Just like there are great food movies, there are also some very good young children’s books that are Food & Garden oriented.
Here are the ones we’ve found so far. - Joanne & Jack (And please email your recommendations!)
Children's Books to Read
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paola This new addition to the favorite Strega Nona series is bound to be a seasonal favorite. The emphasis is on the garden and the harvest = and sharing the bounty.
A Seed Is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston, Illustrated by Sylvia Long Gorgeous, breath-taking illustrations, make this a winner. Each page offers a gem of information pertaining to seeds. It has a really good overview of seed germination in pictures. Also, an interesting selection of seeds, such as devils clan, Texas mountain laurel pod and turpentine bean. A great little chart shows different germination times for seeds inciting discussion. Not so great: There is not much text; mainly a picture book.
The Great: I love the idea of this book. First, a story somehow food related and then a recipe. The stories are good choices from a selection of tales from around the world. I like that there are offerings in breakfast, lunch, dinner, soup and dessert categories. The illustrations by Philippe Beba are really modern and fun and add to the enjoyment of the story. I also like the “historical tidbit” sidebars. Recipes and stories one novel takes on the families.
The Not So Great:
A lot of white space and large font size makes recipes break across multiple pages. Some of the stories are very short. Stories like Seven Hills of Sweet, Diamonds and Toads, The Magic Leaves, Cinderella’s Stone Soup. Recipes like Sweet Chocolate Mouse, Very French Toast, Goat Cheese Sandwiches, Pumpkin Tartlets and Stone Soup.
The Apple Pie Tree by Zoe Hall & Shari Halpern (illustrator)
This is a lovely picture book, with minimal text, which covers the seasons of an apple tree and the growth of an apple.
The concept is that an apple tree is in fact a glorious tree, which produces the essential ingredient in apple pie. A recipe for apple pie and a quick overview of pollination concludes the book. It’s true that “there’s nothing as good as an apple pie you grew yourself”.
The Paper Bag Prince by Colin Thompson The illustrations in this story make it wonderful. It’s largely about garbage dumps, with an underlying message of recycle and re-use, and a more specific bittersweet story of an old man who lives with his lot in life and is rewarded with a new friend (a stray dog) at the end. The old man has leased his property to the garbage dump. All kinds of animals live in the dump. The man gets the land back, the dump is closed, nature starts to reclaim the land, and the man makes his life more comfortable.
It’s a picture book that encourages discussion about garbage and pollution. My son adores it. The illustrations hide all kinds of little creatures many of whom have found homes in things people throw away. The ending for the man is happy. Age 4+
This is a really fun picture book, for ages 4-8, that follows the travels of a young lady questing for apple pie ingredients around the world. What I really like, is the message underlying, which is that only the best ingredients will do and they are worth seeking out. Very fun!
Magic School Bus - Gets Baked In A Cake
A book about Kitchen Chemistry by Joanna Cole
& Bruce Degen (Illustrator) I love that this book equates cooking with chemistry. The story really touches on the concept of chemical reaction, but it will likely elicit more discussion. The experiment offered at the end is a fun one, with easy ingredients. This book is part of the TV series Magic School Bus books which doesn't have quite as much detail and extra reading as the classic series but offers enough information to get kids interested in the science of the project. The illustrations are lively and the text is enjoyable to read to them. The suggested age is 5-7 but curious pre-schoolers will enjoy them, too.
Walking the World in Wonder: A Children's Herbal by Ellen Evert Hopman The Great: It is a simple format, which is organized as a dictionary or encyclopedia of herbs, alphabetically by season. Every entry has a color photo of the plant and the facing page holds the description. The narrative is in first person-from the plant's perspective. Many of the entries include a recipe or directions for use. The material is presented in a young person's easy tone.
The not-so: Only a small selection of herbal plants is offered. The photos while attractive do not in some cases lend themselves well to in the field identification - a line drawing would be more helpful. There is no alphabetical index so "look ups” are cumbersome. Some potentially toxic herbs like hemlock and sumac are covered, so there are cautionary notes, but I don't think toxicity is handled exceptionally well.
Overall: It's a nice reference and good library choice for a young forager but fails to hit the mark for a primary herbal for Kids.
I bought this book for a 4-year old knowing that this is a kid-friendly herbal book. It has lots of open space, large print, and black and white drawings, which makes it accessible to a younger audience than the one which it is likely intended for.
Unusual herbs are covered in detail, such as slippery elm and plantain. There’s a lot of learning and educational opportunities, with mini projects, recipes, tips, remedy recipes, as well as stories and songs. There is a chapter on gardening. The main intent of the book is exploration, to make the herb garden a friendly place to visit, and to increase herb awareness.
Projects can certainly be done with the under 6 age level. The stories and songs are accessible to most kids, but the 6+ will benefit the most.
While not exactly a "children's" book and given a definite caveat to parents - (the theme of the book is DEATH and it's slightly grisly), Gary Larson's wry humor is beautifully showcased here in a Worm's story of how hair got into his dirt and how dirt comes about. A really interesting take on the cycles of things. We bought our copy at Blue Hill Stone Barns. I love this book. Definitely in the 9-12 age category for most parents.
A young groundhog is told not to steal food but instead to grow his own garden. A squirrel takes him under his wing and they do just that. The book follows from how to save seed to planting to harvesting the food. For ages 3-7, maybe 2-8 if strong interest in gardening and animals.
This book is inspiring, with gorgeous illustrations (including ones showing seed growth in steps). Highly Recommended.
Great Gardens for Kids: Imaginative Ideas To Entertain, Education and Delight
The British publisher, Hamlyn, offers this book, which is extremely attractive in both its photographs and content. Lots of ideas for play areas in gardens, large and small, and instructions on how to make them, illustrated in step-by-step form. The book makes projects look easy and attractive. My son likes to look through it on his own as the photographs are lovely; in fact he picked out the book himself at the bookstore. Ideas range from pots of potatoes, flowering hideaway, rill, wildlife container pond, crocodile garden, to larger scale play areas, such as “a relaxing retreat”. My absolute favorite is the daffodil maze which can be planted in any lawn. I haven’t made it yet, but hope to! There are lots of great ideas I’ve bookmarked. A wonderful book to look through, and refer to for small project ideas.
Not So: Certainly not a must-have and would be better received by those wishing to expand their gardens or re-landscape. Projects range from inexpensive and simple, to potentially expensive and time-consuming.
This is a fun book for winter to plan your spring and summer project. A companion to Lovejoy'sSunflower Houses: Inspiration from the Garden - A Book for Children and Their Grown-Ups, I found that the books have quite a bit of overlap so you probably only need one. Roots Shoots Buckets & Boots will give you the steps for planting a Sunflower House among other fun parnet and child gardening projects. Fun! Ages 5-10 with an adult.
What I loved about this book was that it focused on “unusual” colored food, making it interesting to children, and adding fun to gardening (plus cooking) with heirloom and rare vegetables.
The text is aimed at older children, but parents can interest younger children. The illustrations by Ruth Heller are lovely, making the book lively.
The first half of the book covers general gardening, the last half is rainbow vegetables, specifically offering a recipe for each vegetable profiled. Short, but sweetly done. I love the “How to request a seed catalog letter”. Age 6-8+
A young boy learns that if he wants pancakes, he has to gather all of the ingredients himself. From a request for flour he learns to cut, thresh and grind wheat. This hits a home run for showing a child that food is a lot more complicated than something from a box at a supermarket. Best for ages 3-6.
gorgeous floral illustrations.
Molly and Emmett's Surprise Garden by Marylin Hafner Now out-of-print but a really fun book from the creator of Molly & Emmett (who appear on the back of Ladybug Magazine). Grandma sends seeds to Molly for a spring garden and Emmett tries to help - voila a surprise garden is born!
Tops & Bottoms by Janet Stevens
A Caldecott Honor Book. The story of a clever rabbit who grows a garden for lazy bear each year, keeping the tops and bottoms and finally middles. Bear learns a valuable lesson that growing food takes work and that some crops produce edible tops, bottoms or middles. Fun!
The Best Children's Cookbooks
There are not a lot of great Kids cookbooks. Often I just use an adult recipe and make it kid-friendly. Little cooks like to have their own cookbooks, and especially like illustrations and photos. The biggest problem I have with many of these kid's cookbooks is that they choose to include recipes for “kids food” like chicken fingers, mac and cheese, etc. (“Bad, bad, bad,” says Jack.) We’ve started to make a point of collecting the good ones.
The Silver Spoon for Children : Favorite Italian Recipes by Phaidon Press Phaidon Press' Silver Spoon for Kids. Intelligent Italian recipes with easy instructions from the publishers of the famed Silver Spoon for adults (which is a 50yr old, 1000 page tome of Italian Cooking).
The Gastrokid Cookbook: Feeding a Foodie Family in a Fast-food World by Hugh Garvey & Matthew Yeomans While not a kid's cookbook to cook from - Gastrokid is of note here as it's a great place to start to broaden kid's food horizons. Think of it as a cook-together book. From the back " the Foodie Parent's Guide to Raising Passionate Adventurous Eaters". See more of my thoughts onKid's Food.
My A to Z Recipe Box by Hilary Karmilowicz
This box really entranced us. Trent, our 5-year-old, had to take out each recipe and look at it, from A to Z. Then, of course, we had to immediately cook from the box. We made Italian ice and it turned out great. There are extra cards included so kids can make their own recipes and lots of room to add more. This will make a great Christmas gift for kids who like to cook. Caveat: Not a lot of entree recipes - in fact only 26 recipes and variations offered.
Kids Cook 1-2-3: Recipes for Young Chefs Using Only 3 Ingredients by Rozanne Gold The Great: Recipes contain three ingredients, many of which are easily at hand. The recipes are attractive and there are some nice twists on standard fare, such as Shrimp Cocktail with Tomato Sorbet, Banana Frullato and Chicken Oh-la-la, which have fancy names but are not so difficult to prepare.
Kids Cook 1-2-3 is definitely aimed towards older littler chefs. Many recipes call for cooking on a stovetop, using knives, or kitchen appliances. This would be a good starter cookbook for tweens/teens. The sections are laid out pleasantly, with good indices, and there are lots of variations offered for Peanut Butter & Jam, Smoothies, Apple Slices, Eggs, etc. Overall, recipes are attractive and the text is relatively easy to read.
The Not So: Too many recipes are classic kid’s food, such as Mac ’n Cheese, Tuna Salad, Burgers, Wings, Drumsticks, etc. A number of recipes call for “not so” great ingredients, such as chocolate sprinkles, canned baby corn, cola, American cheese, baby carrots (on the flipside, other recipes encourage trying new ingredients, such as prunes, boursin, or comté cheese, spices and herbs). Generally, recipes are geared towards “try this and make your own”, however, a number of them use prepared or “ready food”, like canned or jarred ingredients (or the non-baby,
baby carrots). There are no photographs, instead there are line illustrations of ingredients and simple color illustrations.
This cookbook is short and focused on attracting new little cooks. Taking a decidedly French cooking stance, it is comprised of many standards, such as French Toast, Grilled Cheese and Mac 'n Cheese. However, it also offers Croque Monsieur, Cheese Fondue, Baguette, Vicchysoise and, of course, Ratatouille.
The introduction by Thomas Keller offers encouragement that all cooks have to be new cooks who start somewhere and one of the simplest ways to do that is to learn to cook eggs. The only Thomas Keller recipe offered is "Chocolate Bouchons".
The plus for this book is that it lies flat, due to a covered spiral binding. The recipes are simple, full-color, and easy to read.
The bad news is that, there are too many questionable ingredients suggested for my taste (i.e., American cheese, Ritz crackers, and vegetable shortening). There isn't any feature on food smarts or hints for making better food choices. The salmon tips suggest to buy fresher fish rather than offer a suggestion to look for wild or sustainably farmed fish. It is also not without more concrete flaws: Theme "cakes" are presented without a recipe for the actual cake.
While overall it is not a cookbook that I can heartily recommend, there are merits, especially for shy cooks who are inspired by the movie Ratatouille; it has a wonderful message: Anyone can cook!
I would call this cookbook a stepping stone rather than a movement, which it could have been.
Williams-Sonoma Kids in the Kitchen: Fun Foods by Stephanie Rosenbaum
Overall, this is a pretty well done kids cookbook. I love the photos of the kids cooking. They alternate between looking like they are having fun, and taking their cooking seriously. I also love the step-by-step photos.
There are lots of basic recipes, such as devilled eggs, pasta and cheese, or sauce pizza, and smoothies, but they are dimensionalized by adding variations and options which are well illustrated.
Chapters like “Oodles of Noodles” and “Put On Your Oven Mitts” help add to the fun. I love the sesame fish sticks recipe, glazed baby back ribs, fish in paper packet, rosemary roasted chicken, roasted carrots, and stuffed potatoes.
These recipes would be do-able for an under 8-year old, but would need a parent’s help directing and the cooking even for the 8+. I strongly recommend parental guidance, as many recipes use stovetop, oven, and knives.
The introduction is full of useful tips on cutting and measuring, and other basic skills. The text is open and airy, easy to read, and in full color. It is perfect bound, but large, therefore not so difficult to keep flat.
Recommended for Ages 8+.
Kids in the Kitchen: Sweet Treats by Carolyn Beth Weil
This a dessert cookbook for kids (and counterpart to Fun Foods) which is divided into Basics, Classics, Baked Goods, Chocolate, Cookies, Frozen, and Beverages.
It offers recipes like chocolate fondue, plum buckle, hot mulled cider, watermelon ice pops, and peanut butter bears. Like Fun Foods, the design is solid, open and airy, colorful and well illustrated, making cooking seem attractive.
This is another great kids cookbook which offers some solid recipes and good technique.
This is a fantastic present for a Redwall fan and while this cookbook is a bit old for Trent right now, it is beautifully illustrated and captures the Redwall spirit in it's choice of recipes like Mole's Favourite Deeper 'n' Ever Turnip 'n' Tater 'n' Beetroot Pie and Hare's Pawspring Vegetable Soup. Recipes are fun to read and should inspire a little chef - maybe even to try a few new foods. I suggest guess 8-12 is the target age.
These two Mollie Katzen books are really interesting.
Trent likes them but isn't ready to follow thedirections yet at 3. I would think by 4 he may be up to the tasks. There is a introduction to each recipe for parents then the recipe is given graphically for the preschooler to follow. The picture boxes are full color drawn illustrations of things like butter, milk, flour, etc. They are books that empower children to cook by taking the recipe apart and cleverly depicting the steps in images.
Here are also some favorites which Trent is too young for right now – but it won’t be long! 5-7 and up!
Kids Cooking: A Very Slightly Messy Manual I have mixed thoughts about this cookbook. While graphically, it is really appealing, it has hidden ingredients you will have to substitute like cresent roll dough, vegetable shortening and it shows cans of parmesan cheese (you get the idea). It's originally published in 1987 - so that explains alot.
On the positive side it's full-color and really nicely illustrated. It comes with a set of measuring spoons. I've given one as a gift to good acclaim. Recipes are from Guacamole to Lemonade to Walrus Salad to Chili to Alphabet Soup to Smoothies.
Got kid? Need Tower!
The Learning Tower ranks as our best purchase ever, for our child. Used almost every day for more than 4 years, it's simply great for allowing your little chef to cook or play cook in your kitchen. More here.