What Children's Books Taught Us About Food | Arts & Culture | Smithsonian

What Children's Books Taught Us About Food

I read the other day that Kellogg's is teaming up with an Irish publisher and a bookstore to give away free books to children there who buy Rice Krispies cereal. I'm all for free books, and any effort to get children to read. The books they chose don't appear to have anything to do with food, but i...

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Cupcakes courtesy of flickr/makeshiftlove


I read the other day that Kellogg's is teaming up with an Irish publisher and a bookstore to give away free books to children there who buy Rice Krispies cereal. I'm all for free books, and any effort to get children to read. The books they chose don't appear to have anything to do with food, but it got me thinking about the books I read growing up, and what culinary lessons they held.

Here are just a few that came to mind:

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle Probably the first book I ever read about food, with gorgeous illustrations of plums, pears and cherry pie.  Lesson: If you eat until you have a stomachache, you will transform into a beautiful creature. Hmm.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl My mouth watered at the descriptions of Wonka bars and Everlasting Gobstoppers, and I shivered at the fates of Veruca Salt and Augustus Gloop. Lesson: Greedy people always get their comeuppance. If only.

Charlotte's Web by E. B. White Who didn't love this tender tale of friendship between a girl, a pig and a spider? And how many became vegetarians as a result? Lesson: That BLT you're eating may have been someone's friend.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss Sam-I-Am harangues his skeptical friend into trying the title dish by annoying him with rhymes. Lesson: Don't knock it till you try it.

Geraldine Belinda by Marguerite Henry My mother gave me a collection of books from her childhood that included this little gem from 1942. Geraldine Belinda comes into a fortune (a nickel, I think) and goes on a shopping spree for candy and toys. Not wanting to share, she snubs her friends, but is holding her nose so high in the air she doesn't notice that all her treasures fall out of her package. Lesson: Friends are more valuable than things—even candy. And a nickel went a lot farther in 1942.

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle I was never a big fan of science fiction, but this time-travel mystery blew my little mind. In one scene, the protagonist, a young boy, is served what appears to be a turkey dinner, but to him it tastes like sand because it is actually synthetic. Lesson: Looks can be deceiving. Well, it was probably deeper than that, but it's been decades since I read the book.

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Caroll The original  yo-yo diet—Alice grows bigger and smaller according to the foods (labeled "eat me" and "drink me") she ingests after falling through the rabbit hole. Lesson: Beware of enticing food labels.

I'm sure there are many more. Can you think of any?
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About Lisa Bramen
Lisa Bramen

Lisa Bramen was a frequent contributor to Smithsonian.com's Food and Think blog. She is based in northern New York and is also an associate editor at Adirondack Life magazine.

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