A buffet of books

In these eight picture books, food serves as everything from a source of silliness to a way to share memories. Hungry for more? See our Five Questions interview with Edel Rodriguez about The Mango Tree / La mata de mango, and the Food tags on the Guide/Reviews Database and on hbook.com, including former intern Shenwei Chang’s recent Out of the Box post “A Roundup of Picture Books About Food” and Consulting Editor Summer Edward’s “Foodwise Lists.” A readable feast!

Dim Sum Palace
by X. Fang; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Tundra    48 pp.
9/23    9781774881989    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781774881996    $10.99

Liddy’s excitement about a family trip to the Dim Sum Palace keeps her wide awake. “Is it a real palace? Will I meet an empress?” Getting out of bed, she follows a delicious smell that leads her to the very establishment “and into a kitchen where she found two busy chefs making dim sum.” Liddy is small, and the nighttime kitchen, its dim sum wonders, and the two chefs are huge, an entertaining homage to Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen. She falls into a bowl of dumpling filling and is “folded and pinched” until “she looked good enough to eat!” In fact, she’s served to the Empress; luckily, Liddy catches the Empress’s attention and, instead of being eaten, is welcomed as a guest. The story’s heartwarming ending embraces the magic of family and the joy of sharing meals. Fang’s playful storytelling and vibrant illustrations capture the essence of childhood wonder and imagination. The beautifully decorated endpapers showcase forty different dim sum dishes, further immersing readers in the culinary experience. A delightful celebration of food, culture, and family traditions. WEILEEN WANG

Spaghetti Hunters
by Morag Hood; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Two Hoots/Pan Macmillan    32 pp.
6/24    9781509889846    $18.99

Duck is looking for his spaghetti, but as Tiny Horse puts it, “spaghetti is the trickiest of all the pastas.” A search ensues, and while the deadpan narration addresses the mission seriously, Duck and Tiny Horse look in all the wrong places (inside a boot, under a rug) and use all the wrong methods (digging, fishing). A recipe book provides a useful clue, pooh-poohed though it is by confident Tiny Horse: “You can’t just MAKE spaghetti.” Boldly hued illustrations, painted in gouache and digitally colored, range from vignettes and sequential panels to full-bleed spreads, with absurdity taking center stage. Why is Tiny Horse tiny while Duck is just the right size to live in a teapot? Doesn’t matter. The silliness offers young readers and listeners plenty of opportunities to figure things out before the characters do (if your spaghetti is hissing, it might be snakes) — and that’s a heady-spaghetti feeling. SHOSHANA FLAX

A Crocodile Should Never Skip Breakfast
by Colleen Larmour; illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary    Kids Can    32 pp.
6/24    9781525308345    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781525313394    $13.99

Croc, who works as the local river ferry for other animals in the jungle, is running late one morning and doesn’t have time for his usual bowl of Snappy Snacks cereal. Backup plans fall through: all of the doughnuts at Hippo’s stand are sold out; his emergency banana falls in the mud. When he finally begins his shift with an empty belly, Croc discovers a new problem: his animal passengers look delicious. Larmour’s lighthearted text uses repetition and occasional direct address (“Told you”), with entertaining dialogue shown in word balloons. Thought bubbles enhance the humor, such as when Croc envisions his passengers in meal form (e.g., a warthog hot dog). The illustrations, in bold gouache hues finished digitally, also provide various comedic pauses, as when Croc’s hunger hits a fever pitch and a shower of doughnut sprinkles rains down before his wide, intense eyes. Croc’s feelings are palpable, including relief when a friend swoops in just in time. A fast-paced, comical reminder that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. LINDSAY BAYER

 Laolao’s Dumplings
by Dane Liu; illus. by ShinYeon Moon
Primary    Godwin/Holt    48 pp.
12/23    9781250778192    $18.99

Millie visits her laolao (grandmother) in spring, and together they make Millie’s favorite dish — homemade dumplings. To get the right ingredients, the pair heads to Chinatown to visit several lively neighborhood markets, buying vegetables and shrimp as well as lychee for a special treat. Back home, they prepare the filling; fold and cook the dumplings; and share a tasty meal and a poignant moment. As the seasons go by, however, Laolao’s strength and cognition wane, and she becomes “too tired” for all that ­preparation. In winter, Millie leads her parents to the markets, and the three of them make dumplings for Laolao, accompanied by gifts from the shopkeepers — flowers, medicinal roots, a lucky scroll, and more. Eye-catching illustrations feature expansive double-page spreads of the neighborhood shops, drawing readers in to explore each tiny detail. The pictures resonate with love, complementing the predominant theme of family closeness and the book’s casual diversity (Mom is Chinese; Dad is Black). Between the warm palette and the close-ups of Laolao’s and Millie’s faces, it’s clear that joy comes through food for these two, and they share this special bond. This book does a gentle yet superb job of showing the effects of older family members experiencing age-related issues, but from the child’s perspective — what they see and feel and how they try to help as best they can. An author’s note provides background information and the author’s own (“no longer secret”) family dumpling recipe. J. ELIZABETH MILLS

How to Eat a Mango
by Paola Santos; illus. by Juliana Perdomo
Primary    Porter/Holiday    40 pp.
7/24    9780823453887    $18.99
Spanish ed.  9780823457984    $18.99

Carmencita dislikes picking up rotten mangoes that have fallen from Abuelita’s tree. She also doesn’t like eating mangoes: they are sticky, and the strings get stuck between her teeth. But Abuelita shows Carmencita that there is more to a mango than its fruit. It takes all five senses to appreciate a mango, as Santos describes in lush language. Listen to “long green leaves…in the breeze” and “the roots stirring”; look at the tree’s branches; smell the fruit’s “honey-sweet smell”; feel the “soft and firm” skin; and taste it: “The sweetness of Mamá Earth is endless when you bite a ripe mango. Your mouth fills with thick juices and pulp. Tiny strings play between your teeth, and the songs of our people dance on your tongue.” The heart of the story is the intergenerational love between Carmencita and Abuelita, which radiates warmth and comfort. Double-page spreads make up a large portion of Perdomo’s rich, colorful digital art, bright and full of musicality and movement. An illustration of Abuelita eating a mango with ancestors dancing on her tongue especially showcases the art’s meaning. An author’s note explains how Santos was inspired by her own childhood in Venezuela. Simultaneously published in Spanish as Cómo se come un mango. YESICA HURD

Pizza for Birds
by Bob Shea; illus. by the author
Primary    Little, Brown    40 pp.
8/24    9780316494458    $18.99

Alligator Bob (Chez Bob, rev. 9/21), proprietor of his bird friends’ favorite restaurant, is blindsided when an energetic young alligator rolls into town with an exciting new business: Chez Ryan “delivers pizza while doing cool bike tricks!” Bob doesn’t handle the competition well and falls into a funk fueled by sad music, snack food, and self-pity. With Chez Bob’s shuttered, the birds flock to enjoy the convivial atmosphere at Ryan’s, while Bob follows his jealous thoughts to a dark place: the “internest.” Posting under various pseudonyms (“smartbirdwhoisnotbob,” “trustworthybird226”), he relieves his anxiety by slandering Ryan and pizza — and expressing those “very bad things made Bob feel very good.” Lest readers think this is an endorsement of internet troll-dom, Shea’s comical illustrations turn dark and shadowy as Bob wages his online smear campaign by the light of his laptop. Skilled use of color and perspective throughout effectively conveys mood and plays up the overall silliness. Ryan is understandably furious when Bob confesses, but Bob’s heartfelt apology helps Ryan forgive him. In the “sappy ending” that the two chefs agree is “gross,” they team up to run a new fusion restaurant serving birdseed pizza. This satisfying second course will be a crowd pleaser. KITTY FLYNN

One More Jar of Jam
by Michelle Sumovich; illus. by Gracey Zhang
Primary    Dial    40 pp.
8/23    9780593112670    $18.99
e-book ed.  9780593112663    $10.99

A close-knit family living in a small blue house treasures the sprawling mulberry tree that grows in their yard. They drape it with “sparkling baubles and beads” to keep the birds away from the delicious fruits, which they harvest to make jam. Repeatedly, Sumovich sets up the conditional: “If you ever have a mulberry tree,” marking off the joys of living near one — until the tone shifts. The young protagonist lies awake as a storm rages, wondering “if the berries will hang on for one more jar of jam.” But winds topple the tree. The family members go through the subsequent seasons without their beloved tree, yet they still gather to celebrate it. In a spread that depicts the protagonist hugging her grandmother, the text poignantly notes: “If you ever have a mulberry tree, you might love it now more than ever. Now that you know it’s enough just to grow.” With sketchy lines and highly textured watercolor washes, Zhang captures the affection family members have for one another and the love they have for the outdoors; her opening depictions of the mulberry tree as it blooms are particularly vivid. This story of loss ends on an optimistic note when “silent, shiny leaves” burst forth from the trunk that remains after the storm. The family celebrates, shouting and dancing and waiting “for one more jar of jam.” JULIE DANIELSON

Bring Back the Babka!
by Marilyn Wolpin; illus. by Madison Safer
Primary    Barefoot    32 pp.
10/23    9798888590089    $17.99
Paper ed.  9798888590096    $9.99

Rabbi Sally is coming for Shabbat dinner, and Mama’s freshly baked babka has disappeared. Young Sammy and Sol’s ensuing search around the neighborhood quickly establishes a pattern: their neighbors haven’t seen the babka, but each offers the brothers some of what they’ve been cooking, along with related advice — cholent, stuffed grape leaves, and gefilte fish are all “a lot like life,” it turns out. The “Stone Soup”–style Shabbat solution warmly celebrates food and community. (The cooks exhibit diversity in ethnicity, age, and dress, but all present as women; the author’s dedication pays homage to the women in her family.) Illustrations in water-based paints, gouache, and pencil show a cheery neighborhood, especially its kitchens. Information on the dishes in the book, from all over the Jewish diaspora, is appended, along with author and illustrator notes and, of course, a babka recipe. SHOSHANA FLAX

From the June 2024 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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