“This was the first true story I read as a child. Laura was an ordinary girl and I identified with her. She met a
mean girl at school, had a crush on a boy and ate meals with her family. She was a girl like me. I read every single book in the series.” Educator Jennifer Avery went on to tell me that this was the first view of life outside her 1970’s Brooklyn childhood.
Jen and I worked together at Hannah Sennesh Community Day School in Brooklyn. We developed and
she implemented a literary afterschool program for 1st and 2nd graders. She selected books with recipes to read together and
then cook, making the characters more real for the children.
“Food in books brings another level of engagement and a new way of thinking. Children connect with food
and how it relates to their own family. ‘My mom and I make my lunch for school each day.’ This is very unifying for children readers
and helps them relate to the story and characters.”
In the Little House series, children are introduced to the frontier of the 1880’s. While Laura goes to school
and quibbles with her siblings, something today’s children can relate to, she also tends a garden, helps cook over a fire, and at
a young age, has responsibilities that today’s children don’t know. Food brings a reality and immediacy to the lives in the books
and unifies the characters and the readers.
You can tell Jen is a lover of children when she analyzes learning about other cultures and eras. “Grownups don’t always want to discover different cultures or historical eras. Kids are more open and receptive. They want to learn and explore. So we need to give them these tools and empower them.”
She explained that stories set in different times and places expand the way children think. “History is very abstract for them. For kids, history can be 2 years ago. Kids read stories and take something from the book to help them learn. Where did things come from? How did things evolve?”
Too often children and parents are on cell phones, in front of computers or videos. Parents reading to children can be so exciting and support the core skill that helps children in school and beyond. How much more fun it is to read books and make a recipe, turning a passive activity into an active one, and most importantly, to spend time with children you love.
With Little House on Prairie series, children learn about other Americans in a different era and on a frontier that no longer exists. Children develop empathy, greater knowledge about others and a connection that all living creatures share—the bond of food and the pleasure it may bring.
“You know they will love the book and read it a million times,” comments Jen. She remembers reading another favorite, Thunder Cake by Patricia Polacco, to her class. A Michigan grandma bakes a cake with her granddaughter to help her not be afraid of a storm. “The story was very dramatic. The kids were on the edge of their seats to see if the characters could make the cake before the storm came. There is an element of surprise in the story when tomato sauce is added to the cake. We had an opportunity to talk about why the grandma used it. Food and its preparation were the vehicle for the child to overcome her fear.”
She added that people often don’t give enough thought to how they spend time with their children. Preparing and eating food together engages children and opens up a part of them that adults didn’t know was there. “Cooking at school or at home will stay with children. Food remains a strong memory.”
Have fun making Laura's recipe for Dandelion Soup
with your favorite child!
Jen’s picks for children’s books with recipes
Everybody Cooks Rice by Nora Dooley.
Strega Nona by Tomie de Paoli.
How My Parents Learned to Eat by Ina R. Friedman
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe series by C.S. Lewis.
The Laura Ingalls Wilder Cookbook
Little House on the Prairie Series
plus a discussion on children's books with recipes with educator Jennifer Avery