables, fresh figs, sixteen flavors of ice cream, pizza dough, and a lobster microwaved in a freshly laundered army backpack. The inventor is kidnapped by space aliens and forced to enter this concoction in an intergalactic culinary competition. (I think Steve Klc won the competition, by the way.)

Do you all have any favorite food images from children's literature?

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I have always liked Enid Blyton's "Faraway tree" series of books for there mention of food. In a nut shell, these poor English children slave away all day in their parents garden, where if they work extra hard, as a "special treat", they get a baked potato and salt. The then fall into a starvation induced coma and dream of going to meet elves, pixies etc in the forest ( who give you special food treats) which also contains a magic tree which grows all manner of fruit and takes you to magic lands where you can eat all sorts of amazing goodies.

The cynical old cow was really cashing in on the desires of all those poor ration starved English kids. damn funnny though.

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I don't think so Rachel... I think that The Carrot Seed may be an older work than "Harold". I'm ashamed to say that I don't remember for sure... but I'm not sure if the little boy even had a name.

I loved The Carrot Seed (I think it may be the first book I have a conscious memory of), but apparently so does Maurice Sendak.  A reviewer on Amazon attributed the following to Sendak:

In his essay "Ruth Krauss and Me," author Maurice Sendak says "that perfect picture book, The Carrot Seed, the granddaddy of all picture books in America, a small revolution of a book that permanently transformed the face of children's book publishing. The Carrot Seed, with not a word or a picture out of place, is dramatic, vivid, precise, concise in every detail. It springs fresh from the real world of children."

In particular it was obviously also the first subversive book I ever read.  Basically its a book about how everyone (including adults) tell the boy that he can't grow his carrots from the carrot seed.  At it's base level its a book about resistance to authority and learning to think and judge for yourself... although reduced to a story for a very young child.  It's got sub-themes about perserverence and the value of nurturing... but for me the defining characteristic was obviously the Zen-like central theme, rendered in a style simple in execution and yet enormously complex in meaning.

And I always ate my carrots after reading that book.

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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My favorite of the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle stories was the boy who didn't want to share. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle told his mom to mark absolutely everything he owned with "property of Timmy" or whatever his name was. So she did, right down to marking his lunch...she wrote in frosting or mustard or some such on his sammich, apple, and so on. It cured him of his selfishness because the other kids teased him about having his name scrawled across everything he owned. But meanwhile I wanted my mom to pipe my name in frosting on my desserts too.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is an obvious favorite children's food story.

I loved the one chapter in one of the All of a Kind Family books where the family is preparing for Shabbat. Ella oversalts the meat to kasher it, much to the chagrin of their neighbor Grace Healey, until Ella explains that we wash off the salt later. Gertie and Charlotte sit under the table polishing silver. And Henrietta and ..what was her name, Rebecca?...busy themselves with other dishes. Children's stories rarely seemed to cover these sorts of everyday kitchen tasks, and I was enthralled with this one particularly because I felt so isolated as a Jewish girl in North Carolina.

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Hmm, I always wondered about the Turkish Delight in C.S. Lewis' The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.  Food?  Perhaps not, but ingested nonetheless.  Lewis frequently used elements of mind-altering substances in his children's books.

I very much loved the tales of the food Mary and Colin surreptitiously ate in The Secret Garden.

Roald Dahl is a master when it comes to food.  Whether it's the cake eating scene in Matilda, the BFG's description of different foods, or most of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory -- I'm not sure I can name another children's writer who could so vividly describe the wonders of eating -- or the decadence of overeating!  Heck, he even wrote a cookbook: Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes.

One more fairly recent food-themed children's book:  

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.  Children truly get a kick out of its preposterous premise.

Finally, I'd be remiss if I failed to mention the "Bowl Full of Mush" line from Goodnight Moon.

With four children, I could devote a lot of time to this thread!

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Gee, I wish you hadn't started this thread.  Others that just come to mind:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar -- Eric Carle

Green Eggs and Ham -- Dr. Seuss (how could we miss that one?)

How the Grinch Stole Christmas -- Dr. Seuss (Roast Beast, anyone?)

My Father's Dragon -- Ruth Stiles Gannet (citrus on the beach)

Strega Nona -- spaghetti out of control

One Morning in Maine -- Robert McCloskey (lost teeth, ice cream, and "Clam Chowder for lunch!)

OK, back to work on this Saturday!

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I never thought about it before this thread, but most of my favorite Mother Goose stories & rhymes had to do with food (maybe because many children's rhyme's involve food?).  ie. Five Little Piggies (this little piggie went to market), Old Mother Hubbard, Little Miss Muffet (I always used to wonder what curds & whey was), Sing a Song of Sixpence a pocket full of rye, four-and-twenty blackbirds baked in a pie... Georgie Porgie Pudding & Pie, Peas Porridge Hot, Little Jack Horner sticking his thumb in his Christmas pie and pulling out a plum, Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater, even old  Pat-a-Cake.  No wonder I grew up to be food obsessed.  :D

One food story I liked as a kid was the one about Nail Soup, where the fellow came to the house of a cranky old woman and asked for some food, and she said she didn't have any, so the man told her he would make her a soup from an old nail he had, and then tricked her into adding potatoes, carrots and a little meat, to make it a tasty soup... a memorable food image of mine.

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One food story I liked as a kid was the one about Nail Soup, where the fellow came to the house of a cranky old woman and asked for some food, and she said she didn't have any, so the man told her he would make her a soup from an old nail he had, and then tricked her into adding potatoes, carrots and a little meat, to make it a tasty soup... a memorable food image of mine.

I'm more familiar with Stone Soup, a nearly identical story involving three crafty soldiers who flummox the miserly townspeople into thinking that such a great soup could be created from a stone.

What I want to know is what would make a better soup base, nails or stones?  Hmmm.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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Fat Guy, Slaves of Spiegel totally rules.  This delightful book is available with four other novels in a Pinkwater collection called 5 Novels.  Many Pinkwater books include a scene in which the characters have their lives changed by good cooking;  the description of Beanbender's Beer Garden in The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death (also in 5 Novels) brings tears to my eyes.

The book Confess-o-Rama by Ron Koertge features a main character who is both a serious home cook and a boy, and for some reason I found this endearing.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Children's stories rarely seemed to cover these sorts of everyday kitchen tasks, and I was enthralled with this one particularly because I felt so isolated as a Jewish girl in North Carolina.

Have you seen the Fox Family channel's new series State of Grace? It is about a Jewish girl and her family who just moved to North Carolina. Very cute fish out of water show.

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Lots of children's books are full of feasting, but one book stands out because the food is denied.  In A Little Princess, Sara becomes an orphaned, starved scullery maid overnight.  When she stands outside a bakery, in the cold, gazing at a pan of hot currant buns, you can smell those buns.  Later, her friend Ermengarde brings a hamper of meat pies, jam tarts, oranges, and other goodies to share with Sara.  Just as they are about to partake (Sara is faint with hunger), they are interrupted by the cruel Miss Minchin, who snatches the food away.  At that moment the loss of the meat pies and cakes seems like the absolute worst of Sara's many misfortunes.  Fortunately, some magic assistance brings a supper of soup, sandwiches, and buttery crumpets to Sara, later that evening.

Children's books and food are two of my favorite topics.  I could go on endlessly.  (Our dining room has two bookcases side by side.  One has cookbooks, the other has children's books.)  Just to mention a few: Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books have some of the most fascinating and delicious-sounding food descriptions.  Barbara Walker's Little House Cookbook is a marvelously detailed and informational companion.

The All-of-a-Kind Family books, which have already been mentioned, taught me everything I know about traditional Jewish holiday food.

Food in my favorite Betsy-Tacy series is probably remembered best for the infamous Everything Pudding, when Betsy, Tacy, and Tib, home alone, decide to cook up every ingredient in the kitchen.  They think it will taste like everything good: chicken and dumplings, apple pie, doughnuts.  It doesn't.

Hungry Monkey May 2009
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I second the Laura Ingalls Wilder books! They contain wonderful food descriptions that made me hungry every time I read them.

I also liked "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "James and the Giant Peach". There was also a book I liked called "Honey Bread", which described woodland animals making a loaf of bread (plus a recipe).

Of course, don't forget "Fun With Cooking" by Mae Blacker Freeman (published in 1947). This is the first cookbook I remember reading, at age 7. It's a classic!

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Hmm.  We've started to branch off into books more appropriate to slightly older kids.

It's odd that most of the books I recall for slightly older boys (with the notable exception of Roald Dahl) didn't have much to do with food.  Are gender roles somehow being set at that age?  Did Nancy Drew have any more to do with food than the Hardy boys... :)

Jon Lurie, aka "jhlurie"

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Mamster: "the description of Beanbender's Beer Garden in The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death (also in 5 Novels) brings tears to my eyes."

Poking a hole in the roasted potato with your thumb and filling it with butter that drips down your wrist when you eat it and chasing it with creamy, frosty beer?!  Yes, yes, yes!  I think Pinkwater is the king of foodwriting in kid's literature - in any literature for that matter.  He is a kindred foodie spirit.  

How about the descriptions of hot dogs from the cart, the tight pink skin and bright green relish.  The avocados, the napoleons???!!!  Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death may be one of Pinkwater's best in terms of food descriptions.    I don't think he's written one book that does not include some description of food somewhere, but in Snarkout Boys they're on practically every other page and seem to evoke this nocturnal parallel universe somewhere between beat-nick era Chicago and Hoboken, cities where Pinkwater grew up (yes, I was sort of obsessed with him when I was a kid).  I keep meaning to start a thread about his books but have been too shy.  

Does anyone remember which book it was where a character ate a whole peeled onion like an apple?  Pinkwater wasn't describing a fool but a food radical with tastes sophisticated enough to appreciate the delicious sweetness of a truly good onion.  And the mysterious drink (was it in Dharma Bums?) the taste of which was slightly disappointing but left one with a magical, peaceful feeling?

Not exactly children's but I read it when I was younger:  Roald Dahl wrote a fabulous short story about a shrewd wine aficionado who can name the vintage and vinyard of any wine he tastes with very detailed and visceral descriptions of how he swishes the wine around on his big, fleshy tongue.  Can't remember the name now, but could find it if anyone is interested.  

And how about the description of Christmas dinner at the beginning of Great Expectations?  I seem to remember Pip giving the escaped convict a whole mincemeat pie which he eats with relish.

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I don't remember which Pinkwater book had the onion-eater, but I'd love to reread it if someone comes up with the title.  It reminds me of one of my favorite food images in a non-kids book, which is from John McPhee's essay about the Union Square Greenmarket.  He spends a day packing 150,000 pounds of onions on a big farm, and at the end of the day...

"I run to an unharvested row and pull from the earth a one-pound onion, rip off the membranous bulb coat, bare the flesh, and sink my teeth through leaf after leaf after savory mouth-needling sweet-sharp water-bearing leaf to the flowering stalk that is the center and the secret of the onion."

Onions are already my favorite food, but I've never loved an onion like that.  Sorry, off-topic, I know.

Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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  • 1 month later...

I don't know how I missed this thread.  Laurie A-B, did you ever fantasize about having your attic prison transformed the way Sara's was, with pots of steaming tea and pastries, thick plush Asian rugs, slippers waiting by your bedside, as you awoke to another dreary day?

Speaking of sacrifice, how about the March girls donating their Xmas breakfast to the poor?

What about Harriet the Spy's tomato sandwiches and her daily after-school "cake and milk, milk and cake"?

Anne-with-an-E Shirley getting Diana tipsy on a bottle of cherry cordial?  Fashioning tiny bark goblets during picnics?

Remember the kitchen Almanzo built for Laura in their first house?  With the incredible hand-hewn pantry cupboards and drawers for flour and sugar?

Maurice Sendak's Higglety, Pigglety, Pop! was and still is my favorite book as a child.  I've actuallu already mentioned this on eGullet, but sometimes i feel like Jennie, eating everything in sight, compulsively.  Though I've never sucked an egg.

jhlurie, as for age-appropriate literature, I think that varies--when I was in third grade I was reading books by Herman Rauscher--don't ask me why or how--and by fifth grade all the girls were passing around tattered copies of Wifey and Forever by Judy Blume [definately NOT food books :wink: ].

I don't have kids, but I'm a teacher and I think kids should read what they're ready to read, and I certainly think they can be READ TO at very early ages--one friend used to put his toddler to sleep with Poe's "The Raven," and many very small kids hear The Hobbit before they read it themselves--Tolkein's books of course belonging right up there in the list of fabulous food imagery in children's literature!

Great thread, Steven.  Undoubtedly many of us post here today BECAUSE of the fabulous food imagery in our first books.

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THE DUCHESS BAKES A CAKE and THE PERFECT PANCAKE by Virginia Kahl.  Also, all mentions of nursery food in the Nurse Matilda books by Christianna Brand and with dark and moody illustrations by Edward Ardizzone.

The woman in the painting The Sleeping Gypsy by Rousseau looked to me when I was little like she was made out of licorice ropes and such. Yum.

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One that really sticks in my mind for some reason is "The Little Engine That Could"  The train was packed full of big ripe beautiful fruits and vegetables and lollipops.  I think that's why I love going to the Farmer's Market.  It always reminds me of that image (sigh).  :-)

Another of my longstanding favorites is from the "Secret Garden" when the two kids are laughing about not being able to eat lunch (since they had to keep up the pretense of being peckish) and how difficult it was trying not to laugh out loud since they had just been eating roasted potatos.  No illustration, but the virtual image sticks with me.

I also just remembered some hysterically funny book I had that was my Mom's.  It was about mountains of mashed potatos and these kids were jumping in them and sledding and digging.  I wish I could find it someplace.

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So many to cite!  Too many to cite.

Yes to Anne and Diana's imbibement of the cordial, Stellabella, but was it cherry or raspberry?  And in a later Anne book, Anne's House of Dreams, maybe, little Rilla chucked Susan's famous black-and-white cake intended for the church bake sale into a ditch when she saw her beloved teacher approaching, in a childish panic that she would appear like Old Tillie Pake, a pathetic character in a rhyme children chanted.  Of course her beloved teacher was herself carrying a cake to the bake sale and so Rilla not only had chucked Susan's magnificent cake into the ditch but in so doing was also deprived of the chance to walk into the bake sale with her teacher, BOTH carrying cakes.  L.M. Montgomery, extremely good at capturing childhood emotions.

And yes, LaurieA-B and ChocoKitty, all the Little House books are chockablock with food and cookery, right outta the gate with the Wisconsin woods sugaring-off.  I have been reminded of the crispy-broiled pig's tail that was a treat for the children during pig butchery many, many times since finding eGullet, in fact.  I like the Little House cookbook, too, LaurieA-B, bought it many years ago with the hope, the fulfilled hope, turned out, that there would be an investigation into the apples and onions Alamanzo's mother made in Farmer Boy.

The sheer abundance characterizing Alamanzo's childhood is a sharp contrast to Laura's pioneer-hardscrabble own.  LIW, or Rose Wilder Lane, depending which biography one accepts, certainly purposefully juxtaposed the two, and returned to it heartrendingly in The Long Winter, when the Ingalls were just about starving and Pa sussed out that the Wilder brothers were storing seed wheat in a false wall. Weren't Royal and Almanzo having pancakes?  And then Ma ground the wheat in her coffee grinder to make a rough bread.

And the Betsy-Tacy books--not least when they go over the Big Hill and find Little Syria.  And, later, Mr. Ray's Bermuda onion sandwiches, and Anna the cook's teaching Betsy to make a decent meal for Joe.  And when Betsy meets Joe, he's reading The Three Musketeers, and eating an apple.

Priscilla

Priscilla

Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ●  Twitter    Instagram

 

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I don't think so Rachel... I think that The Carrot Seed may be an older work than "Harold".

carrot seed - 1945

harold and the purple crayon - 1955

my mom used to read to her second grade class all the mrs. pigglewiggle stories.  i especially liked the one about the fussy eater.

some new favorites are

"i will never not ever eat a tomato" by lauren child

"thunder cake" - patrica palacco and check out the recipe for

    her grandma's thunder cake in the back

"alphabet soup:a feast of letters" by scott gustafson

"cloudy with a chance of meatballs" by judi barrett

and for non humans - "feathers for lunch' by lois ehlert

Nothing is better than frying in lard.

Nothing.  Do not quote me on this.

 

Linda Ellerbee

Take Big Bites

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I don't know how I missed this thread.  Laurie A-B, did you ever fantasize about having your attic prison transformed the way Sara's was, with pots of steaming tea and pastries, thick plush Asian rugs, slippers waiting by your bedside, as you awoke to another dreary day?

I did, but eventually became resigned to the fact that I was stuck with a dreary, drafty attic, where I survived on stale crusts.

Anne of Green Gables's beverage was supposed to be raspberry cordial (of course, it wasn't).  And the cake that Rilla threw in the creek was, I think, called a gold and silver cake (or silver and gold?).  I wonder what that was.  The early 1900s must have been the height of popularity for layer cakes.  Book characters are always eating them.  The Lady Baltimore cake, which was discussed in the New York Times Magazine a couple of weeks ago, was a favorite in the Betsy-Tacy books.

Hungry Monkey May 2009
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