It seems as though not a day goes by without the media covering a story about children’s health. Fast-food restaurants decide to list the nutritional information of their entrees. School districts ban soft-drink vending machines in their cafeterias. Childhood obesity is at epidemic levels. Affecting everyone is the recent Supreme Court decision on healthcare reform. The downside to all the attention is shading the notion of health with alarmist, prohibitive, or political attitudes. Getting children interested in the topic may be as hard as getting them to eat vegetables. The following titles for preschool through teen readers find the joy in being healthy, whether through realistic voices or characters, empowering youth to make their own choices, revealing fascinating facts about what goes on underneath our skin, or encouraging readers to lead active lives. Here’s to reading for health!
Thinking About Health
BUNTING, Eve. My Dog Jack Is Fat. illus. by Michael Rex. Marshall Cavendish. 2011. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-5809-8.
K-Gr 1–Exercise and smaller portions are on the menu after the vet determines that Carson’s dog, Jack, is overweight. But as Jack struggles on a treadmill, Carson snacks on junk food. Comic illustrations anticipate the role reversal at Jack’s next appointment when the vet gently advises Carson to try “a little bit of what Jack’s been doing.”
BUTTERWORTH, Christine. How Did That Get in My Lunchbox? The Story of Food. illus. by Lucia Gaggiotti.Candlewick. 2011. Tr $12.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5005-6.
PreS-Gr 2–Retro-style cartoon illustrations and an engaging text follow the production of common edibles so the younger set can see where the food in a typical lunchbox comes from. Gaggiotti’s rendition of MyPlate (a new USDA nutrition guide) and a page of food facts reveal that lunch is just one component in a full day of healthy eating.
CAMPBELL, Bebe Moore. I Get So Hungry. illus. by Amy Bates. Putnam. 2008. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-24311-0.
K-Gr 3–Though Nikki knows it’s wrong to find comfort in junk food, her mother’s unhealthy eating habits offer uneasy validation. After a medical scare, Nikki’s overweight teacher begins to turn things around by eating better and walking around the school every morning; Nikki decides to join her. Watercolor scenes add to this sensitive and thoughtful story.
CHILD, Lauren. I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato. illus. by author. Candlewick. 2000. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-0-76-361188-0.
PreS-Gr 2–Carrots become “orange twiglets from Jupiter” and mashed potatoes are made of cloud fluff from Mount Fuji as the enduring Charlie convinces his picky, younger sister, Lola, to eat her dinner. Kids and parents will appreciate Charlie’s creative approach to vegetables while humorous mixed-media art adds to the fun.
COBB, Vicki. Your Body Battles a Stomachache. photomicrographs by Dennis Kunkel. illus. by Andrew N. Harris. (Body Battlefields Series). Millbrook. 2009. PLB $25.26. ISBN 978-0-8225-7166-7.
Gr 1-4–Cells magnified by a scanning electron microscope combine with superhero illustrations and conversational text to provide a complete picture of how our bodies rally to fight off a variety of infections and injuries. Though the focus is on healing and not overall health, there are hints scattered throughout. Other titles in the series are equally engaging.
COREY, Shana. Mermaid Queen: The Spectacular True Story of Annette Kellerman, Who Swam Her Way to Fame, Fortune, and Swimsuit History! illus. by Edwin Fotheringham. Scholastic. 2009. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-439-69835-1.
Gr 2-5–Born in 1886, this inventor of water ballet and the modern swimsuit broke down barriers in both sports and fashion and “believed exercise was key not just to health but to self-esteem.” Bright digital-media illustrations evoke the period and capture Kellerman’s zest and grace. Those looking for a role model will find an incredible one here.
GUTMAN, Dan. Ms. Leakey Is Freaky! illus. by Jim Paillot. (My Weird School Daze Series). HarperCollins. 2011. PLB $15.89. ISBN 978-0-06-170403-1.
Gr 3-5–An overzealous health teacher will stop at nothing to get her students to eat right, even if it means ambushing them at the grocery store. Admonishments like, “Do you know what they put in a 3 Musketeers bar?” could prompt readers to take a look at nutritional labels. Zany cartoons packed with kid-appeal are interspersed.
HARPER, Charise Mericle. Henry’s Heart: A Boy, His Heart, and a New Best Friend. illus. by author. Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks. 2011. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-8989-9.
K-Gr 3–Genially drawn with its own eyes and mouth, Henry’s heart beats in response to emotional and physical changes. Information about circulation and heart-friendly foods gets woven into the story of Henry’s wanting a new puppy, making it easy for children to learn how to make their own hearts happy (and healthy).
MCCARTHY, Meghan. Strong Man: The Story of Charles Atlas. illus. by author. Knopf. 2007. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-375-82940-6; PLB $18.99. ISBN 978-0-375-92940-3.
Gr 1-5–Tormented by bullies, skinny Angelo Siciliano developed his own fitness routine and eventually became Charles Atlas, “The World’s Most Perfectly Developed Man.” Just as Atlas gained millions of young fans in his time, today’s readers will be inspired by his determination and commitment to health in this picture-book biography boasting colorful cartoon illustrations.
ROCKWELL, Lizzy. The Busy Body Book: A Kid’s Guide to Fitness. illus. by author. Crown. 2004. Tr $15.95. ISBN 978-0-37-582203-2; PLB $17.99. ISBN 978-0-37-592203-9.
PreS-Gr 3–Cheerful illustrations of active children in a park are followed by a diagram of a skeleton. The simple format repeats with muscles, the brain and nerves, lungs, heart and blood vessels, and the stomach and intestines. While providing a vocabulary for body parts, the book relays the connection between exercise and a healthy body.
KidsHealth. The Nemours Foundation. (Accessed 10/25/12).
Easy to navigate, with sections for parents, kids, and teens, this comprehensive site provides information on a wide spectrum of health issues (physical, emotional, developmental, etc.). Games, activities, quizzes, and articles are just some of the resources provided.
Let’s Move! America’s Move to Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids. Let’s Move. (Accessed 10/25/12).
Part of Michelle Obama’s initiative to solve the problem of obesity, there are features for the whole family. Components include links to the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity, healthy recipes created by young chefs, suggestions for outdoor activities, and fitness tips.
President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition. President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition. (Accessed 10/25/12).
Newly redesigned, the site has an appropriately stately look, with NFL quarterback Drew Brees and Olympic gymnast Dominque Dawes as Council Co-Chairs. Information about current statistics, initiatives, and the iVillage/President’s Challenge (a six-week-long fitness program) can be found here.
For Parents and Educators
ChooseMyPlate.gov. United States Department of Agriculture. (Accessed 10/25/12).
Setting the standard for healthy eating, the USDA has replaced the food pyramid (though there are archived MyPyramid materials available) with the plate. Users learn about different food groups and how to fill a healthy plate. Includes printable materials and graphics.
The Edible Schoolyard Project. The Edible Schoolyard Project. (Accessed 10/25/12).
Started by Alice Waters 16 years ago with one garden and a kitchen classroom at a Berkeley middle school, the program has grown nationwide. Teachers will find tips for integrating food into lesson plans, and parents can learn how to be better informed about school lunches.
Middle School & Up
BRANCATO, Robin F. Food Choices: The Ultimate Teen Guide. (It Happened to Me Series). Scarecrow. 2010. Tr $40. ISBN 978-0-8108-6109-1.
Gr 9 Up–Brancato offers wide-ranging information, including what classes to take to become a professional chef, the precautions needed to guarantee the safety of purchased food, and background on why we eat the way we do. Woven throughout are testimonials from teens, rounding out a title that works for reports as well as for encouraging smart decisions.
FRY, Erin. Losing It. Amazon. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-76-146220-0.
Gr 5-7–Bennett has a sedentary lifestyle, begrudgingly accepting his obesity until his father suffers a stroke. Staying with an aunt rife with good intentions who places him on a diet, Bennett finds a way to live healthier and stand up for himself by joining the cross-country team. Fry effectively captures the triumphant returns gained from hard work.
MCCLAIN, Lee. Sizzle. Marshall Cavendish. 2011. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-5981-1; ebook $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7614-6093-0.
Gr 6-9–Sent to live with relatives in Pittsburgh, Linda is a fresh-ingredient foodie who must adjust to being part of a family where the matriarch hosts a TV show called “Cooking with Cans.” Readers will find a bright and likable character in Linda, whose healthy practices come effortlessly from her passion about good food. Audio version available from Brilliance Audio.
POLLAN, Michael. The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets Behind What You Eat. adapt. by Richie Chevat. (Young Readers Edition). Dial. 2009. Tr $17.99. ISBN 978-0-8037-3415-9.
Gr 7 Up–With a detective’s tenacity, Pollan investigates how the meals that end up on our tables come from four different food chains (industrial, industrial organic, local sustainable, hunter-gatherer). Added sections, like tips for eating and a Q&A with Pollan, offer motivation for readers who want to change their food habits. Engrossing and thought-provoking.
SCHLOSSER, Eric & Charles Wilson. Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food.Houghton Harcourt. 2006. Tr $16. ISBN 978-0-61-871031-7.
Gr 6 Up–Just as Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (2001) shed game-changing light on the country’s food industry and eating habits, this book for a younger audience offers a classic and still-engrossing examination of fast-food chains and how junk food gets marketed to children. As restaurants advertise lower-calorie alternatives, the information here is a yardstick for assessing change.
TELGEMEIER, Raina. Smile. illus. by author. Scholastic/Graphix. 2010. Tr $21.99. ISBN 978-0-545-13205-3; pap. $10.99. ISBN 978-0-545-13206-0.
Gr 6-9–Besides the regular tribulations of transitioning from tween to teen, Raina has major dental problems. Her challenges and triumphs are immediately relatable, and several instances during her journey towards smiling without apprehension (like the panel featuring myriad oral-hygiene products) will have readers thinking about what is going on inside their own mouths.
Get Up and Move
CRONIN, Doreen. Stretch. illus. by Scott Menchin. S & S/Atheneum. 2009. RTE $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-5341-8.
PreS-K–When creating a workout routine from Cronin and Menchin’s collaborations, it’s best to start with Stretch before Wiggle (2005) and Bounce (2007). After all, stretching can be done anywhere, even with imagined animals. All three titles sport an appealingly active canine energized by brightly colored pen-and-ink drawings. Use as wiggle-relieving openers before starting class or at storytime.
GO OUT AND PLAY! FAVORITE OUTDOOR GAMES FROM KABOOM! illus. by Juliana Rose. Candlewick. 2012. pap. $11.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-5530-3.
K Up–With just over 70 activities for outside play, children and parents will find the classics (from hide-and-seek to Duck, Duck, Goose) mixed in with creative variations on tag, relay races, and other games. Each page features one game explained with concise playing instructions and other requirements. Sections on facilitating play and getting involved ensure fun for all ages.
SPINELLI, Eileen. Miss Fox’s Class Shapes Up. illus. by Anne Kennedy. Albert Whitman. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-8075-5171-4.
K-Gr 2–When her breakfast-skipping, low-energy students fall asleep at their desks, Miss Fox decides that becoming fit is a priority. The school nurse offers nutritious recipes; recess brings experimentation with jump ropes and Hula-Hoops, and cheerfully active animal characters demonstrate that being healthy is its own reward. Includes easy-to-adopt health and fitness tips.
THOMPSON, Lauren. Hop, Hop, Jump! illus. by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. S & S/Margaret K. McElderry Bks. 2012. Tr $14.99. ISBN 978-1-4169-9745-0.
PreS-K–Children in a summer-camp setting enthusiastically demonstrate how to move different body parts, be it a finger (“Wiggle it.”), toe (“Waggle it.”), or bottom and head (“Upside-down it.”). A simple text and acrylic cartoon drawings sporting smiling boys and girls jumping, swimming, and enjoying the outdoors produce a lively storytime addition.
YOO, Taeeun. You Are a Lion! And Other Fun Yoga Poses. illus. by author. Penguin/Nancy Paulsen Bks. 2012. RTE $16.99. ISBN 978-0-399-25602-8.
PreS-Gr 2–Opening with a lovely, artistic rendition of a sun salutation, six multicultural children meet in a forest clearing to greet the morning with yoga stretches. The following pages show each child demonstrating a single age-appropriate pose (dog, mountain, lion, etc.), complemented by easy-to-imitate instructions. Yoo has crafted a perfect introduction to the practice.
Middle School & Up
AIKMAN, Louise & Matthew Harvey. Pilates Step-by-Step. ISBN 978-1-4488-1549-4.
JENNINGS, Madeleine & James Drewe. Tai Chi Step-by-Step. ISBN 978-1-4488-1551-7.
SPILLING, Michael & Liz Lark. Yoga Step-by-Step. ISBN 978-1-4488-1550-0.
ea vol: (Skills in Motion Series). Rosen, 2010. PLB $31.95.
Gr 9 Up–An introduction covers the history, principles, proper position/alignment, and breathing involved in each activity. Innovative stop-motion photography demonstrates the range of movement for each position and corresponding instructions appear below the photos. While the “instructors” are older than a teen audience, they lend an aura of expertise. These guides support students with a class or two under their belt.
Eating Healthy and Delicious Food
GIBBONS, Gail. The Vegetables We Eat. illus. by author. Holiday House. 2007. RTE $16.95. ISBN 978-0-8234-2001-8.
K-Gr 4–Eager learners will find vegetable facts galore in this vibrant introduction, illustrated in Gibbons’s signature style. Topics such as the eight different kinds of vegetables (with over fifty varieties presented), the journey from the farm to store, and how to create your own garden are sure to nourish interest and eating.
GOURLEY, Robbin. First Garden: The White House Garden and How It Grew. illus. by author. Clarion. 2011. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-0-547-48224-8.
K-Gr 4–Gourley includes an historical perspective in this engaging title, but the heart of the matter is the effort spearheaded by Michelle Obama, who recruited local elementary school children to help plant the current garden. The garden’s success story, effectively paired with vibrant watercolor illustrations, champions home gardening and local produce as important aspects of healthy eating and living.
Grow It, Cook It: Simple Gardening Projects and Delicious Recipes. DK. 2008. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-0-75-663367-7.
Gr 3-6–After a brief overview of plants, recycling and compost, and a list of cooking terms, hands-on gardening and cooking begins with pictures accompanying each step of the instructions. Related recipes follow the featured vegetable, fruit, or herb (pumpkin, carrots, spinach, strawberries, to name a few) and encourage children to take ownership of healthy food choices.
IWAI, Melissa. Soup Day. illus. by author. Holt/Christy Ottaviano Bks. 2010. Tr $12.99. ISBN 978-0-8050-9004-8.
PreS-Gr 2–Healthy habits abound in this simple story about a girl and her mother making soup on a snowy winter day. They walk to the market, choose the freshest vegetables, chop the ingredients together, and stay active as the pot simmers. Charming collage illustrations capture the warmth while a Snowy Day Vegetable Soup recipe provides inspiration.
SAYRE, April Pulley. Go, Go, Grapes!: A Fruit Chant. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-1-44-243390-8.
––––. Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant. 2011. Tr $15.99. ISBN 978-1-4424-2141-7.
ea vol: photos by author. S & S/Beach Lane.
PreS-Gr 1–The infectiously joyful cadence of the chants and the enticingly photographed fruits and vegetables guarantee bouncing and clapping along with probable demands for repeated readings (and possibly trips to the nearest farmer’s market). While featuring the ubiquitous (carrots, corn, apples), Sayre’s paeans to produce also capture the deliciously unfamiliar (kohlrabi, rambutan, mangosteen), and might be the first step to children’s healthy eating.
Middle School & Up
GOLD, Rozanne. Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs. photos by Phil Mansfield. Bloomsbury. 2009. pap. $17.99. ISBN 978-1-59990-445-0.
Gr 6 Up–Put together with help from a nutritionist and a group of sous-chefs/tasters aged nine to nineteen, there’s a healthy recipe for every meal or snack craving. Full-color photos capture the brightness of the ripe fruit and vegetables as well as the young chefs in action, fueling readers’ motivation to hit the grocery store, farmer’s market,
HIDALGO-ROBERT, Alberto. Fat No More: A Teenager’s Victory Over Obesity. Piñata. 2012. pap. $16.95. ISBN 978-1-55-885745-2.
Gr 8 Up–Somewhat unpolished writing doesn’t detract from the author’s honest portrayal of his obsession with food at a young age, his loving but enabling parents, his frustration with diets, and the serious health scare that spurred changes in his lifestyle and eating habits. Pictures show a stunning transformation accomplished through lots of hard work. Includes recipes.
STERN, Sam. Get Cooking. Candlewick. 2009. pap. $17.99. ISBN 978-0-7636-3926-6.
Gr 8 Up–Written with the easygoing authority of one teen speaking to another, the youthful British chef’s third book offers a surefire way to get young adults cooking. Though primarily about having fun cooking for or with friends, there are healthy quips thrown in with the approximately 100 recipes.
Joanna K. Fabicon is a Children’s Librarian at Los Angeles Public Library, CA.
by Phyllis Levy Mandell
Achoo! Stop the Flu . DVD. 30 min. Prod. by Rolling River Prods. Dist. by TMW Media Group. 2011. ISBN unavail. $64.95.
K-Gr 6 –How can you stay healthy during flu season? The Grammy award-winning folk group The Kingston Trio, along with Julie Thompson and Brownie Macintosh ( The Julie and Brownie Show ) , offer suggestions via skits and five catchy sing-along tunes. They encourage washing hands, staying hydrated, getting rest, exercising, and eating a healthy diet.
Eat Less! The Upside of Downsizing . DVD. 29 min. with tchr’s. guide online. Learning Seed. 2012. ISBN 978-1-55740-606-4. $109.
Gr 7 Up –The program’s five chapters explain how fast foods and supersizing have become the norm and discuss the health problems related to our diet. An action plan to increase healthy lifestyle choices and downsize portions and calories based on the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines is provided. The production features easy-to-understand explanations, appetizing visuals, and accessible exercise and activity suggestions.
Fast Food Nutrition . DVD. 16 min. with tchr’s. guide. LearningZoneXpress. 2009. ISBN 1-57175-833-X. $79.95.
Gr 6 Up –Two upbeat teens offer facts about good nutrition and tips for eating healthy. The typical tribulations of fast-food meals—calories, saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, and sugar—are explained. The merits of grilled vs. fried, water vs. soda, and fruit vs. fries are discussed.
Healthy Eating and Exercise: Putting It All Together with MyPlate.gov . DVD. 25 min. with tchr’s. guide. Human Relations Media. 2011. ISBN 978-1-55548-964-9. $149.95.
Gr 7 Up –In conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) website, ChooseMyPlate.gov, this program provides dietary guidelines and a graphic representation of the five food groups to create an excellent unit for health classes. The film offers an example of a teen’s eating habits throughout the day, calculating the calories he consumes vs. the calories he burns.
Healthy Food for Thought: Good Enough to Eat. 2 CDs. approx. 2 hrs. Prod. by East Coast Record Co. Dist. by healthyfoodforthought.com. 2010. $10 (+ $3 s/h).
PreS-Gr 4 –This compilation, nominated for a Grammy award for best spoken word album, consists of 60 selections of prose, poems, and songs provided by kids’ musicians and authors about food, nutrition, and self-awareness that can be used as part of a childhood obesity awareness curriculum.
MyPlate and You: Learning About Nutrition, Health, and Exercise . DVD. 16 min. with tchr’s . guide. Human Relations Media. 2011. ISBN 978-1-55548-941-0. $149.95.
Gr 3-6 –In a fast-paced and entertaining style, viewers are introduced to the MyPlate guidelines. Comparing our bodies to cars, two teen narrators explain that food and calories are fuel for our bodies. Entertaining examples demonstrate the value of eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, as well as grains, proteins, and dairy products. The influence of advertising on our diets and the dangers of fast food are addressed.
Obesity in a Bottle II: How to Pick Healthy Beverages. DVD. 26 min. with tchr’s. guide online. Learning ZoneXpress. 2011. ISBN unavail. $79.95.
Gr 9 Up –In the first segment, a dietitian discusses the benefits of drinking water. “How to Choose Healthy Beverages for Kids” explains how additives in drinks can affect kids’ health. “How to Drink for Weight Loss” compares popular drinks with the corresponding amount of more-satisfying food. “Busting Caffeine Myths” concentrates on the benefits and negative attributes of caffeine and how it affects the body.