As a former elementary educator, children’s books hold a very special place in my heart (publishing my own might be at the top of my bucket list). There’s just something so artful about the cadence of simple rhymes and playfulness of brightly colored illustrations…and gee do I love a good read-aloud.
During the years that I spent teaching nutrition at an elementary school in southeast Seattle I had a pretty static list of food-focused children’s books provided to me by the (equally static) USDA-mandated curriculum. Every day, I’d read about little Jane or John’s adventure with food to my classroom of captive Kinders, First, and Second graders. While the exposure to food-focused stories was a big win for team nutrition there was one glaring issue…the majority of the characters in the stories were white children…the majority of the students in my classrooms were not (might I also add that the parental figures of these stories were all heterosexual and partnered, but I digress).
The campaign to raise awareness of the homogeneous narrative in kidlit began on Twitter on April 14th, 2014 and has since gained significant traction. From my experience sorting through stacks of books I knew that food-related children’s books existed; they weren’t unicorns! In fact, since food is such a strong and accessible entry point to many racial and ethnic identities there is actually a rich selection of POC food books for young people.
Lucky for me, the agency I worked for at the time recognized the need to make our curriculum more accessible and culturally competent, leading to my development of the Healthy Readers, Global Eaters curriculum, which focused on meeting Common Core Literacy Standards while experiencing nutrition through a culturally diverse lens. By far my favorite part of developing this 12-week curriculum was the hours I spent pouring through the book stacks at my public library (Thanks, SPL!) finding gems like the books listed below.
With the summer winding down and the back to school frenzy ramping up consider searching for these books at your local library or asking your child’s teacher to integrate them into their curriculum. The list below features my favorite stories, sorted by reading level.
Click on the book cover for more information on our top 30!
WORLD SNACKS BOARD BOOK SERIES by AMY WILSON SANGERA // Delightful collection of beautifully artistic paper illustrations that feature the foods of the Jewish, Chinese, Japanese and Mexican cultures.
BEBE GOES SHOPPING by SUSAN MIDDLETON ELYA // This Spanish-English bilingual book follows bebe and mama as they journey through el supermercado.
FEAST FOR 10 by CATHRYN FALWELL // We can’t resist stories by Falwell, which feature especially this playful counting book that features a beautiful African American family and the community that’s built in the kitchen.
SHANTE KEYS AND THE NEW YEAR’S PEAS by GAIL PIERNAS-DAVENPORT // A multi-ethnic celebration of New Year’s food traditions, this sing-songy rhyming story about the African American holiday tradition is one of our favorite read-alouds.
RAINBOW STEW by CATHRYN FALWELL // Another tried and true Falwell book about young black children growing and harvesting produce from their grandfather’s garden to make rainbow stew.
YOKO by ROSEMARY WELLS // This is a classic story chronicling the stigma many young POC experience in the lunch room when consuming foods from their cultural identity. Yoko, a little Japanese girl learns how to overcome her shame and celebrate her food identity.
WHAT SHOULD I MAKE by NANDINI NAYAR // A cute and endearing story about a young Indian boy’s imagination as he works playfully alongside his mother to prepare chapati.
BREAD IS FOR EATING by DAVID GERSHATOR // This Spanish-English bilingual story poetically illustrates the farm to bakery process of bread making.
THE UGLY VEGETABLES by GRACE LIN // Grace Lin is a champion for authoring children’s and YA novels about the Chinese American experience. This favorite emphasizes the importance of pride and ownership over cultural identity through food.
BEE-BIM BOP! by LINDA SUE PARK // Hands down our favorite story to read aloud, this book has children and adults chiming along to the rhyming recipe for bee-bim bop!
WHAT CAN YOU DO WITH A PALETA by CARMEN TAFOLLA // A joyful Spanish-English bilingual story celebrating summer in the barrio and the seasonal staple–Paletas
HANDA’S SURPRISE by EILEEN BROWN // This silly counting story is set in Africa and features beautiful, vibrant fruits to drool over.
AN ORANGE IN JANUARY by DIANNA HUTTS // An essential story that illustrates the complexities of our food system. This simple storyline features a young brown boy and his discovery of seasonality.
TWO OLD POTATOES AND ME by JOHN COY // We’re not sure what we love more, the heartwarming storyline or playful illustrations. Follow this young black girl as she plants, nourishes, and harvests potatoes in her own backyard. We also love that this book features a “non-traditional” family structure with separated/divorced parents.
MAMA PANYA’S PANCAKES by MARY CHAMBERLIN // A darling story of hospitality and community set in Africa.
HOT, HOT ROTI FOR DADA-JI by F ZIA // An adorable story of intergenerational storytelling through food in the Indian culture.
OUR COMMUNITY GARDEN by BARBARA POLIAK // Set in the heart of San Francisco, CA this story celebrates multi-ethnic community building through gardening and cooking.
GRANDMA LENA’S BIG OL’ TURNIP by DENIA LEWIS HESTER // This soul food adaptation of a Russian folktale is a silly and loving story about family and food.
THE SANDWICH SWAP by QUEEN RANIA OF JORDAN // When cultures clash in the cafeteria between two best friends, one white American, one Jordanian American, they must problem solve to find middle ground.
GAZPACHO FOR NACHO by TRACEY C. KYLE // Gazpacho loving Nacho refuses to eat any else until he’s awakened to the wonders of the culinary world. This book features sprinkles of Spanish words.
SATURDAY MARKET by PATRICIA GROSSMAN // Follow a young girl and her Zapotec family as they navigate the vibrant Saturday market of Oaxaca
JALAPENO BEGELS by NATASHA WING // One of the few biracial storylines (womp, womp) about a young boy’s struggle and triumph to reconcile his multiracial food identity.
THE CAZUELA THAT THE FARM MAIDEN STIRRED by SAMANTHA R. VAMOS // A re-imagination of “The House That Jack Built” this Spanish-English bilingual story follows a young Latina maiden as she nourishes a pot of fresh arroz con leche.
CHATO’S KITCHEN by GARY SOTO // Chato is a scheming cat who attempts to lure a mouse family for dinner by preparing a delicious Mexican feast.
CORA COOKS PANCIT by DORINA K. LAZO GILMORE // Cora is never old enough to participate in the family affair of preparing pancit from scratch. When she finally has to chance to lend a hand she shines in this loving story.
IN MY MOMMA’S KITCHEN by JERDINE NOLEN // A celebration of African-American families and mommas everywhere, In My Momma’s Kitchen tells the story of a year’s events in everybody’s favorite room.
WORLD FOOD ALPHABET by CHRIS CALDECOTT // A beautiful youth-friendly photo-journalistic chronicle of food from around the world. Each page includes fantastic photos with history and culture woven into the captions.
WHAT’S FOR LUNCH by ANDREA CURTIS // A photo journalistic book that highlights the global diversity of food eaten by young people.
MORNING MEALS AROUND THE WORLD by MARYELLEN GREGOIRE // A playfully illustrated journey of morning meals from around the world.
ONE GREEN APPLE by EVE BUNTING // Farah is a young Muslim immigrant who feels worlds away from her American classmates. This story of cultural divide and unity centers around the simple act of apple harvesting.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, these are all books that I’ve read aloud to my students numerous times, so they have the little people’s thumbs up! Let us know what food-focused kidlit you love!
If you’re looking to purchase these books, consider stopping by one of these locally-owned small business bookshops before rushing over to Amazon.com. #ShopLocal!