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. They run from picture books to young adult (or 41-year old adult.) Do you have a favorite food read, or a great food scene you never forgot? Add yours to the list. Happy (and Hungry) Reading.
Fanny at Chez Panisse Alice Waters, 1997
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.
Bread and Jam for Frances Russell Hoban, 1964
Frances will only eat bread and jam, so her mother gives it to her for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I would like to reenact this as “Deep Dish Pizza for Marilyn.”
Blueberries for Sal Robert McCloskey, 1948
The classic picture book of blueberry picking, a bear cub, mothers and life in Maine.
Amelia Bedelia Peggy Parish, 1963
I always liked the many good qualities of free-spirited Amelia Bedelia: she was a tall, skinny smiler, and she cheerfully screwed up everything. I particularly admired the way she could neutralize any angry person by feeding them lemon meringue pie.
In the Night Kitchen Maurice Sendak, 1970
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.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Eric Carle, 1969
The classic caterpillar eats every food in sight, until he finds all he really needs is one plain and perfect green leaf. Truth? I didn’t want him to eat the leaf. I wanted him to keep eating salami and ice cream.
Eloise in Paris Kay Thompson, 1957
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.
Little House in the Big Woods Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1932
I could blog every 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. So memorable were Laura’s food passages that they eventually filled The Little House Cookbook, as noted in this lovely post by Paige Smith Orloff.
Strega Nona Tomie DePaola, 1979
A wise Italian witch with the power to conjure up pasta. What’s not to love?
Heidi Johanna Spyri, 1880
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. Do not be fooled by the jacket copy. It’s all about the food.
Anatole Eve Titus, 1956
And here is where Simmer readers fall down. Yes indeed, I love a book about a mouse, a mouse who wears a beret and tastes cheese in the cheese factory. When I first read it – decades before the pear incident – I was dazzled by his little scarf, and all those Bries and bleus.
Strawberry Girl Lois Lenski, 1945
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 9-12 readers.
James and the Giant Peach Roald Dahl, 1961
This book made me dream of waking up, rolling over and eating chunks of peach from the wall. Enough said.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone J.K. Rowling, 1997
Oh sure, there’s dueling and wands and danger, but what thrills me at Hogwarts is dessert. I mean, Dumbledore claps his hands and profiteroles fill the hall. Magic, or what?