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Notes From a Children's Librarian: Food Books

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.

Book Cover Spic and Span

Our Children's Librarian columnist, Julie Booker, brings us a new view from the stacks every month.


Ever wonder who invented the electric mixer, a foot-activated garbage can lid, fridge door compartments for butter and eggs? Lillian Gilbreth. Spic-And-Span! Lillian Gilbreth's Wonder Kitchen, by Canadian Monica Kulling, illustrated by David Parkins, is a non-fiction picture book for grade 3+ about American domestic engineer Lillian Gilbreth. In the early 1900s, Lillian was widowed with seven children and used her engineering training to reinvent herself. As a pioneer in the ergonomic field, she interviewed over 4,000 women in order to redesign kitchens for greater convenience and efficiency. (Check out 49th Shelf's Q&A with Monica Kulling about the book.)

Book Cover A Few Bites

A Few Bites, by Cybele Young, is a sweet story about Viola coaxing her younger brother Ferdie to finish his dinner. Young's illustrations start out as small, realistic pen drawings of the kids at the table, with Ferdie preferring to look for a lost toy rather than eat broccoli. But as Viola spins a prehistoric tale, the illustrations explode and the siblings fuel up with green veg in order to outrun some dinosaurs. Carrot sticks then become orange power sticks to foil the Zyblots and Viola and Ferdie become fish in a kitchen seascape. In a lovely, realistic ending, Viola loses steam, unable to come up with a creative way to entice her brother to eat the last few bites. Age 4+.

Book Cover Julia Child

Julia, Child, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Julie Morstad, is not a biography of the famous chef. Best friends, Simca and Julia, lovers of all-things-cooking, discover that grown-ups don't have the proper ingredients for living life deliciously. In typical Maclear fashion, this whimsical tale of a child's world holds a message for adult readers. The big people in this book suffer from feelings of “never-enoughness.” It's up to the "sensible children from whom these senseless grown-ups grew" to play with portion size until their parents become more reasonable—about food and everything else. Age 5+

Book Cover The Boy Who Loves Bananas

Kids go bananas for The Boy Who Loved Bananas, by George Elliott, illustrated by Andrej Krystoforski, partly because of the funny illustrations. Matthew's fixated on the monkeys at the zoo and eats so many bananas he turns into one. He's a well-adjusted monkey, according to all the specialists his concerned parents take him to. He's having so much fun, in fact, everyone at school starts eating bananas, including the principal, hoping for the same fate as Matthew. But monkey-boy has already moved on to peanuts, impressed with how strong elephants are. A story with patterned elements for age 4+.

Book Cover Charlies Dirt Day

Charlie's Dirt Day, by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Jacqueline Hudon-Verrelli, is one in a series of Larsen's city-based picture books. This story, pitched at age 4+, takes place in summer during the Mayor's Dirt Day Giveaway, when municipal parking lots host piles of compost soil for urban gardeners. But Charlie doesn't have a garden. His neighbour Mr. Martino grows tomatoes on his balcony. With help from a few other neighbours’ herbs and onions, Charlie learns to grow some seeds, all of this produce culminating in Mr. Martino's Marvellous Spaghetti Sauce. At the back of the book there's some information about composting and growing a “garden in the sky.”

Book Cover Who Wants Pizza

For the non-fiction crowd, there's Who Wants Pizza: The Kids' Guide to the History, Science and Culture of Food, by Jan Thornhill. Thornhill takes advantage of our innate love of food by providing a comprehensive lowdown on food in bite-size (sorry) pieces. This book covers some of the Grade 4 Social Studies curriculum by providing a timeline of animal domestication and seed planting in Early Societies. Did you know pigs are bred selectively in terms of colour to help make them easier to find when they escape? The book also touches on concepts of stewardship and sustainability in the Grade 5 Social Studies unit, conveying how food has changed over time, and how food production technologies have impacted our environment. Did you know there's a vault in Norway containing half a million seed varieties in order to sustain diverse crops? 

Book Cover The World in Your Lunchbox

Also for the grade 4+ non-fiction reader is The World in Your Lunch Box: The Wacky History and Weird Science of Everyday Foods, by Claire Eamer, art by Sa Boothroyd. It investigates the contents of an ordinary lunchbox over the course of a week. For instance, the popularity of pizza spread around the world because soldiers stationed in Italy during the war, came home demanding what they'd eaten abroad. Other interesting topics include: how seedless grapes are possible; why onions make you cry; how emulsion works to create mayonnaise; and how to ripen fruit by putting it in a paper bag with an ethylene gas-producing yellow banana.

On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

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