Please, sir, I want some more…

dr dana oliver twist

Countless articles, numerous treatises, and dozens of dissertations have been written on the role food plays in children’s literature. And we have certainly done more then a few posts on it (see: top secret fooj, gingerbread house contest, and Harry Potter recipe testing).

With glorious fictitious edibles in mind, I developed a quick activity for Cotsen Critix, our children’s literary society for 9-12 year olds. The task was simple: match the food to the literary character. However, the list ranged from easy to challenging, thanks to the invaluable assistance of librarians on the ALSC listserv. They came up with tons of clever matches.

Below is the game, and here is the pdf version (and NO answer key! Mwah hah hah!):

characters and foods game

If you’re wondering where on earth we found a Victorian-esque dining hall for the blog photo, the answer is Proctor Hall. It’s the dining room for Princeton University’s Graduate College. It’s absolutely gorgeous, with wood paneling, oil portraits, and a massive stained glass window.

proctor hall princeton university graduate collegeI couldn’t resist busting out a little Oliver! at the end of the shoot. If you look closely, you can see that I truly got into character by smearing mud all over my London orphan face.

Disclaimer: I have NO vocal training, and am famous for messing up song lyrics.


Many thanks to Marybeth Shippole for graciously allowing us to visit Proctor Hall, and to all the ALSC librarians for their invaluable contributions to the game!

Play With Your Food

play with your foodIt’s dinner time and the peas are flying! Can your land the pom-pom peas on the plates, bowls, and cups? Bust out your pea catapult and get ready to do some physics and math!

We recommend reading Eat Your Peas, Ivy Louise by Leo Landry (HMH Books, 2005). Toddler Ivy Louise has been tasked with eating her dinner. However, those energetic peas are running a full-scale circus on her plate, complete with acrobatics, impressive weight-lifting, and a high dive act. The grand finale? We’ll let you guess. Very entertaining for Ivy Louise. Not so much fun for Mom and Dad to clean up!

You’ll need:

  • 2 jumbo craft sticks (ours were 8″ long)
  • 6 medium craft sticks (mine were 4.5″ long)
  • Masking tape
  • 4 medium rubber bands
  • 1 plastic spoon
  • 5-10 green pom-poms
  • Paper plates, bowl, and cup
  • Markers for decorating

Our awesome craft stick catapult is from this bouncing bedtime post, so I’ve repeated the instructions below. Stack 2 jumbo craft sticks on top of one another, then wrap a rubber band tightly around one side.

rubber banded craft sticks

Now stack 6 medium craft sticks on top of one another and wrap both ends tightly with masking tape.taped craft sticksWedge the stack of 6 craft sticks in between the jumbo crafts sticks like so:

wedged

Then wrap 2 rubber bands around both sets of craft sticks to secure the catapult mechanism in place (a criss-cross formation works best).

banded

An additional step for you pea catapult…secure a plastic spoon on the end of the catapult arm with a rubber band. Don’t secure the spoon with tape – you might want to adjust the placement of the spoon later when you’re launching peas. Here’s our finished pea catapult, all loaded up:

pea catapultNow for your targets! Use markers to decorate paper plates, bowls, and cups. Make sure to assign a numerical value to each item.

pea targetsReady to play? Set your table, load up your catapult, and launch some peas! Use your math skills to tally points, and play around with physics as you adjust your spoon and your catapult to achieve maximum results.

Most Influential

Bunny Salad courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsQ: What books inspired you to do the creative things you do today?

A lot of children’s books have influenced me as a reader, writer, educator, and artist. Some of my childhood favorites have even shown up on the blog (here and here!) But if you’re specifically asking about creativity, there IS one book that towers above all others like a yellow-and-white striped Everest. It’s not a picture book. It’s not a chapter book. It’s not even a fiction book. It’s a cookbook. Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook to be exact (Golden Press, 1965).

Betty Crocker's New Books and Girls Cookbook image courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsI would look at this book for hours. I would slowly flip the pages, eagerly anticipating the arrival of my favorite section. Can you guess which one it was? Yup. “Cookies, Cakes, and Other Desserts.” Here is the cake of my childhood dreams:

Enchanted Castle Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsOh where do I start? I was wholly enthusiastic about cake (and those pink pillow mints – wow, do they even make those anymore?). But even more, I loved that someone had taken food and sculpted it into something imaginative and fantastical. Then fearlessly added non-edible items (such as the toothpick drawbridge chains) to complete the picture. Also, they didn’t just photograph the cake on a table. They set the scene with grass, a shiny moat, and a blue sky with cotton ball clouds. And how about this beautiful creation…

Ice Cream Flower Pot courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsIt’s an “Ice Cream Flower Pot.” A waxed paper cup, ice cream and crushed cookie “dirt,” candy leaves, and a frigging lollipop flower! You can put lollipops and ice cream together and make it look like a flower pot? My mind was officially blown.

Also earth-shattering was the realization that you could use food to make images of, say, animals parading around a “Circus Cake” (did you notice the little cashew feet and red licorice knot tail on the pig?).

Circus Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsThose wild and crazy Betty Crocker bakers even used holiday-specific candy…on cakes that were totally unrelated to that particular holiday! Like candy canes on a 4th of July “Drum Cake”:

Drum Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsThis taught me that you could look at an object, even a familiar one like a candy cane, and see it used for a different purpose or in a different context. That, my friends, is a pretty abstract lesson to be learned from a cake. I still want to eat those cherries too.

While I did spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over the cookbook’s dessert sections, there was one recipe that caught my eye in the “Salads and Vegetables” section:

Bunny Salad courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsOf all the time I spent looking at this book, I only made one recipe from it. One! It was “Bunny Salad.” I begged my mom for the ingredients and proudly assembled this spectacular dish. It was awesome. I had created! I also learned that, alas, I didn’t like cottage cheese very much.

Interestingly, I’m not the only person who was affected by this cookbook in childhood. Cece Bell mentioned it in an interview with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blogger Jules Danielson. She specifically cites the “Enchanted Castle Cake” of my dreams, too! If I ever hang out with her, I’m baking one and bringing it with me (pssst! if you’d like to see our story time project for Cece’s book, Itty Bitty, go here).

One final Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook connection for you. The cookbook features illustrations as well as photographs. I was obsessed with this one in particular:

Red Devil Sundae Topping courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsWhen it came time to dress my firstborn for Halloween 2009, what costume did I choose?

Halloween devilCoincidence? I don’t think so.


Book images courtesy of Betty Crocker and General Mills. Many thanks for allowing me to use the images, and for being such an inspiration.