A Roundup of Picture Books About Food

Food is one of the universal elements of human experience: we all need sustenance to live. However, food is more than just something we put into our bodies; it comes with many symbolic social, cultural, and political meanings and often serves as a tool to bring people together. Here is a sample of picture books about food and the various relationally-contingent meanings it embodies in different contexts, celebrating family, friendship, community, history, and beyond. Find more related books here.

Freedom Soup 
by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara; Candlewick 

Belle’s energetic cooking session with Ti Gran becomes a lesson about their heritage and Haiti’s political history as Ti Gran recounts how Freedom Soup came to be. Charles’s words stimulate the senses, complemented by Alcántara’s textured illustrations in pencil, marker, and gouache, which abound with movement. 

May Your Life Be Deliciosa 
by Michael Genhart, illustrated Loris Lora; Cameron/Abrams 

Rosie’s family gathers at her abuela’s house on Christmas Eve to make tamales together while Abuela shares memories of her past and makes benedictions for the future. Each element of the tamale represents something: a husk for “protection and security,” an olive at the “heart of the tamale” for “love and affection,” and so on. Some of these English phrases are reinforced with Spanish translations overlaying the illustrations in a script-like font. Lora uses gray tones for depictions of memories to contrast with the brightly colored scenes of the present. 

Cora Cooks Pancit
by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant; Shen’s Books/Lee & Low 

Cora, the youngest of five siblings in a large Filipino family, yearns to take on more “grown-up” responsibilities in the kitchen. She ends up cooking pancit with her mom and learning a bit about her family history while her siblings are out of the house. Valiant’s warm color palette lends the scenes of domesticity a gentle glow. 

Berry Song
by Michaela Goade, illus. by the author; Little, Brown 

In a story inspired by the author’s Tlingit heritage, a young girl goes berry-picking with her grandmother and is reminded of her connection to the land. Reciprocity and mindful stewardship take center stage in this tale honoring nature as kin. Eventually, the narrator must pass on the wisdom of her grandmother to her own younger sister as the cycle continues. Goade’s gorgeous watercolors reinforce the central message of the story through powerful visual metaphors. 

Dinner on Domingos 
by Alexandra Katona, illustrated by Claudia Navarro; Barefoot Books 

Incorporating Spanish words and sentences, Dinner on Domingos tells the story of the narrator’s cherished family tradition of dinner on Sundays at Abuelita’s house. More than just a meal, dinner on domingos is a time to share memories and love across generations along with a taste of Ecuadorian locro. Navarro imbues every scene with color and movement. 

Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story
by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal; Roaring Brook

Narrated in verse and illustrated in Martinez-Neal’s signature textured mixed media style, this picture book depicts an intergenerational Native American family coming together and celebrates the many tangible and intangible things that fry bread embodies as a food and a symbol of Indigenous resilience in the face of colonialism. 

Salma the Syrian Chef 
by Danny Ramadan, illustrated by Anna Bron; Annick 

Salma, a young Syrian refugee who is trying to settle into her new home in Vancouver, notices that her mother has been feeling down. In hopes of cheering her up, Salma decides to cook the Syrian dish foul shami. The task is easier said than done, and it will take help from her community at the Welcome Center to pull everything together. Bron’s illustrations, embellished with geometric patterns, pay homage to Syrian architecture. 

Bubbie & Rivka’s Best-Ever Challah (So Far!)
by Sarah Lynne Reul; Abrams 

In a subversion of the common trope of the experienced elder teaching the uninitiated younger person how to make food, this picture book presents the silly misadventures of Rivka and her grandmother baking challah in a series of shared firsts. The story puts a positive spin on the process of trial and error: each successive iteration of the bread, while still not perfect, is the “best-ever challah…so far!” The illustrations add another level of interpretation and humor through the characters’ expressive faces. 

My Pop Pop and Me 
by Irene Smalls, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson; Little, Brown (e-book edition published by Xist Publishing) 

Through rhyming verse full of onomatopoeia, this picture book immerses readers in the tale of a young Black boy making a lemon cake with his grandfather. Johnson’s pastel-toned water-based paintings imbue the story with a playful and dreamlike quality, soft edges and curving lines flowing across every spread. Also published as Pop Pop and Me and a Recipe in e-book format. 

Ramen for Everyone 
by Patricia Tanumihardja, illustrated by Shiho Pate; Atheneum 

Hiro wants to make the perfect bowl of ramen in the tradition passed down through his paternal line. Full of dynamic panels and mouthwatering illustrations mixing sumi ink, pencil, and digital techniques, this picture book follows the ups and downs in Hiro’s ramen-making exploits. Sprinkles of hand-lettered katakana and hiragana labels for objects, actions, and sound effects add another layer of fun for those who can read Japanese. 

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji
by F. Zia, illustrated by Ken Min; Lee & Low 

One idle day, Aneel listens to his Dada-ji, or paternal grandfather, recount his childhood in India, where he performed superhuman endeavors supposedly powered by his roti consumption. Aneel is thereby inspired to make roti for Dada-ji to see if he still has those superpowers, and the two set out to reenact Dada-ji’s adventures, brought to life by Min’s energetic linework and colorful palette. 

Horn Book
Horn Book

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