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By Amanda Fong
Food Tank is highlighting 26 books that help show young people that food can be a universal language. These stories illuminate the ways that food is used to show love, bring together communities, pass on traditions, and teach lessons. And their authors show that no matter a person’s background and culture, nutritious food shared with loved ones can help bring anyone together.
These 26 children’s books celebrate food, diversity, the love of cooking, and community from seed to fork:
1. A Day with Yayah by Nicola Campbell, illustrated by Julie Flett
Set in the Nicola Valley in British Columbia, this book follows Yayah, a First Nations grandmother, passing down her knowledge of plant life to her grandchildren. As Nikki, Jamesie, and Lenny forage for wild potatoes, rhubarb, celery, and lightning mushrooms, Yayah teaches them words in Nlaka’pamux, the endangered language of the Indigenous people of the Nicola Valley. Readers can learn alongside the characters with a pronunciation guide and glossary.
2. AGRIman AGventures by WHYFARM and Alpha Sennon
AGRIman is the world’s first food security and nutrition superhero. In this educational comic, AGRIman is joined by PhotosyntheSista to inspire future feeders and build capacity and knowledge in agriculture. The superhero was developed by Alpha Sennon, the founder of We Help You-th FARM (WHYFARM), a non-profit from Trinidad and Tobago fighting food insecurity. Readers can access the comic the United States as an ebook or watch it as a motion comic.
3. Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang illustrated by Charlene Chua
Little, fearless Amy Wu is learning to make traditional Chinese bao with her family. Making bao takes skill to fill the dough and pinch it together, but Amy’s bao keep coming out all wrong! Follow Amy as she learns to use creativity to problem solve while cooking. Kat Zhang even includes Amy’s perfect bao recipe at the end!
4. Berry Magic by Betty Huffmon, illustrated by Teri Sloat
Yup’ik Eskimo elder, Betty Huffmon, brings this folktale about the origin of berries – traditionally told aloud to Yup’ik children – to life with author and illustrator, Teri Sloat. Berry Magic follows Anana as she uses magic songs to grow juicy blueberries, cranberries, salmonberries, and raspberries for the Fall Festival and to make agutak (Eskimo cream). The book features illustrations depicting Indigenous culture, like dance fans made of reindeer hair and snowy owl feathers, and an agutak recipe at the end.
5. Bilal Cooks Daal by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
In this award-winning book, six-year-old Bilal wants to share his favorite dish, daal, with his friends. They have never tried daal before, and Bilal helps his dad cook while worrying if they will like it. Author Aisha Saeed showcases the value of patience, teamwork, community, and sharing in this picture book featuring the South Asian, slow-cooked lentil dish.
6. Cora Cooks Pancit by By Dorina Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant
In Cora Cooks Pancit, Dorina Lazo Gilmore celebrates the classic, Filipino noodle dish, pancit. Cora’s favorite dish is pancit and gets her chance to be Mama’s sous chef for the first time. Readers can follow along as Cora helps shred the chicken, soak the noodles, and stir the pot while sneaking some nibbles to taste test. This book highlights the love for a traditional family dish and the warmth between a mother and daughter cooking it.
7. Dear Tomato: An International Crop of Food and Agriculture Poems by Carol-Ann Hoyte
Carol-Ann Hoyte brings together an anthology of poems by thirty-four different authors from seven different countries, telling the stories of food through haikus, free verse, and more. The fifty-one poem collection introduces children to a fresh view of where their food comes from on all parts of the “field to fork” journey.
8. Dim Sum for Everyone! by Grace Lin
In this book, Dim Sum for Everyone! celebrates the cultural custom of eating dim sum, which translates to “little hearts” in English. The story follows a young girl and her family as they visit a bustling dim sum restaurant. As they pick their favorite little dishes from the steaming trolleys filled with dumplings, cakes, buns, and tarts, the family makes sure to share each dish so everyone gets a little bite of everything in classic dim sum tradition.
9. Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan, illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders
Seven-year-old Marisa, an Asian American girl, learns to make dumplings for her family’s New Year’s celebration with her grandmother. Jama Kim Rattigan based this book on her experiences growing up celebrating New Year’s Day in Hawai’i, which she realized was much different from celebrations on the mainland. In Hawai’i, Rattigan shows that New Year’s is a family-oriented holiday, a time for enjoying large quantities of food and basking in cultural tradition.
10. From Asparagus to Zucchini Cookbook by Madison Area and the Community Supported Agriculture Coalition
This guide is a nationally renowned resource for families who want to cook farm-fresh, seasonal produce. Filled with 420 recipes and information on more than 50 vegetables and herbs, this Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) designed resource promotes the consumption of fresh, local and sustainable foods.
11. Food Fight! A Mouthwatering History of Who Ate What and Why Through the Ages by Tanya Steel
In Food Fight, Tanya Steel uses food to explore history in a fun and engaging way. Readers can learn the origin story of M&Ms, the delicacies found at feasts in the Middle Ages, and much more. The book also includes 30 recipes tested and approved by young eaters.
12. Harvesting Friends / Cosechando Amigos by Kathleen Contreras
This bilingual book shows how a community garden can bring a community together and grow more than just fruits and vegetables. After making a deal, Lupe and Antonio tend a garden together, and bond over tomatoes, watermelon, squash, beans and corn. Over time, more and more neighbors become interested in gardening too. The book also includes easy recipes for young readers to try.
13. How Did That Get in My Lunchbox? by Chris Butterworth, illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti
In Chris Butterworth’s book, children can learn about the journey of different lunchbox items as they go from farm to fork. From planting wheat to mixing dough, climbing trees to machine-squeezing fruit, picking cocoa pods to stirring a vat of melted bliss, this book provides an accessible look into food production. It also includes health tips and a peek at basic food groups.
14. How to Feed Your Parents by Ryan Miller, illustrated by Hatem Aly
In this funny twist, the tables are turned and the parents are the picky eaters in this bi-racial family. Adventurous Matilda Macaroni loves trying new foods, like her grandma’s jambalaya and friend’s sushi. But her parents will only eat pepperoni pizza, hamburgers, and takeout noodles. Matilda sets out to secretly learn to cook with new flavors and open her parents’ minds to trying new foods.
15. In the Garden with Dr. Carver by Susan Grigsby, illustrated by Nicole Tadsgell
Susan Grigsby shares Dr. George Washington Carver’s story by following a young school girl who meets and learns from him. Set in rural Alabama in the early 1900s, Sally and her community are struggling to grow food in soil depleted by cotton production. Dr. Carver, an African American agricultural scientist, arrives to teach them how to restore the soil and respect the balance of nature. He also prepares a delicious lunch made of plants to celebrate the food they can grow..
16. It’s Disgusting and We Ate It by James Solheim, illustrated by Eric Brace
This book is a funny collection of true facts of food dishes from around the world and throughout history. Solheim shares historical culinary creations, like roasted spiders and Garbage Stew, that were once eaten around the world or continue to be eaten today in a light-hearted and fascinating way. What is gross to one person may be a delicious treat to another, and this book teaches children to keep an open mind about different communities’ dishes in this world food tour.
17. Let’s Cook with Fruits & Vegetables / Vamos a Cocinar con Frutas y Verduras by Gayle Schachne and Northeast Valley Health Corporation WIC Program
This cookbook was created with families using the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) ingredients in mind. Many recipes are designed to encompass WIC ingredients, and all of the recipes are meant to be affordable, simple, and delicious. The first half of the book is in English, and the second half is in Spanish. Recipes were also written and tested by WIC participants and WIC dietitians.
18. Maddi’s Fridge by Lois Brandt, illustrated by Vin Vogel
In this award-winning story, Lois Brandt shines a light on childhood hunger and food insecurity in an inspiring, child-friendly approach. Maddi and Sofia live in the same neighborhood and are best friends. But Sofia discovers that while her fridge is full of milk and vegetables, Maddi’s only has one, small container of milk. Maddi explains that her fridge is always like this, and even though Sofia promises not to tell, she sets out to figure out a way to help her friend. This is a great resource to introduce younger readers to a serious issue, and also show children that they can do something about it.
19. Red Beans & Rice by Jeanette Weiland, illustrated by Roberta Van Zandt Loflin
Red Beans & Rice follows Magnolia Rose and her friends as they visit Grandma Bee and Grandpa Pepper’s farm in rural Louisiana. Here, the children discover their outdoor playgrounds are the source of the flavorful ingredients used to make their favorite Louisiana dishes: Red Beans & Rice, Strawberry Shortcake, Seafood Po-Boys, Pecan Pralines, and more. Weiland weaves in New Orleans’s food culture in this farm to table story.
20. Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman
In this critically acclaimed novella, Paul Fleischman uses thirteen narrators to tell the story of the founding and first year of a community garden in an immigrant neighborhood of Cleveland, Ohio. The characters come from a variety of ethnic groups and ages. From their point of view, each narrator shows how the empty lot becomes a vibrant community garden and shares the transformations they are each going through in life. Seedfolks has inspired countless school and community gardens and can also be performed as a play using Fleischman’s school-friendly adaption.
21. Thank You, Omu! by Oge Mora
Oge Mora was inspired by the strong women role models in her life for her story about a grandmother’s love and community. Omu, the Igbo word for queen, has made a stew that smells so good the entire neighborhood comes knocking on her door to try some. She gives all of it away by dinnertime, but the community shows their gratitude in this story of using food as a means of sharing, diversity, and inclusion.
22. The Bagel King by Andrew Larsen, illustrated by Sandy Nichols
In this book, Andrew Larsen features a special bond between a grandfather and his grandson, and their weekly tradition of eating bagels on Sunday. When his grandfather cannot bring bagels one weekend, Eli sets out to find a way to still share their favorite treat. The Bagel King highlights how a young child can take responsibility and, with a little initiative, help someone in need.
23. The Lunch Thief by Anne C. Bromley, illustrated by Robert Casilla
When a new classmate steals Rafael’s lunch, he initially feels angry. But inspired by his mother’s advice, he decides to try to understand why it happened. Later, Rafael sees his classmate carrying a bundle of laundry into a motel room, and his mom explains that his family might be one of the families who lost their homes in the recent wildfires. The next day, Rafael invites his classmate to share his lunch in this lesson of empathy and understanding.
24. Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt by Kate Messner
In this book, Kate Messner vividly paints two different worlds in the garden. Up in the garden, there is an abundance of green in leaves, sprouts, vegetables, and fruit. But down in the dirt exists a busy world filled with all the animals that make a garden their home. This story will teach children about the different parts of an ecosystem, even the ones they might not be able to see.
25. We Are Water Protectors by Carole Lindstrom, illustrated by Michaela Goade
Inspired by Standing Rock and all Indigenous Peoples fighting for clean water, Carole Lindstrom, who is Ojibwe, issues an urgent rallying cry to safeguard the Earth’s water from harm and corruption. In this book, a young girl stands to defend Earth’s most precious resource from a black snake. Water connects everyone, and her courage teaches children that anyone can be a water protector.
26. Yoko by Rosemary Wells
Rosemary Wells shares a heartwarming story of open-mindedness when trying new foods from different cultures. Yoko the kitten is teased by her classmates when her mom packs her sushi for lunch. They think the fish and seaweed are “yucky.” But Yoko’s teacher has an idea. On “International Food Day” at school, Yoko brings sushi again and makes a friend who is willing to try it.In this funny twist, the tables are turned and the parents are the picky eaters in this bi-racial family. Adventurous Matilda Macaroni loves trying new foods, like her grandma’s jambalaya and friend’s sushi. But her parents will only eat pepperoni pizza, hamburgers, and takeout noodles. Matilda sets out to secretly learn to cook with new flavors and open her parents’ minds to trying new foods.
Amanda is passionate about helping organizations drive social impact and health equity on local and international levels. After earning a Bachelor’s degree in Biology from Willamette University, she taught English in Thailand at a primary school and saw up close how food moved from farms to local markets to plates. With a background working in multicultural settings in the U.S. and abroad, Amanda hopes to bring a global lens to her writing. She plans to pursue a Master’s in Public Health with an emphasis in global health and sustainability to bring change directly to communities.
Reposted with permission from Food Tank.
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