What’s Cooking?: A Book Flight for the Kitchen!

We both love to cook! It’s hard to believe that the theme of cooking wasn’t one of the very first book flights we did.  True, we did a post during  the holidays a while back Eat, Read, and Be Merry featuring some favorite picture books with recipes in them.  Oh, but there’s so much more to delight your culinary and reading tastes!

With this book flight, you can get the whole family involved, starting with a read-aloud, then branching out through picture books, adolescent novels, and all the way up to terrific adult memoirs that celebrate family and food, and show communities coming together to “break bread”.  What a wonderful notion – that phrase derived from the idea that people become friends (companions) by eating bread together–com pan, meaning “with bread.”  

Be forewarned:  this probably won’t be our last food-based booklist.  There are loads of mysteries that feature recipes, and since cooking and mysteries are two of our favorite things, the books that combine them are a shared guilty pleasure of ours, and we just may have to indulge ourselves in a list of those books one of these days. . .In the meantime: Guten Appetit, Nooshe Jan, Han Ho Gostu, Maze Karein. . .or click here to find out how to say “Enjoy your meal” in dozens of different languages!

Family Read-aloud

Everybody Bakes Bread by Norah Dooley

Carrie experiences the different breads of the families in her multi-ethnic neighborhood when she is sent on a rainy-day errand to borrow a “three-handled rolling pin.”  In pursuit of her impossible goal, she tastes 7 different kinds of bread as she visits with her neighbors.   Mmmm, does your mouth water at the thought of the coconut bread from Barbados and the corn bread from South Carolina? The pictures are cozy and inviting, and realistically show the range of ages, nationalities, foods, and lifestyles of different families.  Actually trying out the recipes and baking the breads adds to the experience.  If you enjoy this book, you can try Norah’s Dooley’s others in the series, like Everybody Serves Soup and Everybody Cooks Rice.

Infant, Toddler, and Pre-School

The Red Hen by Rebecca Emberley, illusrated by Ed Emberly

Red Hen finds a recipe for “simply splendid cake” and invites her friends to help her make it.  In this wonderful telling of the classic tale, Red Hen asks her friends for help at every step:  gathering ingredients, baking the cake, frosting and decorating.  Their response is always, “Not I.” (Except for the frog, who always says “Bribbit.”)  Of course, once it’s baked they are all willing to “help” eat it. It’s a silly fun story that will amuse and entertain–and delight everyone with the bright and humorous illustrations.  And then you get to bake the Simply Splendid Cake in your own kitchen!

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The Blueberry Pie Elf by Jane Thayer, illustrated by Seymour Fleishman

Who isn’t a sucker for wee creatures that live, unbeknownst, in human homes.  (Think The Borrowers.)  In this re-issued tale with 1950’s book illustration charm, Elmer the elf lives with a family of bakers. He doesn’t care for pumpkin pie; apple pie is ho-hum; but one day there is fresh-baked blueberry pie!  He jumps right in  and simply swoons with the taste of those berries, eating until his little elfin belly bulges.  Next day, he wants more, but the family has eaten the left-overs for breakfast!  And, poor guy, no one can see, hear, or feel an elf and he has no way to let them know his new fondness for blueberry pie.  No spoilers here–will he find a way for more of this delicious pie?  Makes you itch to bake–and eat–a blueberry pie for the holidays!

Early Reader and Tween

My Chocolate Year:  A Novel with 12 Recipes by Charlotte Herman, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Dorrie is exited – 5th grade with Miss Fitzgerald means only one thing – Sweet Semester.  All the kids compete to make the best dessert.  And this year will be the best sweet semester of all for two reasons: the winner will get their picture in the paper, and the school is using it as a fundraiser for all the children left hungry in Europe from the recent end of World War II.  The book seems marketed to appeal to those looking for a light and frothy chocolate-filled read, but the book is actually far more American Girl than Gossip Girl.  While Dorrie searches for the perfect recipe for a chocoholic to make, she learns a bit about her family and the world.  When her cousin Victor, the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust comes to live with them, he just might provide the perfect recipe.  Filled with sweet (pun intended) historical details such as newsreels, war facts, radio shows and sugar rationing, it’s an easy to read slice of history, with some yummy (and some silly) recipes thrown in.  A nice way to begin a discussion with kids about family food traditions and history.

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Apple Batter by Deborah Turney Zagwyn

A sweet and gentle story of a mother and son, who both must have patience and perseverance through the seasons for their two particular passions.  Mom Loretta wants to grow apples and son Delmore wants to learn to play baseball.  While Loretta composts, plants, and prunes, Delmore persists in practicing batting to become a great hitter.  The illustrations are both beautiful and clever (like the “peeling” baseball, and the apple in the baseball glove).  The warmth between mother and son, who appreciate each others work and ambitions is touching.  The book ends with batting pointers–and a simple recipe for apple crumble.

Tween to Young Adult

Close to Famous by Joan Bauer

Foster McGee is an incredibly talented self-taught baker.  She’s also 12 years old and on the run with her mother, who is fleeing an abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend (an Elvis impersonator, just to make it even more interesting).  They find shelter and a chance to start a new life in a small rural town, where Foster spends the summer cooking up her cupcake confections, working with a hopeful documentary maker, and becoming acquainted with a reclusive actress, Miss Charlena.  As the friendship between Foster and Miss Charlena grows, we learn they have a shared problem–struggles with reading.  With the tutoring of her new friend, Foster hopes to use the skills she honed learning to bake to learning to read.  A rich story with believable and complex characters and themes, including  Foster’s grief over the death of her solder dad, coming of age, building relationships, the role of the community in nurturing its inhabitants, and more.   It also leaves you itching to try out the wonderful cupcake concoctions that Foster creates.

YA and Adult

The Language of Baklava by Diane Abu-Jabar

This culinary memoir led us to a feast of memories and recipes.  Our Arabic heritage connected vividly with the culture Abu-Jabar describes.  The rich scents and mouth-watering concoctions, emotions, feelings, and stories of the “old country” rang so true.  The author is a wonderful story-teller and her memoir of growing up as an Arab-American is timely and riveting, funny and moving.    And the recipes!  You’ll want to make them right away and savor the tastes of the Middle East.

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Pomegranate Soup:  A Novel by Marsha Mehran

Yes, another Middle-East based recipe-laden tale.  But when your family tree includes the daughter of Greenleaf Frank O’Leary marrying the son of Yuseph Shagoury, the idea of a trio of Persian sisters bringing their culture, scents and tastes to Ireland is an irresistible draw.  Add this to the lack of knowledge (or in some cases) tolerance of the culture of the Middle East, this is another excellent book for teens and adults in a family to read together -and then, oh the feast you can cook together!  The lush, almost sensual descriptions of Persian cuisine will give you a new appreciation (and craving) for the food, and the backstory of the sisters flight from Iran that is gradually told gives just a taste of that regions tragic history without feeling as if you’re getting a history lecture.  The story is a little pedestrian, but as you lose yourself in the descriptions of food and culture that evokes both smells and feelings you forgive that entirely.

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