When I was very little, my mom spent a summer teaching us about France. We studied the language, watched movies set in France, read about the country and its customs, and, best of all, baked French treats. Now, I was very small, probably 5 or 6, so there aren’t many specifics I remember from that summer, but I do certainly remember those raspberry tarts.
We did similar things throughout my childhood: I had two bread-baking stints in grade school. The first went along with a picture book I got from the library. There was a mouse who, while trying to make bread, fought with the yeastie beasties that were making her bread rise. (I’ve never been able to find that book again! If you have any ideas, let me know!) My mom and I made a modified version of that mouse’s bread. Later, inspired by an old children’s book from the 1960s, Ginnie and the Cooking Contest, I got into bread-baking again. (And yes, since I know you are wondering: you are correct, I was homeschooled.)
I have always loved the idea of pairing a piece of media with the food that goes along with it, whether it’s making the recipe in the back of a novel or copying a meal featured in a movie. I think for kids, it’s an especially good way to make a reading experience more immersive. You don’t just read the book, you actually get to experience the tastes and smells that the characters do. It can be a bonding moment between adults and kids: maybe you read the book together and then cook the meal, or even just cook something that goes along with your favorite kid’s current interest.
I’ve been thinking about this more and more as some new middle grade books for food lovers have started to pile up on my desk, so I’ve had a lot of fun pairing them with the perfect cookbook to make the perfect read-and-cook-along combination.
Zany Ice Creams
First up, I have a laugh-out-loud funny middle grade book about ice cream paired with a quirky ice cream cookbook.
Ice Cream Machine by Adam Rubin
You might know Adam Rubin from Dragons Love Tacos, but this is his first middle grade book. It includes six wild stories, all with the same name. Each story is illustrated by a different great illustrator, making it a like a giant six-scoop treat.
Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook by Tyler Malek and JJ Goode
All you need is Malek and Goode’s five-minute ice cream base recipe and you can build on it with all of their phenomenal flavors. They’ve got some crowd pleasers like Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons and Roast Strawberry and Toasted White Chocolate, but there’s also some oddballs like Buttered Mashed Potatoes and Gravy and a recipe that includes kale and parmesan cheese!
The Family Restaurant
Maizy gets to spend more time in her family’s midwestern restaurant in Maizy Chen’s Last Chance, so I thought I’d pair it it with Xi’an Famous Foods, Jason Wang’s book about his family’s family-run chain of Western Chinese restaurants in New York.
Maizy Chen’s Last Chance by Lisa Yee
Maizy isn’t sure why her mom hasn’t wanted to go back to Last Chance, Minnesota, but since her grandpa got sick, she and her mom are headed back. They plan to only stay for a few weeks, but plans change, and Maizy finds herself spending even more time at her family’s restaurant, the Golden Palace.
Xi’an Famous Foods by Jason Wang
In only 15 or so years, Xi’an Famous Foods has become New York legend. They’ve expanded from one small stall to 14 locations across the city. This is the story of Jason Wang and his family and how they grew that single stall into an empire.
Evie Baker loves two things: stories and baking. So I thought I’d pair this fairytale with Nadiya Hussain’s fairytale baking book.
A Baker’s Guide to Robber Pie by Caitlin Sangster
You wouldn’t think a raspberry pie would lead to so much trouble, but you’re probably not Evie. Evie loves working at her parents’ bakery, but she is hoping that there’s something more out there. So she and her best friend set off to find a crow that can help them find an adventure…and maybe they find a little more than they bargained for.
Nadiya’s Bake Me a Story by Nadiya Hussain
Great British Baking Show winner Nadiya Hussain has written several cookbooks for adults, but I thought this one for kids was a great choice for a read-and-cook-along activity. Make pumpkin flapjacks, very-berry muffins, or bean patties. Or, if you’re with a more advanced cook, you can always check out Nadiya Bakes, her newest baking book!
Cici just moved from Taiwan to Seattle and is having trouble finding her footing, so I thought a book of home-style Taiwanese cooking would help her gain confidence in herself.
Measuring Up by Lilly LaMotte and Ann Xu
Cici has just arrived in Seattle from Taiwan and desperately wants to bring her grandmother to visit for her birthday. But extra money for plane tickets is hard to come by. When Cici sees that there’s a substantial cash prize if she wins a local cooking contest, she knows what to do. But could she win if she only cooks what she knows? Or should she give into peer pressure and cook the food her American friends are more comfortable with?
Home-Style Taiwanese Cooking by Liv Wan (July 2022)
Popular blogger and Taiwanese chef Liv Wan cooks a wide range of dishes that explore Taiwan’s long and storied history. There are fancier dishes and street food, and Wan’s detailed headnotes give cultural context for each recipe.
Alice is used to helping her dad, a culinary historian, prepare elaborate bakes and recreate meals from the past. I thought Alice would appreciate Claire Saffitz’s detailed instructions in Dessert Person.
Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster by Rachelle Delaney
Alice isn’t thrilled that any of her friends might find out about her secret hobby: helping her dad recreate historical meals. So she’s especially not thrilled that her dad’s new girlfriend has entered them into a cooking contest that — surprise! — is actually on TV! To complicate matters further, Alice is pretty sure that someone is trying to sabotage the competition. It’s sort of like Chopped Jr., but with a mystery thrown in.
Dessert Person by Claire Saffitz
Baking shouldn’t be intimidating. It’s no scarier than cooking. You just might want a little guidance. And Claire Saffitz is here to provide that guidance. There are some fantastic recipes in here. I particularly recommend the caramelized honey pumpkin pie!
I hope you’re inspired to start cooking along with your middle grade reading! If you’re looking for more foodie books for middle grade kids, check out this round-up! If you want to cook with your kids with a little less fiction, here’s a round up of some of the best cookbooks for kids.