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13 of the best descriptions of food in children’s literature

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Today it is absolutely pouring with rain in London: it’s wet, grey and miserable outside… and so, after a long bank holiday weekend, and entirely true to form, we’re thinking about food. Specifically, some of our favourite descriptions of food in children’s literature. There was really no shortage of competition, but selecting a baker’s dozen felt somewhat appropriate. The video at the top of this post is a bonus selection: instructions to make Little Red Riding Hood’s Victoria Sponge, taken from our latest fairytale app.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
This blogpost’s theme was suggested by Ola, and her immediate nomination was for C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books – and in particular, (she practically recited this passage from memory) the scene from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader when a visit to the island of the invisible people leads to lunch served by a magician: “an omelette, piping hot, cold lamb and green peas, a strawberry ice, lemon-squash to drink with the meal and a cup of hot chocolate after”.

Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Camilla nominated Heidi, and said that “It always makes me want to drink goat’s milk… and then I remember how much I dislike the flavour.”

The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
The Famous Five by Enid Blyton
Mary suggested Enid Blyton’s Famous Five stories. These are really the ultimate food-nostalgia books: there were always lashings of ginger beer, a pastoral setting (usually Kirrin Island), and about 3 – 5 picnics on average per book.

Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
Rowling clearly took a great deal of inspiration from Blyton with regards to her descriptions of food. The meals in Harry Potter are quintessentially English, Boarding School cuisine – lots of custard tart, spotted dick and sausages and mash. Occasionally Rowling attempts to describe French food and it never struck me as being quite as convincing.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
This is one of my favourite books of all time, chiefly for sentences like the following (must be read with Alan Bennett’s voice): “Pooh always liked a little something at eleven o’clock in the morning, and he was very glad to see Rabbit getting out the plates and mugs; and when Rabbit said, ‘Honey or condensed milk with your bread?’ he was so excited that he said, ‘Both,’ and then, so as not to seem greedy, he added, ‘But don’t bother about the bread, please.’”

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl could take up every place on this list, but special mention should go to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, nominated by Kristina. Dahl’s love for food is wonderful: it is gluttonous and luxurious and almost obscene, and it comes across marvellously in his writing (and Quentin Blake’s superb illustration).

The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl
My own Dahl nomination goes to The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. Like in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the thing that makes the descriptions of food work so well is that the protagonists initially go without: their hardships and hunger only add to the brilliant, evocative scenes that come later on.

Patrick by Quentin Blake
The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me by Roald Dahl
This is a solo Blake venture, and over forty years later it is as wonderful as ever. Camilla suggested this for the visions of hot, buttered toast.

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (but only with the EH Sheparde illustrations)
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
There’s lots of hot, buttered toast in The Wind in the Willows, too: it is the food Toad craves while in prison for stealing motor cars and cheeking police officers.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss
This is a unique entry on this list because of course the food is so unappealing for such a long time… until the very end, when the unnamed man gives in, eats Sam-I-Am’s meal and finds that it’s rather nice after all.

The Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton
1967The Princess and the Peas by Caryl Hart and Sarah Warburton
This is the first of three of our own books on this list, and as in the Dr. Seuss, there is a meal of very unappetising green food on which the whole plot turns. A bowl of cold cabbage soup causes Lily-Rose May to realise that perhaps she’s not a Princess after all, and that she may well be better off living with her kind old dad than in a Palace with the King and Queen.

Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster by Axel Scheffler
Pip and Posy: The Scary Monster by Axel Scheffler
In The Scary Monster, Posy makes cupcakes, and Axel’s wonderful artwork gives every step a comforting, reassuring feel that’s perfect for young children – and you can practically taste Posy’s baking.

Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
Shifty McGifty and Slippery Sam by Tracey Corderoy and Steven Lenton
The baking in this picture book comprises some rather more elaborate creations than Posy’s humble cupcakes – there are extraordinary towers of pies, tarts, cakes, macarons, donuts and battenburg in this spread alone – the fruits of Shifty and Sam’s labours, after they find out they are rather better cooks than crooks.

Now, over to you – what would you add to this list? Which books make your mouth water and your stomach rumble? Leave your comments below or on Twitter with the #bookfood hashtag!

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No Responses to “13 of the best descriptions of food in children’s literature”

  • Lovely list. I have always prided myself on my foodie descriptions. Most obviously, , I reckon, MY GRANDMOTHER’S STORIES which has lots of lovely Jewish food in it. Then silent snow secret snow ..that has meals throughout, lavishly described. And APRICOTS AT MIDNIGHT has a few as well…all these books, it goes without saying are OUT OF PRINT!!

  • I always liked the ‘funny but delightful supper’ at the start of the Railway Children, when they have just moved in and don’t have anything except the bits and bobs from the store cupboard which they find packed up in a box: ‘There were biscuits, the Marie and the plain kind, sardines, preserved ginger, cooking raisins, and candied peel and marmalade’. And as I recall they drink ginger wine (?) out of willow pattern teacups because the glasses are still packed away.

  • My absolute favourite is the description of Mr Wilderness’ porridge in “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase” but sadly don’t have a copy to hand to type from…I distinctly remember it being served with cream and brown sugar though. Real life porridge never tasted as good as it sounded in that book.

  • Brilliant! Thanks. I was thinking about this the other day as I read in a library book about making Snake Eyes. (Eggs fried in a circle cut into slices of bread) – from Where’s Buddy by Ron Roy. Not outstanding as a feast, but it made me think about all the food in books, and not just the stuff they dribble there!

  • A brilliant post! But where is ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’?

    I remember my Mum climbing up the walls after I would keep trying to ‘be a tiger’ and drink straight from the taps after a big dinner…

  • Tea with Mr Tumnus always sounded so lovely. Sardines on toast and a nice brown egg, lightly boiled would not be my normal choice but in that magical land of Narnia and in the faun’s home it somehow had appeal. I did feel a bit edgy with the going to a stranger’s house without anyone knowing thing and can only really fully enjoy it now I know Mr Tumnus is safe. Can’t forget Turkish Delight. We get M & S powdery boxes of it every Christmas to and let it melt like perfumy glue on our teeth as we watch Narnia. Scrumdidlyumptious.

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