As I write this, we are about six weeks into our family’s real food revolution. I’ve taken to heart the advice I’ve read over & over to quit as short order cook, and I’ve stopped buying the packaged snack foods that I used to hand out, nervously worried that my kids would surely starve if I didn’t stock the pantry with peanut butter bars (But 7g of protein per serving! Oh yeah, and 10g of sugar with the second and third ingredients being sugar and corn syrup!).
This lifestyle change has been hardest on my firstborn– my sensitive, observant, particular Preschool Bookworm. We’ve had more than one meltdown at the dinner table, to put it mildly. But, I’m here to encourage you, there’s hope! We’ve turned a corner. He’s no longer asking solely for foods that came from plants, but for actual plants:
Part of this process in our home has been feeding our brains with what we like to call “positive propaganda.” We’ve been reading mountains of books about food. We’ve been learning where healthy foods come from with books about gardens, farms, and farmers’ markets;
We’ve been expanding our food vocabulary with books that celebrate the diversity of earth’s bounty;
We’ve been reading cautionary tales about picky eaters.
A few of these have backfired as my Preschool Bookworm was just so frustrated with me that, in his eyes, I simply refused to go start a vegetable garden in our backyard in the middle of July during a heat wave. Mean mommy. “But mommy, we have lots of tools in the garage and we have dirt and we have seeds!” (I’m pretty sure the sunflower & pumpkin seeds in our trail mix won’t produce the garden he’s dreaming of. Ha!)
Below are our favorites, loosely organized by the categories mentioned above. I hope that they are as inspiring for your bookworms as they have been in our house!
Books About Where Healthy Foods Come From (Gardens, Farms, and Farmers’ Markets):
Plant a Little Seed by Bonnie Christensen. (toddler, preschool, early-mid elementary) Beginning with browsing seed catalogs beside a snowy landscape out the window, this book follows the entire year of a community garden. The language is poetic, mirroring the experience of “dreaming and waiting” inherent in the garden. This is a rich offering with beautiful artwork and text to match.
Muncha! Muncha! Muncha! by Candace Fleming. (preschool, early elementary) This is one of my all-time favorite read alouds! It was actually the book that made me fall in love with reading to kids, back when I was a nanny! I haven’t met a bookworm yet who doesn’t adore this book, gleefully shouting “Muncha! Muncha! Muncha!” as three hungry bunnies outsmart poor Mr. McGreely’s increasingly outlandish ideas for keeping them away from his vegetable garden. (Unfortunately we have some personal connections to this text from our own container gardening efforts!) This is less a book about gardening than simply a fantastic read aloud, but gardening provides an excellent backdrop and a springboard for talking about the hard work, obstacles, and possibilities therein.
Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson. (preschool, early-mid elementary) I shared this title in my Thanksgiving round up, Books to Be Grateful For. It’s worth repeating here. In rhyming text, Brisson shows the the various hands involved behind the scenes in allowing a meal to come together: plowing, planting, tilling, harvesting, milking, egg gathering, fishing, packing crates, driving delivery trucks, and cashiering at the grocery store.
On the Farm, at the Market by G. Brian Karas. (early-mid elementary) A “behind the scenes” look at the work involved in a farmer’s market, before, during, and after the fact. The text follows three farms as they participate in a market day, and a cafe chef who turns her purchases into a special meal. Subtleties of the vendors’ hard work are revealed, such as how important timing is to the quality of the items offered for sale: “workers know that greens are best picked soon after the sun rises.”
Books for Expanding Food Horizons (Diversity of Fresh Fruits & Vegetables):
Eating the Alphabet: Fruits and Vegetables from A to Z by Lois Ehlert. (toddler, preschool, early elementary) As the title suggests, this is an illustrated catalog of a huge variety of produce. We had a blast reading through and identifying which we had tried before, which we had heard of but never tried, and which we had never even heard of! A glossary is included, with pronunciations and brief facts such as where each is native to, what it tastes like, and how it grows. Use this as a springboard to branch out and create your own catalog of healthy foods!
Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens. (preschool, early-mid elementary) This Caldecott Honor book was part of my “trickster tales” unit, and it features a sneaky Hare who capitalizes on Bear’s laziness and ignorance of how plants grow. Along with excellent artwork and an engaging story, this one will open your bookworm’s understanding of differences in how crops grow, namely, which part is edible? (The top, bottom, or middle?) Prior to reading this, I quizzed my students by showing them pictures of the crops featured in the story, asking which part of the crop is eaten (eg. carrots=bottom). (The endpapers and title page could serve as your “pretest”!)
One Watermelon Seed by Ceila Barker Lottridge. (toddler, preschool, early elementary) At 30 years old, this book has been around since I was in kindergarten, and I see why it’s still in print! It’s part counting book (1-10, then by tens to 100), part color book, part “seek and find,” all tied around a solid introduction to gardening. (You can even weave in some early multiplication and grouping.)
Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert. (toddler, preschool) A simple, colorful, informative offering. This will introduce the youngest bookworms to the basics of gardening, what various seeds, seedlings, and plants look like, how they are tended, harvested, and turned into a yummy meal. Includes a recipe.
Cautionary Tales About Picky Eaters:
Bread & Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban. (preschool, early-mid elementary) Such a classic! Over 50 years old, and picky eaters haven’t changed it seems! Frances refuses to eat anything but her favorite bread & jam. When her mother offers only bread and jam for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack, Frances learns there’s something to be said for a varied diet!
The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman. (preschool, early-mid elementary) A hilarious, rhyming text beside intricate, inviting illustrations. The story follows a mother who clearly didn’t read French Kids Eat Everything, as she caters to each of her seven finicky eaters, driving herself to exhaustion. The illustrations are so detailed, inviting bookworms to linger, taking in the scope of the story as it follows the changing seasons and lifestages as each of the seven children enter the Peters household. For Mrs. Peters’ birthday the children finally discover a “one pot wonder” that makes everyone happy. A fun exploration of picky eating at its worst!
Monsters Don’t Eat Broccoli by Barbara Jean Hicks (toddler, preschool, early elementary) Monsters don’t eat broccoli– but they sure do love those things that look like trees. A rhyming story with vivid illustrations for young readers.
I Really Like Slop by Mo Willems. (toddler, preschool, early elementary) I will never turn up an opportunity to recommend the Elephant & Piggie series (see more including how we read them in our house in Toddler Bookworm’s 2.5yr update here). This food-related volume in the series captures how picky eaters feel when offered a new (read: vile) food to try. Willems validates their feelings while providing an example of bravely branching out. The outcome may be less than positive, but valuing the person who offers it is celebrated paramount.
I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child. (preschool, early-mid elementary) Charlie is tasked with feeding his picky little sister and comes up with a sneaky but successful strategy for encouraging her to try new foods: “Oh, you think these are carrots? These are not carrots. These are orange twiglets from Jupiter.” He renames a variety of healthy foods with delightful outcomes. Maybe this will inspire some creativity around your dinner table, too!
Books mentioned in this post should be available at your local library, or at the Amazon affiliate links provided. Thanks for supporting Librarian in the House!
But wait, there’s more! In case you missed it, I mentioned in our Summer Bucket List, Booked Up, a fabulous book on this topic that we read after our berry picking adventure: Cheers for a Dozen Ears: A Summer Crop of Counting. A GREAT intro to a variety of yummy summer crops from the farmers’ market. It seriously makes me hungry every time I read it!