This year, Food Tank is highlighting 20 children’s books that celebrate how a shared love of nutritious food unites diverse groups of people from cultures across the globe.
From poems about fruits and vegetables indigenous to the Americas, to stories of immigration, friendship, and the perfect Syrian dish, young readers can learn about the different food cultures and the way their food choices affect the planet. The books on this list can help to foster an appreciation for the hardworking hands that grow and cook our foods and the cultural practices that build community.
1. Amara’s Farm by JaNay Brown-Wood, illustrated by Samara Hardy
Author JaNay Brown-Wood’s and illustrator Samara Hardy’s Amara’s Farm is the first book in their upcoming Where in the Garden? series. The book follows Amara, a young girl who hunts for the perfect pumpkins to complete her festive autumn potluck. Readers learn to compare, contrast, and hunt for visual clues, exploring the unique characteristics of the apples, cauliflower, eggplant, okra, persimmons, and other cool-weather produce that grow on Amara’s farm.
2. A Song of Frutas by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sara Palacios
Through lively, rich illustrations and writing textured with Spanish vocabulary, Margarita Engle tells the story of a young girl who visits her grandfather who is a pregonero—a singing street vendor in Cuba. The young narrator loves to learn her grandfather’s special songs about mangos, lemons, pineapples, yams, and tamales. The book highlights the love for family, food, Cuban and Cuban-American traditions.
3. Bella’s Recipe for Success by Ana Siqueira, illustrated by Geraldine Rodríguez
Bella’s Recipe for Success is set in an intergenerational Latinx home and follows the story of Bella, who tries to learn how to bake traditional recipes with her grandmother. After her first failed attempt at making dulce de leche, Bella learns the value of perseverance in learning a new skill. Peppered with Spanish words and humor, the book also includes a recipe for Polvorones con Dulce de Leche, so kids can practice alongside Bella.
4. Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll Make You a Pie: A Story about Edna Lewis by Robbin Gourley
Robbin Gourley traces the story of award-winning African American chef, Edna Lewis, who championed fresh foods, regional cuisine, and farm-to-table eating. The book features folk rhymes, songs about food, and watercolor illustrations that show Edna’s passion for sharing seasonal foods with her family. Gourley also includes five kid-friendly recipes and an author’s note about Lewis’s life.
5. Chaiwala! by Priti Birla Maheshwari, illustrated by Ashley Barron
Set in Jaipur, Chaiwala! follows a girl and her mother as they wait for a cup of chai tea from the Chaiwala’s cart. Priti Birla Maheshwari celebrates the sights, sounds, and smells of ginger, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon sticks that shaped her childhood visits to India. Through cut-paper collages and delicious sensory details, this book immerses young readers in a story about the pleasures of taking time for food, family, and tradition.
6. Dad Bakes by Katie Yamasaki
Muralist Katie Yamasaki weaves together meditative vignettes of a father and daughter kneading dough together and spending time reading, playing, and gardening while they wait for it to rise. Yamasaki’s straightforward sentences and paintings highlight the quiet, tender moments of a family bonding over baking. While the book never explicitly mentions that the father was formerly incarcerated, Yamasaki intends to give subtext about reentry to society after incarceration, spelling this out in her afterword. The book’s back matter includes a guide to nonprofit organizations who help families rebuild after a parent has been incarcerated.
7. Delicious! Poems Celebrating Street Food around the World by Julie Larios, illustrated by Julie Paschkis
Touching on hot pretzels in New York, saffron tea in Mumbai, deep-fried scorpions in Beijing, and more, this poetry collection is an ode to street foods from around the world. Each two-page spread of short, rhythmic poems and colorful illustrations covers a specific country and food. At the end of the book, Julie Larios shares an international menu of sweets and treats, which provide readers with more information about the cultures and foods in the book.
8. Don’t Waste Your Food by Deborah Chancellor, illustrated by Diane Ewen
As one of the books in the Good to be Green series, which aims to teach children about environmental issues and how they can help the planet, Don’t Waste Your Food follows the story of Amara and her father. As Amara’s father introduces her to the problems of food waste, readers have the chance to learn about composting and food waste reduction. The book also features fact boxes with extra information and activities for building environmentally friendly habits.
9. Dumpling Day by Meera Sriram, illustrated by Inés de Antuñano, recipes by Laurel P. Jackson
This book follows 10 diverse families across China, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Russia, Syria, and the U.S. as they cook one of the world’s most universal foods: dumplings. From fried dumplings and balls of Nigerian fufu, to tangy dumplings and pastry dumplings, children are encouraged to count the food as they are added to plates around the world, one by one. The book also features recipes for each type of dumpling and a map showing their origins.
10. Halal Hot Dogs by Susannah Aziz, illustrated by Parwinder Singh
Halal Hot Dogs chronicles the story of Musa and his family as they take turns picking out special treats to eat every Friday after Jummah prayer at the mosque. After enduring some food mishaps, it is finally Musa’s time to choose a treat for the family, and he knows exactly what he wants: halal hot dogs from a stand near the masjid. Aziz’s lively tale celebrates Muslim American culture, Middle Eastern foods including molokhia and kefte, and cultural traditions like debke, a folk dance popular in Levantine communities. The book includes a glossary of Arabic words and terms and an explanation of halal laws for context.
11. Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min
When Aneel’s grandparents come to visit from India, the young boy becomes enthralled with the stories his grandfather, Dada-ji, tells about shaking mangos off trees and wrangling wild cobras. Dada-ji explains to Aneel that the source of his mighty powers come from the fluffy, hot roti he ate. Does Dada-ji still have these powers? The only way for Aneel to find out is by learning how to make his own roti for Dada-ji.
12. Kalamata’s Kitchen by Sarah Thomas, illustrated by Jo Kosmides Edwards, created by Derek Wallace
As her mother prepares dal one evening, Kalamata is nervous about her first day at a new school. She thinks back to the Indian spice market she visited with her alligator friend, Al Dente, and soon enough, Kalamata and Al Dente are transported to a magical land filled with tasty ingredients. Filled with vibrant food descriptions and figurative language, Kalamata’s journey highlights the importance of food in encouraging curiosity, compassion, and courage.
13. Maple Syrup from the Sugarhouse by Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton, illustrated by Kathryn Mitter
Join Kelsey, her family, and friends, as they come together to harvest sap from sugar maple trees. Laurie Lazzaro Knowlton’s light narrative tone and Kathryn Mitter’s colorful illustrations offer children a fun way to learn about the old-fashioned process of making maple syrup and the value of camaraderie. This book showcases the work of tapping, gathering, and boiling done by multigenerational family groups and also includes facts about maple syrup in the back matter.
14. Measuring Up by Lily LaMotte, illustrated by Ann Xu
In Measuring Up, 12 year old Cici, an aspiring young chef, has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle and dreams of seeing her grandmother, A-má, for her seventieth birthday. She enters a kids’ cooking contest in the hopes of winning the grand prize and buying A-má a plane ticket. Lily Lamotte and Ann Xu’s graphic novel chronicles Cici’s search for the perfect recipe, tapping into her Taiwanese heritage and learning how to make new friends in the process.
15. Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron
Salma’s mother always seems busy or sad, between going to English classes, interviewing for jobs, and missing Salma’s father back in Syria. To cheer her up, Salma plans to prepare her mother’s favorite Syrian dish, foul shami. She enlists the help of her new friends to navigate life in a new place and prepare a special meal from home. Danny Ramadan’s poetic writing and Anna Bron’s bright and expressive illustrations provide a heartwarming ode to Syrian culture and the experiences of refugee and immigrant families. Children learn the power of cultivating community, even in challenging circumstances.
16. Soul Food Sunday by Winsome Bingham, illustrated by C.G. Esperanza
Soul Food Sunday‘s young male protagonist finds himself in the kitchen with his Granny for the first time, where he is tasked with helping her prepare a feast of chicken, ribs and sausage, greens, mac ‘n’ cheese, and sweet tea for the family. As the men watch football and the women gather in the kitchen to prepare the food, this vibrant book takes a look at gender roles. But this Sunday is different. The young narrator learns from his grandmother what it takes to feed a family. Children can learn how to cook like the narrator with a traditional recipe for mac ‘n’ cheese at the end of the book.
17. The Farm That Feeds Us: A year in the life of an organic farm by Nancy Castaldo, iIllustrated by Ginnie Hsu
From raising crops and animals to selling fresh products at the market, this book follows a farm throughout the year to discover how the farmer grows fresh and tasty food. Readers explore the inner workings of a small-scale, organic family farm and learn the importance of supporting the farmers who help us eat in sustainable and healthy ways. Nancy Castaldo and Ginnie Hsu engage readers with an in-depth look at the different types of farm machinery used, varieties of produce like corn and pumpkins, and ways to manage pests without chemicals.
18. Tomatoes for Neela by Padma Lakshmi, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neil
In this celebration of Indian food, family, and flavors, bestselling author and host of Bravo’s Top Chef and Hulu’s Taste the Nation Padma Lakshmi, and Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal, take young readers on an intergenerational food journey. Filled with warmly textured illustrations, this book tells the story of Neela and her amma who love cooking together. One day, they visit the market to buy tomatoes for Neela’s grandmother’s famous sauce. At the end of the book, Lakshmi shares two recipes, followed by fun facts about tomatoes and a note that honors farm workers, reminding readers that the food on our plates is political.
19. Wild Berries by Julie Flett
Wild Berries is a quietly perceptive story about Clarence, a child who accompanies his grandmother into the forest one summer to pick wild blueberries. Throughout their excursion, Clarence and his grandmother observe woodland animals, picking and eating blueberries along the way. Julie Flett tells this story in both English and the n-dialect of Cree, also known as Swampy Cree, from the Cumberland House Cree Nation. This story shines a light on traditional Cree food practices and the importance of respecting the woods and wildlife.
20. Yum! ¡Mmmm! ¡Qué Rico! Americas’ Sproutings by Pat Mora, illustrated by Rafael López
Pat Mora’s rhythmic haikus and Rafael López’s colorful acrylic on wood-panel illustrations highlight 14 types of foods indigenous to the Americas. Touching on blueberries, chili peppers, papayas, peanuts, corn, potatoes, and more, these cross-cultural poems also incorporate Spanish words. The book includes informational paragraphs that explain the etymology, origin, and uses for each type of food. Readers will have the opportunity to discover and learn about crops that have been growing across the continent for centuries.
Photo courtesy of Aaron Burden, Unsplash