March 24, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Cooking with Chapter Books

The kitchen has great potential for learning—it’s a science lab, a place where great conversation can happen, and a gateway to different cultures through their cuisines. In each of these chapter books and novels, kids are experimenting and learning about themselves and the world through the food they or their families are making. Readers are invited to fill their bellies as their minds with these scrumptious titles that skillfully incorporate food and cooking.

Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres. Little, Brown. 2017.

Stef Soto hates Tia Perla. Tia Perla is not her aunt; Tia Perla is her family’s taco truck, her father’s American Dream realized. It was fun riding around in the truck and helping out when she was younger, but now Stef’s in seventh grade and it’s totally embarrassing to get picked up from school by the giant taco truck. When her former best friend and sometimes mean girl Julia tells another girl that Stef smells like tacos, that she’s the “Taco Queen,” Stef has had enough. She wants Tia Perla out of her life. But when her dad’s business actually faces some adversity, Stef will have to figure out what’s most important to her after all.

This is a sweet story that has the upbeat positivity of a Disney Channel movie—in the best way possible. Stef’s dealing with a lot of the same issues faced by many tween girls, including dealing with frenemies and evolving friendships. She’s also starting to care more and more about how she and her family are perceived by others. This is a surefire hit for readers (and eaters) who love contemporary fiction.

Activity or Lesson-Plan Tie-In:

 What makes a food truck successful? Find out by designing your own food trucks as a class. The picture book Food Trucks! by Todd Marks (HMH, 2014) may help introduce the concept to kids who aren’t familiar with them. Give students a budget and have them plan the business. What kind of foods will they make? How much will they need to charge to make a profit? How will they advertise? You could even invite local food trucks to your next family night or open house so students can show off their creations (or ideas) to the pros.

Rutabaga: The Adventure Chef by Eric Colossal. Abrams/Amulet. 2015.

Rutabaga loves traveling through the fantastic forests, seeking out new and exotic ingredients to add to the dishes he cooks. As he joins up with various adventuring parties throughout the book, Rutabaga gets the chance to cook a dragon egg, discovers what a mysterious creature named Norman will eat, and helps a band of Vikings kill a mighty beast (and learns why they always give thanks to their god of the hunt afterward.)

Rutabaga is a cute and funny graphic novel hero with his animated cooking pot always by his side. This first book in the series will please fans of light-hearted fantasy adventures.

Activities or Lesson Plan Tie-In:

Rutabaga searches for ingredients that only grow on legendary items. Think about some of the fantasy stories and fairy tales that you know and brainstorm what other fantastic things Rutabaga might like to cook with.

Create your own comics inspired by Rutabaga. Teach Children ESL provides a lesson plan for students to practice their writing skills by creating comic strips. The Center for Cartoon Studies also has a Teaching Comics website with many resources for teaching students how to make cartoon art and how to include comics in your curriculum.

Jasmine Toguchi: Mochi Queen by Debbi Michiko Florence. Farrar. 2017.

Jasmine is not yet old enough to partake in her family’s traditional mochi-making during the New Year, but she FEELS old enough. Determined to do something different from her older sister, Jasmine decides that she will be part of the process this year, but instead of rolling mochi with the women, Jasmine will pound mochi with the men. But is Jasmine strong enough to lift the traditional hammer and mash the rice to turn it into the delicious treat? And will she even be allowed to try?

This new series starter features a spirited young lady who is willing to question tradition and just wants to be part of the family’s traditional activity. Young fans of Clementine, Lola Levine, and Ruby Lu will adore Jasmine Toguchi.

Activity or Lesson Plan Tie-In:

Jasmine dreams of being involved with her family’s food tradition. What food or holiday traditions do your students share with their families or friends? Ask students to write about their traditions or share family recipes and compile everyone’s contributions into a book.

Phineas L. MacGuire Gets Cooking by Frances O’Roark Dowell. S. & S./Athenuem. 2014.

Phineas MacGuire is not thrilled when his mom assigns him the new chore of cooking dinner for the family each night, but when he realizes that cooking is chemistry, this fourth-grade scientist jumps on board. Between helping his friends develop an award-winning recipe for a cooking show contest and dealing with a bully at school, Mac believes that the scientific method has all the answers…but does it?

In this funny novel, Mac confronts his school bully in a creative way that feels true to his scientific mind. He’s also constantly experimenting and learning in the kitchen, which will have young readers itching to put their oven mitts on and try out their own kitchen concoctions.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-In:

Pinterest is filled to the brim with kitchen science activities, any of which make a great tie-in for this book. Search for “Kitchen Science” or “Food Science Activities.”

The Dazzle Disaster Dinner Party by Sharon M. Draper. Scholastic. 2010.

When Sassy gets to choose a creative project for school, she decides to host a dinner party for her entire class. From making ingredient lists to shopping to naming the recipes, Sassy’s in charge. But as can be expected, everything does not go to plan. Good thing Sassy keeps her positive attitude and welcoming spirit even if her dazzling dinner party turns into a disaster!

This fourth book in the series works just fine as a read-alone. Sassy is a wonderful friend, welcoming a new girl to their class and including everyone in her dinner plans. She’s a positive role model for students when things don’t go exactly as planned.

Activities and Lesson Plan Tie-In:

Since Sassy is not allowed to use the stove; the recipes for her dinner party are all no-cook or just-microwave recipes. Try them out with your class to practice planning, following instructions, and basic math skills like measuring.

I hope these chapter books hit the spot. Happy reading… and eating!


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Abby Johnson About Abby Johnson

Abby Johnson is the youth services manager at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library in Southern Indiana. You can find her on the web at

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