With warmer weather and longer days, why not spend a little extra time cooking up something tasty and new? The characters in these children’s and young adult books sure do! Food has a notable presence in youth literature, perhaps because of the close relationship between food and culture. Writers of fiction also can rely on the highly sensory nature of food to create stimulating, immersive language. But mostly, food is a fun topic to read about. The stories in this list all focus on delicious meals or sweet treats but do so in a variety of ways. A few stories use food as a creative literary device, incorporating magical realism or science fiction scenarios in the dynamics of the kitchen. Several stories involve high-stakes culinary contests to drive the plot. Other stories simply highlight the power of food to bring people together. Enjoy some delicious summer reading!
With the Fire on High. 2019 (Young Adult Fiction).
With her daughter to care for and her abuela to support, high school senior Emoni Santiago has a lot of responsibilities. The one place she can feel free is in the kitchen, where she adds a little something magical to everything she cooks, turning her food into straight-up goodness. Still, she feels too pressed for time to join her school’s new culinary arts class and lacks the money for the class’s trip to Spain, all of which would bring her closer to her dream of someday working in a professional kitchen. With a little encouragement and a whole lot of heart, Emoni takes the steps to begin to make her goals a reality. The touches of magical realism in this story will bring readers closer to Emoni’s perspective as she experiences the tribulations of life and the joys of cooking!
Illustrated by: C. G. Esperanza
Soul Food Sunday. 2021 (Picture Book).
This vibrant picture book is a celebration of food, traditions, and gathering around a table. At Granny’s, Sunday isn’t Sunday without the whole family feasting on a lovingly prepared Soul Food meal. The book’s young narrator is finally old enough to help cook the dishes for the first time. He joins Granny in grating the cheese, cleaning the greens, and priming the meat for Roscoe Ray’s grill. But just when Granny says they are finished, her grandson makes his own contribution, sweetening this Sunday gathering and many more to come.
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Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster. 2021 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Alice Fleck’s father is a culinary historian, and she always helps him recreate meals from the past, something she would rather the other kids her age not know. But when her father’s new girlfriend enters them into a cooking competition at a Victorian festival, Alice finds herself and her secret hobby thrust into the spotlight, as the festival competition turns out to be a new televised cooking competition show hosted by Tom Truffleman, the most famous and fierce judge on TV! Alice begins to suspect that someone is sabotaging the competition behind the scenes, so it’s up to her, with the help of a few new friends, to find the saboteur before the entire competition is ruined, all the while tackling some of the hardest cooking challenges of her life in the public eye.
Faruqi, Saadia and Laura Shovan
A Place at the Table. 2020 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Sixth-graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl meet when they take a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom. The two girls could not be more different. Sara misses the familiarity of the small Islamic school she used to attend now that she is at a huge new school. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. When they attend the after-school cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher, the girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens. Together they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. This story embraces cultural differences through food and showcases true friendship.
Dumplings for Lili. 2021 (Picture Book).
Lili loves to cook little dumplings called baos with her grandmother, but one day they find they don’t have cabbage needed for cooking. Lili asks to borrow some from an elderly neighbor. Along the way, Lili discovers that her other neighbors are also lacking crucial components for their recipes, so she races up and down the stairs of the apartment building to coordinate the exchange of ingredients so every neighbor can make their respective dumpling-like foods, from Jamaican meat patties and Italian ravioli to Lebanese fatayer and more. This picture book is a culinary tour of the world, all in one building!
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Illustrated by: Ann Xu
Measuring Up. 2020 (Middle Grade Graphic Novel).
Twelve-year-old Cici has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, and the only thing she wants more than to fit in at her new school is to bring her Taiwanese grandmother A-má to America for a visit, but how would she pay for it? Cici cooks up a plan to buy a plane ticket for A-má by trying to win the grand prize in a kids’ cooking contest. However, Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food and the contest will include American food challenges. After a librarian introduces her to Julia Child’s cooking, Cici works hard to improve her culinary skills. Can Cici find a winning recipe to reunite with A-má, a way to fit in with her new friends, and somehow find herself too? The Manga-inspired, full-color art of this graphic novel brings the delicious, heartwarming tale to life.
Illustrated by: Rachel Suggs
Midsummer’s Mayhem. 2019 (Middle Grade Fiction).
Can Mimi undo the mayhem caused by her baking in this contemporary-fantasy retelling of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? For eleven-year-old Mimi it’s easy to feel invisible in such a big, accomplished American Indian family, but when she discovers a contest at the mysterious new bakery in town, there’s a chance for her to prove she’s not the least-talented member of her family. Plus, it’ll start her on the path to becoming a celebrity chef like her culinary idol, Puffy Fay. Drawn into the woods behind her house by a strangely familiar song, Mimi meets Vik, a boy who brings her to parts of the forest she’s never seen. Who knew there were banyan trees and wild boars in Massachusetts? Together they discover exotic ingredients and bake them into delectable and enchanting treats. But as her dad begins to act strange and her siblings’ romantic entanglements cause trouble in their town, Mimi begins to wonder whether the ingredients she and Vik found are somehow the cause of it all. Amidst the mayhem, Mimi learns that in life, as in baking, not everything is sweet. This delicious middle grade novel explores themes of family, friendship, and self-confidence.
Translated by: Montana Kane
Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic. 2021 (Middle Grade Graphic Novel).
Young chef Yasmina is the only one who can protect her town from an onslaught of scientifically enhanced, highly addictive potatoes. Yasmina isn’t like the other kids in her city, but no one can deny that she has a flair for food. All she needs to whip up a gourmet meal is a recipe from her cookbook and fresh vegetables from the community garden. But everything gets turned upside down when the garden is bulldozed and replaced with a strange new crop of potatoes. Her neighbors can’t get enough of these spuds! After just a nibble of one of the potatoes, their behavior changes: they slobber, chase cats, and howl at the moon. What’s the secret ingredient in these potatoes that has everyone acting like a bunch of crazed canines? It’s up to Yasmina to find a cure, and fast! With delicately sketched art spreads and sparse text, this action-packed graphic novel explores an entertaining science fiction premise.
Donuts and Other Proclamations of Love. 2021 (Young Adult Fiction)
While his friends prepare for college, high school senior Oscar decides his future is working with his Swedish grandfather Farfar on their food truck “Hej Hej!,” but when Oscar unexpectedly gets his first taste of adulthood, he realizes his plans may be half-baked. Lou Messinger is the opposite of Oscar: AP everything, valedictorian in her sights, and Ivy league college aspirations. When Lou hijacks Oscar’s carefully crafted schedule of independent studies and blocks of time in the Culinary Lab, Oscar is roped into helping Lou complete her resume-building service project: reducing food waste in Central Adams High School. As festival season begins, Oscar and Lou begin to see past their differences and grow closer. This sweet young adult novel covers more than just romance. Social justice issues like food insecurity, drug addiction, and white supremacy are woven throughout the plot. Readers will fall in love with Oscar and Farfar’s close relationship as well as their delectable food truck treats.
Our Little Kitchen. 2020 (Picture Book).
In this lively, rousing picture book from Caldecott Honoree Jillian Tamaki, a crew of resourceful neighbors comes together to prepare a meal for their community. With a garden full of produce, a joyfully chaotic kitchen, and a friendly meal shared at the table, this story is a celebration of full bellies and looking out for one another. Tamaki’s illustrations use many graphic novel conventions, with speech bubbles, dynamic spreads, and bold lines. Additional back matter includes recipes and an author’s note about the volunteering experience that inspired the book.
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