I’m a children’s librarian, and I love to use books to introduce all kinds of topics with kids. A good story will not only entertain children, but can stir interest in what the story’s about, too. Some of those topics seem, well, unlikely as story ideas, but they can work quite nicely.
For instance, how about international foods?
Would you like to try some new flavors at home, and maybe introduce new cultures to your children as well? It’s an easy and natural extension of a story to re-create the foods in it. If your kids help prepare the foods, they may be more likely to try them out, too. They could discover something new and nutritious, something different, something fun. The public library has lots of those starting-place stories for your family to enjoy, and plenty of cookbooks to back them up. You could try a new cuisine every month!
Take the easy way into the topic and start with a semi-known food, and a super-popular import: pizza. Once you share The Pizza that We Made, a beginning reader by Joan Holub, your children may want to make their own. With a multi-ethnic trio of kids, rhyming text, and colorful illustrations, this story moves through making the dough, preparing toppings (a grown-up character chops the peppers), assembling and baking the pizza. The story even includes the kids cleaning up their own pizza-prepping mess – what could be better? The veggie pizza recipe at the end of the book will have you and your kids in the kitchen making your own. Read this book early in the afternoon, so your storytime dough can rise in time for dinner!
Curious about Asian foods and cultures? Check out Bee-bim Bop!, by Linda Sue Park. A hungry little girl, about kindergarten age, shops with her mom for the ingredients for her favorite dish, a Korean specialty called “bee-bim bop,” which translates to “mix-mix rice.” At home, the little girl actively helps in the preparations, adding water to vegetables (again, cleaning up her own spill) and helping set the table. When Mom, Dad, the baby, and traditionally-dressed Grandmother join the little girl at the table, Papa says grace, and the happy family digs in, mixing their individual bowls: “Rice goes in the middle/ Egg goes right on top/ Mix it/ mix like crazy/ Time for bee-bim-Bop!” The recipe at the end of the book shows which tasks kids can do, and which are for adults. Enjoy the rhythm of the words – then make up a little mix-mix of your own!
Mexican flavors are well known, but maybe you’d like to expand the kids’ knowledge beyond tacos. In Chicks and Salsa (by Aaron Reynolds, with illustrations by Paulette Bogan) the chickens grow tired of chicken feed. The rooster, peering through the farmer’s window at a TV cooking show, decides salsa is the answer! The resourceful chickens gather what they need from the garden and make their own. The pond ducks, following the chickens’ lead, decide they’re bored with fish, and need – what else? – guacamole! When the pigs grow tired of slop, they make nachos, and a fiesta follows. It all ends when the farmer’s wife decides on enchiladas for dinner and uses up the animals’ supplies. There are no recipes in this one, but enough tasty pictures to inspire a search for recipes elsewhere.
With kids of any age, discover new flavors when you sample some of the great kids’ cookbooks available. A lot of them are published in series, so when you find a set you like, you and your kids can learn about foods from many cultures. Some of them even include nutritional information. Check out some of these:
World of Food This series offers fun and healthy food ideas, as well as information on the culture and history of each country.
World Crafts and Recipes These cover not just food but crafts from the subject country as well, and include information about holidays both secular and religious. A bit heavier on text, this series is best for older kids, or would make fine reading for you so you can talk about the recipes you prepare. The books include plenty of photos of foods, kids and crafts.
Easy Menu Ethnic Cookbooks This big series (39 books) has been revised in recent years to focus on lower-fat, healthier options from around the world. Each book starts with a bit of geography and cultural background before going on to the food, glorious food!
I Can Cook! New this year, all the books in this series have colorful layouts and photo-illustrated recipes, as well as maps and cultural information.
Finally, share a short & sweet multicultural feast with your kids. The picture book, My Mom Loves Me More than Sushi, by Filomena Gomes, has a mother-daughter pair enjoying foods from many cultures, from Italian biscotti to Indian samosas, and from Egyptian megadarra to French crepes. No matter how delicious the meal, though, the best part is, as the child narrator says, “We learn about these fabulous foods from around the world – together!” This colorful book could spike a lot of curiosity, and inspire a set of international dinnertimes, all by itself.
– Joyce Fisher, Youth Services Specialist, Washington-Centerville Public Library