One of our co-ops decided to do cooking as our current topic, so I had a chance to delve into the world of books about food and I found so many interesting and surprising options that I thought I would share. Every time I think I’ve gotten to know the nonfiction stacks at the library we frequent, I find something new I didn’t know about. This was definitely one of those times.
Fannie in the Kitchen: The Whole Story Soup to Nuts of How Fannie Farmer Invented Recipes with Precise Measurements by Deborah Hopkinson
That title sure is a mouthful. This is one of those lovely picture book biographies that there have been so many of in the last decade or so – books about unexpected figures in history, written with children in mind. From a quick search, it appears that it may be the only single book that actually is devoted just to being a biography of Fannie Farmer (though, if you’re a cooking nut, you may know America’s Test Kitchen chef Christopher Kimbell’s recent book Fannie’s Last Supper about recreating a feast from Farmer’s classic cookbook). This book has illustrations that play on the sort of old fashioned catalog style illustrations from the time period and tells the story of Farmer’s simple but ingenious improvement to cooking through the perspective of a little girl who learned to cook from her.
How Sweet It Is (and Was): The History of Candy by Ruth Freeman Swain and John O’Brian
This picture book history of candy was so much fun. Plus, it was informative to me! It takes the reader from Egyptians keeping bees for their honey, past maple syrup and sugarcane, penny candy and all the way to modern confections. The illustrations are silly and cartoonish, which certainly fits the topic. There’s even a timeline and some very old recipes for candy of times past.
Make Me a Peanut Butter Sandwich and a Glass of Milk by Ken Robbins
This was a slightly older picture book with tinted photographs that traces the story of how a peanut butter sandwich and a glass of milk get to your table as an afternoon snack. It had the feel of an old filmstrip, though the book is a bit more recent than that. I liked how it helped raise the question of where our food comes from. The version of that trip the books gives is extremely simple. Would that our food was as unprocessed as this book would have us believe! Which brings me to one more book…
The Omnivore’s Dilemna: Young Readers Edition by Michael Pollan
Okay, I admit it. I did not actually get this book for my young kids, but I read parts of it in the library and seriously considered whether it was worth it to read them any of the sections while we’re on this topic. I read Pollan’s adult version of this book when it came out and was pleased to see how the young reader’s edition adapted the book and framed the information for kids without dumbing it down. I’ve been so pleased with how many young readers editions of popular adult nonfiction have been issued in the last few years and I can only hope there will be more.
The Math Chef by Joan D’Amico and Karen Eich Drummond
Now we reach the activity books. Most of the ideas in this book are the sort of things you could probably brainstorm up yourself if you really thought about it. How do you triple a recipe? How can you learn about temperature by making candy? How can you learn about pi with actual pie? How about area using brownies? This book just compiles them nicely together.
Cooking Art by MaryAnn Kohl
Kohl’s various art books are all wonderful resources for teaching elementary school art. This book shows you how to make all kinds of crazy (usually healthy) treats by shaping food to look like cars, faces, trees, and so forth. It’s not exactly my style, but I appreciated the effort. Another one that falls into this category is Mollie Katzen’s Salad People and More Real Recipes. Katzen is the author of The Moosewood Cookbook and generally a hero to vegetarians everywhere.
Messing Around with Baking Chemistry by Bernie Zubrowski
This older book is exactly what the title says. It’s real kitchen chemistry and it’s extremely well done. The experiments all have multiple questions and possibilities for exploration, which is exactly what you want from a science book. Some of the suggested activities are pretty elaborate, though many are simple.