Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Food for Thought by Charlotte Guillian

Perhaps it shouldn't have been a surprise to us at the Picture Book Den, but until now we'd never realised how many picture books were about food. Thanks to our guest blogger, children's author Charlotte Guillian (and co-author Adam Guillian), we'll now see food everywhere! 

Adam and I recently looked through the picture book ideas we have come up with together and were struck by how many of them involve food! Our first published picture book was Spaghetti with the Yeti, which will be followed later this year by Marshmallows for Martians – and there are other delicious adventures to come in the same series. This got me thinking about the picture books I read growing up and then to my own children – so many great stories involve food, usually of the yummiest kind.

One of the first foodie picture books I remember from my own childhood is Eric Carle’s The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I can remember poring over the spread ‘On Saturday he ate through one piece of chocolate cake…’, wondering what Swiss cheese and salami tasted like (this was the 1970s and Sainsburys didn’t have quite the range it does now…) and deciding whether I’d prefer the chocolate cake or the cherry pie. I was fascinated by the bright pink slice of watermelon and repulsed by the green pickle!

Other childhood favourites for me were John Burningham’s Mr Gumpy books. The spread at the end of Mr Gumpy’s Outing, where everyone sits round the table and enjoys tea together, needs no words as the scene is just so satisfying. I can remember looking at this picture for ages thinking about who I’d like to sit next to! What can be better than a story that ends with a picnic or special tea?

And of course there was Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea. I must have had a deep-seated fear of ever having to miss tea because I can remember the anxiety I felt every time we got to the part when there is no food left in the house. But the wonderful, cosy ending with a trip to a café was just perfect.

More recently I’ve enjoyed other food-focused books with my own children. John Vernon Lord’s The Giant Jam Sandwich was a big favourite for us – we loved the ingenious ways the villagers bake a huge loaf of bread and find industrial quantities of butter and jam. And all just to get rid of some wasps! ‘Don’t they want to eat it?’ my daughter would always ask.

I’ve lost count of the times we’ve read Helen Cooper’s Pumpkin Soup. The illustrations and the text are both equally beautiful and the story sums up perfectly how some friendships are built over sharing (and cooking) delicious food together. We can probably all identify with the way one of the characters behaves in the kitchen – I think I’m probably mostly squirrel but there is definitely at least one duck in our house!

Then of course there’s Lauren Child’s I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, a modern classic that is so much fun to read aloud as an adult. We still talk about moonsquirters in our house and it’s years since this book featured at bedtime.

Another great book that looks at the food children refuse to eat is Caryl Hart’s The Princess and the Peas (illus by Sarah Warburton). The rhyming text is so much fun to share and the story features one of the loveliest dads in picture books!

We’ve been trying to think of more books with very child-friendly food in them – chocolate, ice cream, cake, chips… Carla Vulliamy’s Muffin and the Birthday Surprise springs to mind – it captures perfectly that compelling urge to keep trying just a little bit more of something delicious. There must be others out there – what are your favourite foodie picture books?

Charlotte Guillian


Marshmallows for Martians, by Charlotte and Adam Guillian, illus by Lee Wildish,
 will be published by Egmont,
early June, 2014

11 comments:

  1. I love your daughter's reaction to the giant jam sandwich. I'm with her. Let's eat it! There are lots of giant food images in picture books, and as a greedy little girl that was perfect for me. Family food and the preparation of food was a big part of my simple daily routine as a child, so I liked it when it featured in stories.

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  2. What a great list! We love The Princess and the Peas (but wouldn't want to drink a pea smoothie!).
    A favourite of ours is Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam about two robber dogs who give up robbing and open a cake shop.
    Jane Hissey's Old Bear stories almost always involve food of some kind, be it cakes, biscuits or wonderfully illustrated picnics :)

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  3. Ah, I love Shifty McGifty! Any dogs who open a cake shop are alright by me! And there's something so comforting about a picnic at the end of a story when you're a child (well, actually when you're an adult too).

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  4. James Marshall's 'Yummers' is a fave of mine. About a pig who can't not eat cakes. 'Little Red Hen' is about food of course. Food is often a reward in The Beano and other comics too, so it's place in the emotional iconography (?) of children's books is quite high. Nice post.

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  5. Picnics are fab! In 'Each Peach Pear Plum' the fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters end up at a giant picnic - it's a great scene. I also like Mini Grey's 'The Pea and the Princess', which is told from the point of view of the pea :)

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  6. How could I forget about the Each Peach Pear Plum picnic! Such a great way to pull things together in stories - and in life!

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  7. Jonathan, I have not seen 'Yummers' but I will seek it out as I feel I may have a strong affinity with that pig...

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  8. There's something about food in fiction - reading about 'squares of chocolate' always makes me feel cosy and safe, they're very Blyton and also crop up in Harry Potter. The picture book 'Never Use a Knife and Fork' is very naughty and lots of fun.

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  9. Enjoyed reading your post, Charlotte. I hadn't thought about it before, but food is such a vital part of a young child's life that I'm surprised there aren't even more books with food in them. Or is it because some food doesn't invite overseas co-editions? In my 'No More Biscuits' it was easy to change 'biscuits' to 'cookies' in the American edition, but perhaps some foods aren't so transferable? It's just a thought and I might be entirely wrong. One thing that did make me smile was that 'No More Biscuits/Cookies' was seen as a healthy eating book because at the end there are frozen chocolate-covered bananas instead of biscuits. Really? Ha ha, an earlier version included chocolate fairy cakes at the end - sadly, healthy wasn't at the forefront of my mind. However, I'm sure marshmallows are very healthy on the planet Mars!

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  10. Great post and great list! Just last night my daughter and I were giggling over Ron and Judi Barrett's CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF MEATBALLS, which is another story full of food. We'll have to check out some of these others. MARSHMALLOWS FOR MARTIANS looks like fun!

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  11. Fab post and lovely list. One of our old favourites is 'Ketchup on your Cornflakes', which has lots of opportunities for "Yum" / "Yuk"! We revisited 'One to Ten and Back Again' for the first time in a long time last night, and its wonderful chocolate biscuits and cake selection came straight back into their own. Definitely agree about the importance of a 'good feed' to end so many books/comics...from Dennis to Asterix!

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