Kid's Stuff -- Books About Nutrition
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"D.W. The Picky Eater"
Written by Marc Brown
Illustrated by Marc Brown
(Little, Brown & Co, 1995)

Adapted from the Arthur PBS-TV series. We've read other books in this series, but I've never picked this one up... Don't want to encourage the idea that you can be a picky eater... I'm sure she must learn her lesson in the end, though. (B-)

"Little Farm By The Sea"
Written by Kay Chorao
Illustrated by Kay Chorao
(Henry Holt, 1998)

A very nice, very explicit presentation of life on an independently-owned, small family farm (based on a real farm on the East Coast...) It's kinda on the long side for smaller children to sit through, but if your kid is fascinated with food farming, this is a very good book to present an idealized, idealistic version of that life. Beautiful, realistically rendered artwork balances a slightly dense, flat text. Worth checking out!

Written by Charlotte Doyle
Illustrated by Nadine Bernard Westcott
(Candlewick, 2004)

A big, colorful book in celebration of that great parental rite of passage -- solo shopping with a toddler in tow. This book is sure to bring a shock of recognition and a smile to anyone who's tried to keep those little hands from grabbing everything in sight, and while the simple, minimal rhyming text isn't going to win anyone a Booker Prize, but it's probably just right for the age group of the children it's aimed at, and it raises all kinds of opportunities to discuss various foods (and rambunctious behaviors...) The artwork is delightful -- nice, cartoonish line drawings similar to John Burningham's work, and is packed with details that can occupy little people and their readers for hours on end. Also, this is printed on thick, boardbookish stock (easily cleaned and ideal for backseat reading matter on the way to the store...) Cute. (B-)

"Jody's Beans"
Written by Malachy Doyle
Illustrated by Judith Allibone
(Candlewick, 1999)

A nice book about gardening, with simple, explicit descriptions of how a young girl and her grandfather plant and care for a bean patch, and how they enjoy the veggies they grow all summer long. Nice artwork, with a no-nonsense evocation of the joy and wonder of growing one's own food. Recommended!

"Eating The Alphabet"
Written by Lois Ehlert
Illustrated by Lois Ehlert
(Bloomsbury, 2004)

Although I admire her bold, brightly colored collage art, not many of Ehlert's books appeal to me... Not sure why. This one, however, is a gem. When I saw a super-grubby copy of it in the local library, I knew right away I'd want to own it, and sure enough, when I was able to track a new copy down, it was an instant hit with my girl, who goes to the farmer's market every week and is really into fresh produce. Apples, blueberries, cucumbers and corn... Dozens of fruits and veggies are shown, each more enticing than the next. For parents who want to encourage healthy diets full of fresh, whole foods, this book will be indispensable. It was a big success at our house. (A)

"Feast For 10"
Written by Cathryn Falwell
Illustrated by Cathryn Falwell
(Clarion, 1993)

A counting book that also promotes good nutrition... A mother takes her children to the store to get all kinds of things -- tomatoes, potatoes, beans and greens -- and then they head home to cook it all up. Falwell's collage-style artwork looks a little stiff here, though, which may make it hard to get into the narrative, such as it is. Not a lot of momentum in the rhymes, either... overall, I'd say this book is just so-so... (C+)

"The Surprise Garden"
Written by Zoe Hall
Illustrated by Shari Halpern
(Blue Sky Books, 1998)

A mother gives her children several different kinds of seeds to plant, but doesn't tell them what kind of plants each seed will become. As the seeds sprout and grow, they mature into beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, lettuce, radishes and one really big, juicy watermelon. The payoff is a gigantic salad at the end of the season -- as well as the lively collage artwork by Shari Halpern, and the well-communicated sense of fun that the kids can have growing their own food. Good, clear narrative -- if you're thinking about planting a garden, this book might be a nice companion activity.

"Bread And Jam For Frances"
Written by Russell Hoban
Illustrated by Lillian Hoban
(Harper Collins, 1964)

Love the artwork, hate the story. A little girl only wants to eat one thing -- her favorite food, bread and jam -- and is thwarted by her mother, who starts serving her bread and jam and nothing else until Frances gets sick of it, and wants something else. I love little Frances' interior life, where she makes up goofy, innocent songs that she sings to herself, and how she kind of spaces out and is in her own little world. What I didn't like was the sort of duplicitous, punitive edge to the mother's actions: Mom starts her campaign against bread and jam after learning that Frances has been trading away her fancy, home-packed brown bag lunches at school (for more bread and jam, of course) -- and Mom's actions seem rather vindictive and mean-spirited. It just felt yucky to me; the artwork is lovely and Frances is a very appealing character, which makes the dark side of the plotline that much more distasteful. Maybe I'm taking it all too seriously, but I wouldn't recommend this one, children's classic or not. (C+)

"Seven Silly Eaters"
Written by Mary Ann Hoberman
Illustrated by Marla Frazee
(Harcourt-Gulliver, 1997)

Well-constructed, but a bit weird. A husband and wife, living, apparently, off the grid in a mountain cabin, keep popping out one child after another, winding up with seven kids who are all extremely picky eaters. Each has a labor-intensive specialty -- applesauce, eggs, pink lemonade, etc. -- that is the only thing they will ingest, and which has to be made from scratch by the increasingly frazzled mother. One day, they accidentally combine all their favorite foods and create a big, pink cake that becomes the family food. From then on out, it's the only thing the family will ever eat... Oh, yum. The rhyming text is very well written, and the artwork -- by the ever-fab Marla Frazee -- is finely detailed and richly packed with visual gags. Still, the story's a bit screwy: yeah, I guess that picky eaters are a big topic of concern, but I'm not sure how this narrative addresses the problem, particularly as the mother deals with it by catering to her kids' whims to the point of dropping from exhaustion. So is the book really about her frustration and burnout (which is explicitly presented as a plot point), and if so, what the heck is the burly, smiling, bearded cipher of a Dad doing the whole time? Chopping wood? Working on his novel? Why doesn't he help out a little? And why is this something that little kids would want to have read to them? I dunno... Food issues are so emotionally fraught that I'm wary of delving too far into a book like this. Maybe there's something I'm missing here, but I thought this story was a little "off" in what it was trying to present... Can't say I was too wild about it. (C+)

Written by Miela Ford
Illustrated by Sally Noll
(Greenwillow, 1995)

A girl plants a sunflower seed, waters it and watches is grow. Soon it towers over her head and the birds and butterflies come to share in the bounty. A few seeds are saved to plant next year, and the story cycles around again... The text and pictures are clear and read well; there is no mistaking what the story is about, and the celebration of life, growth and nurturing comes through loud and clear. My little girl loved this book, and wanted to plant some seeds right away... Too bad I read it to her in November! Recommended.

"Oliver's Vegetables"
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Allison Bartlett
(Orchard Books, 1995)

A nutritionally-challenged city kid goes for a weeklong visit to his grandparents' farm in the country, where they teach him to explore more veggies than just his daily dose of french fries. Spinach, carrots, rutabaga, beets, peas and cabbage are introduced to his diet, all of which he loves, much to his own surprise. That's all very well and fine, although there are some problematic aspects to the book, both in structure and tone. To start with, Oliver is kind of bratty -- he's a stand-in for all the petulant veggie-haters of the world, which is okay if you do have a kid you want to coax into a healthier diet, but if you're just looking for a book that will reinforce good eating habits, you may have to modify the text so that the anti-produce ideology doesn't seep into your household. Overall, Oliver isn't as irritating in this first book as in its sequel, Oliver's Fruit Salad, (reviewed below) -- so that his behavior doesn't overshadow the pro-veggie message , which comes through loud and clear, albeit it comes with some baggage. The other odd aspect of this book is the choppy writing, particularly the abrupt beginning, where the first sentence is Mom rushing Oliver to catch the bus to Grandpa's house, with no preface or explanation. Feels like an editor told French "soemthings got to go," and when they shortened the text, they just lopped off a few pages, without really rewriting the text. (Also, why is it "Grandpa's house," when Gram is also standing there the whole time? Hmmmm.) Anyway, if you're on the prowl for pro-produce propaganda, this book's a fine choice. It has some shortcomings, but they are mild in comparison to more positive aspects. (B)

"Oliver's Fruit Salad"
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Allison Bartlett
(Orchard Books, 1998)

A celebration of fresh fruit, wherein young Oliver returns, sniffily telling his mom how much better the fruit that grows on his grandparent's farm is from what they have at home. Mom listens patiently, then takes Oliver to the store and picks out all the best fruit she can find, and when they get it home, the grandparents show up and suggest they make fruit salad, which again to his own surprise the boy discovers he likes. The pro-new stuff, pro-produce message is certainly welcome, but Oliver sure is a snotty kid... I found I had to read around the dialogue, so that Oliver's petulance didn't overwhelm the entire story and become the focus of the book. This is a sequel to Oliver's Vegetables, reviewed above. (B-)

"Oliver's Milk Shake"
Written by Vivian French
Illustrated by Allison Bartlett
(Orchard Books, 1996)

Wow... I really, really hated this book. I mean, I realize that the goal of the "Oliver" books is to help encourage "picky eaters" to try to eat new, healthier foods, but the tone of this series, and the premise that kids need to be cajoled and tricked into eating healthily is just kind of icky, somehow. That isn't exactly what's happening in this book, but that's what it feels like, and that makes it an unpleasant read. This volume in particular hit me the wrong way, since on every, single page there's some reference to the milkshake that has to be made for Oliver in order for him to drink yucky old milk. At least with the other books in this series, you could kind of read around the weird parts -- in this one, though, it's all weird. I wound up just going, "Oh, look, there's a cow and there are some sheep. The end!" I dunno, I just don't enjoy reading these books that cater to (and model) bad behavior in small children. Plus, Oliver is such a whiny brat... He isn't really a character I really want to spend much time with...! (D)

"Ugly Vegetables"
Written by Grace Lin
Illustrated by Grace Lin
(Charlesbridge, 2001)


"I Eat Fruit!"
Written by Hannah Tofts
Illustrated by Hannah Tofts
(Zero To Ten, 1998)

A super-cool, bright, bold celebration of fruit and color, with fold-out flaps that show oranges, bananas, et. al. being peeled, sliced and made ready for consumption, whether by mouth or by eyes. This book has a strong visual appeal, and should be a boon to parents looking to introduce some healthy foods into young diets... (Of course, the cousin that we gave this to originally wound up being one of those kids who only eats things that are white... So maybe it's not the magic bullet one might imagine...)

"I Eat Vegetables!"
Written by Hannah Tofts
Illustrated by Hannah Tofts
(Zero To Ten, 1998)

Well, sure, maybe a rutabaga's not as sexy as a watermelon... but corn sure is cool! And don't get me started on those summer squash!!

"The Cheerios Play Book"
Written by Lee Wade
Illustrated by Lee Wade
(Simon & Schuster, 1998)

Product placement, anyone? Yeah... I thought so. Sorry I couldn't insert the proper product registration mark after the word "Cheerios," but I'm sure you get the idea. Cute book; clever/creepy marketing strategy.

"The Cheerios Animal Play Book"
Written by Lee Wade
Illustrated by Lee Wade
(Simon & Schuster, 1999)

Likewise... if you don't mind a little corporate branding burned into your kids brain (start 'em out early!!) then this is a fun book. I can think of plenty of other fun books, though, that don't give unpaid advertising for a gigantic multi-national food conglomerate, and I guess I'd rather have my kid read those than this. On the plus side, this is a great book if you're trying to get a I-won't-eat kid to eat something...

"Apple Farmer Annie"
Written by Monica Wellington
Illustrated by Monica Wellington
(Dutton, 2001)

A cheerful, colorful celebration of farming, with a happy gal who raises and sells her own apples, harvesting, sorting, and even baking with some of them, them hauling them to the farmer's market, all by herself. The bright, super-cartoonish artwork is appealing, as is the story. Ideal for kids who go to the markets with their parents, a nice celebration of farming and a healthy relationship to food and food production. Also includes some recipies in the back! (A)

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