There are few topics in literature as universal as food. Without it we would die and without great food life would be less bright. For children, food plays such an important role. It is one of their first major sensory experiences in life, being introduce to taste, texture, and presentation. The books I’ve chosen for this list touch on picky eaters, how food is made, and its cultural connections. This list of books should do a great job of introducing your young readers and eaters to some delicious new dishes.
Every Night is Pizza Night by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt
Illustrated by Gianna Ruggerio
For ages 3-7
I was undoubtedly a picky eater growing up (and might still be a little bit…), and so is this book’s protagonist Pipo. However, as the little girl explores the kitchens of her apartment building’s neighbors, she discovers a world of great-tasting food. Writer Lopez-Alt is a New York Times food writer whose skill at describing mouth-watering dishes translates perfectly into this children’s book. It’s helped by some bold, bright illustrations that showcase a tremendous variety in the culinary world. Kids will likely need help with some of the unfamiliar food vocabulary. Still, I guarantee you will pique the interest of your picky eaters.
How To Feed Your Parents by Ryan Miller
Illustrated by Hatem Ally
For ages 3-7
On the flip side from Every Night is Pizza Night, we have a story about two picky parents. Matilda Macaroni loves trying new food; the only problem is her parents won’t budge past chicken nuggets and pizza. So it’s up to our young hero to secretly learn how to make new dishes with the help of her grandmother. Children love the humor of role reversal, especially when adults are portrayed as having their behaviors. That is a beautiful hook to pull in your kids. It also helps them contextualize their pickiness by seeing how silly it is when grown-ups act out.
Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard
Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
For ages 3-7
While food sustains us, it also connects us with culture. Fry Bread doesn’t follow a narrative but instead tells the reader how vital this seemingly simple food is to North America’s indigenous populations. The illustrations are gorgeous, showcasing so much diversity, and beautifully present high-level concepts in easily digestible ways for young readers. This meditation on fry bread also introduces children to classification as each page describes how fry bread falls into a variety of categories, both concrete and abstract.
Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto
Illustrated by Ed Martinez
For ages 4-8
Not just a book about family or food but a great Christmas book as well! Maria is helping her mother make tamales for Christmas Eve and starts playing with the diamond wedding ring her mom has taken off. However, when Maria checks later, the ring is missing, and she realizes it must be in the tamales! Now it’s up to her and the cousins to eat through them all to find it. Gary Soto is a children’s lit legend and shows us why in a story that crosses cultural barriers to appeal to every child who may have accidentally lost something important. The illustrations by Ed Martinez are full of expressive faces that draw in the reader.
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
For ages 4-8
How do you feed a family full of picky eaters? Well, this mother makes a special dish for each one, and it is exhausting. Mary Ann Hoberman’s delightful tale emphasizes collaboration and how it can usually create the best meals when we work together. The details in Marla Frazee’s art bring the story to life as she spotlights all the day-to-day challenges of raising such a big family in charming ways. This excellent book builds to two climaxes, so there are great opportunities to ask children questions as they read.
Bee-bim bop! by Linda Sue Park
Illustrated by Ho Baek Lee
For ages 4-8
Making food is a process that children should be encouraged to join in on. Linda Sue Park uses her background as a Korean-American and tells a story in verse about a child helping their parent make bee-bim bop. From buying groceries to ingredient prep to the best part, eating the dish, each step is included in the story. The illustrations are very bright and joyful and will make you and your young readers want to whip up a bowl of this delicious dish. Artist Ho Bake Lee employs gorgeous watercolors that convey a very child-like sense of wonder about things we as adults often take for granted.
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles
Illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara
For ages 5-9
Freedom Soup is a wonderful combination of the process of making food and the connection it provides us with culture. Belle is helping her grandmother prepare Freedom Soup, a traditional Haitian New Year’s dish. We follow the duo through the recipe, and as they wait for the soup to develop on the stove, the history of its creation is revealed. Through grandmother’s words, we learn about slavery in Haiti and the eventual revolution that led to her people finally getting to feast on the fruits of their labor. Jacqueline Alcántara presents some lovely mixed media artwork that gives the feel of being in a grandparent’s home around the holidays, the swirl of excitement in preparing and greeting your guests.