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Exploring Culinary Adventures: Top 15 Middle Grade Foodie Books Recommended by Karly-Lynne Scott

I started StoryBookCook back in 2017 when I was in the early stages of healing my relationship with food. Children’s literature had always nourished my soul and I thought maybe there was a way it could also help me nourish my body. I began to cook and eat the foods mentioned in the kids’ books I read which pushed me eat outside my comfort zone and helped me to become more confident in the kitchen.


Whether you’re a budding chef or a kitchen novice, these 15 delicious middle grade books are sure to inspire! These stories show how food can heal, how it can provide comfort and help us grow, how it can bring us together, and how it connects us to our rich cultural identities. Bon appétit!


1.  The Antiracist Kitchen: 21 Stories (and Recipes), Nadia L. Hohn

“What if talking about racism was as easy as baking a cake, frying plantains or cooking rice?”


This empowering anthology explores the relationship between food and race through 21 stories and recipes by diverse children’s authors. It introduces readers to difficult and complex concepts like cultural genocide, food justice, and environmental racism through engaging and accessible personal stories. A glossary of key terms is included to help readers develop the language to talk about racism. The Antiracist Kitchen celebrates food as a way to foster connection and understanding, reclaim identity, and resist racism. 


2.  Yummy: A History of Desserts, Victoria Grace Elliott

With adorable illustrations and simple recipes, food sprites Peri, Fee, and Fada walk readers through the history of some of our favourite desserts in this delightful non-fiction graphic novel. Have you ever wonder how ice cream was invented? Or when donuts were first made? Yummy has all the answers! Elliott thoughtfully traces a global history of desserts, showing how they’ve travelled and changed over time. While this book is playful, it doesn’t shy away from difficult topics, addressing the role colonization has played in the development of the modern desserts. And if you are hungry for more, check out the sequel Tasty: A History of Yummy Experiments!

3. Alice Fleck’s Recipes for Disaster, Rachelle Delaney

Readers with an appetite for food history will devour this middle grade mystery that follows twelve-year-old Alice Fleck as she competes on a Victorian-themed cooking competition show. Alice’s father is a culinary historian and she has lots of experience recreating meals from the past. But when someone begins sabotaging the competition, Alice and her new friends must investigate everyone staying at the manor to find the culprit. The combination of reality TV cooking competition, culinary history, cozy mystery, and coming-of-age story make for wholly unique and charming experience and the story is peppered with well-researched information about Victorian food and culture.


4. Maizy Chen’s Last Chance, Lisa Yee

This important middle grade novel explores the history of Chinese immigration to the U.S. and the lasting impact of anti-Asian racism through the story of one family’s Chinese restaurant. Maizy spends the summer helping her grandparents at The Golden Palace, a restaurant that has been in her family for generations. When a hate crime is committed at the restaurant, Maizy learns more about the painful history of anti-Asian racism in the U.S. and the resilience of her ancestors. The story alternates between Maizy’s experience in the present and the stories her grandfather tells her about Lucky, her great-grandfather who immigrated to San Francisco in 1853. Maizy Chen’s Last Chance shows the way Chinese-American cuisine evolved through the combination of recipes Chinese immigrants brought to American with the new ingredients that were abundant in the areas where they settled. For instance, cream cheese wontons became a specialty of The Golden Palace because of the popularity of dairy in Minnesota and Yee includes a recipe so readers can try this tasty snack at home!


5. Honestly Elliott, Gillian McDunn

Full of heart and humor, this contemporary middle grade novel follows sixth-grader Elliott, an aspiring chef who gets the chance to prove himself when he takes on a baking project for school. Elliott's dad doesn’t see the value in his culinary aspirations and doesn’t understand that the kitchen is the one place Elliott, who has ADHD, feels like he can focus and be himself. Now that Elliott’s dad and stepmom are expecting a new baby, Elliott worries that he and his dad are going to grow further apart. When his class is assigned a business project that involves making and selling a product at the local community festival Elliott puts his baking skills to the test. Alongside its thoughtful depiction of ADHD, the story also addresses celiac disease and includes gluten-free recipes.

6. Measuring Up, Lily LaMotte and Ann Xu

An inspiring middle grade graphic novel about food and identity, Measuring Up follows twelve-year-old Cici as her family moves from Taiwan to Seattle. Finding it hard to fit in and feeling homesick, Cici wants more than anything for her A-má to come visit but her family cannot afford the airfare. When Cici learns about a kids’ cooking contest with a cash prize, she knows she has to win. Throughout the competition, Cici encounters food racism—from classmates who call the Taiwanese food she brings for lunch gross, to contest judges who dismiss Asian cuisines as unsophisticated—but is determined to assert herself and carve out her own path through her dishes.


7. Summer of a Thousand Pies, Margaret Dilloway

When her father’s struggles with mental illness and substance abuse render him unable to properly care for her, twelve-year-old Cady is sent to live with an aunt she’s never met. Aunt Shell and her wife live on a farm and run a pie shop which seems like a dream come true for Cady who wants to become a baker. Unfortunately, this newfound stability is hard for Cady to trust after years of homelessness and foster care. But Cady takes solace in baking and slowly develops more confidence in herself and others. Dilloway writes about these difficult issues with compassion and sensitivity to craft a moving story of healing, belonging, and baking.


8. All You Knead is Love, Tanya Guerrero

This beautiful contemporary middle grade novel also explores baking as a tool for healing. Twelve-year-old gender non-conforming Alba, is sent to live with her estranged grandmother in Barcelona while her mother works to get out of her abusive marriage. Once there, Alba discovers a passion for baking, spending her nights at a local bakery helping the owner. Through baking, Alba learns more her Spanish and Filipino heritage, gains self-confidence, and finds a chosen family. I really appreciated how this book explores the process of healing from trauma, rather than focusing on the abuse itself. The treatment of this topic is honest and sensitive, honoring the anger that Alba feels towards her mom because of their situation while still acknowledging that her mother is also a victim and that the process of leaving an abusive partner is incredibly difficult.


9. A Place at the Table, Laura Shovan and Saadia Faruqi

Told through the alternating perspectives of Sara, a Muslim Pakistani-American girl, and Elizabeth, a Jewish girl, A Place at the Table is a coming-of-age story that explores how food can connect us to our heritage and to one another. When Sara and Elizabeth are partnered during a school cooking class, food provides them with an opportunity to learn about the other’s culture, and gain the confidence and support to proudly celebrate their own heritages in a space that is often hostile to difference. Together, the pair create a unique dish with elements that celebrate both of their cultures (recipe included!). This is a beautiful contemporary middle grade book that deals with immigration, ethnocentrism, and mental health.


10. Morning Sun in Wuhan, Ying Chang Compestine

Set in Wuhan, China in 2020, this contemporary middle grade novel explores the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic though the eyes of thirteen-year-old Mei. With her father working tirelessly at the hospital, Mei spends her time in lockdown alone and turns to cooking to occupy her time. As the pandemic worsens, Mei looks for a way she can help and when she notices that her neighbors who are sick are having trouble getting food, she puts her cooking skills to use! Interspersed with recipes of the dishes Mei cooks, this timely book celebrates the importance of food and community during difficult events.

11. From the Desk of Zoe Washington, Janae Marks

Twelve-year-old Zoe Washington loves baking and is desperate to audition for the Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge. She undertakes a summer internship at a local bakery to prove to her family that she’s ready to compete. At the same time, Zoe receives a letter from her estranged father who is incarcerated and she has to cope with not only struggling to connect with a parent she does not know but one who may be guilty of a terrible crime. It is a moving story of baking, family, and racial justice, that addresses racial bias in the justice system and wrongful convictions, introducing young readers to important organizations like the Innocence Project. Readers will be eager to follow along with Zoe in the sequel On Air with Zoe Washington.


12. A Spoonful of Time, Flora Ahn

A Spoonful of Time is a beautiful book about food, family, and memory, that includes recipes interspersed throughout the novel. After she begins to experience dementia, Halmunee comes to live with Maya and her mother. Halmunee’s memory loss hasn’t affected her ability to cook and when she and Maya cook Korean dishes together, they are able to travel back in time (literally!) to Halmunee’s younger days in Seoul. The story's fantasy elements create a powerful metaphor for the way food can connect families across time and space and helps illustrate the collapse and confusion of different times experienced by those with dementia.


13. Pie in the Sky, Remy Lai

A hilarious and heartwarming illustrated middle grade novel that follows the kitchen hijinks of two brothers as they adjust to their new home in a different country. Following their father’s death, brothers Jingwen and Yanghao move with their mother to Australia. With little understanding of English, Jingwen feels isolated and turns to baking to feel connected to the home and father he has lost. The brothers set out to make all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery their father dreamed of opening. There’s just one problem: the boys aren’t allowed to use the oven. The combination of prose and comic panels make this a fun and unique read.


14. Just a Pinch of Magic, Alechia Dow

Set in the magical town of Honeycrisp Hill, this cozy autumnal story is equal parts spooky and sweet! The story is told from the perspectives of two young witches: Wini, a food enchanter whose family owns a struggling magical bakery, and Kal a word enchanter whose family recently purchased the town’s haunted bookshop. When Wini’s attempt at a love spell goes awry it attracts a sinister, shadowy presence that threatens the town. Together, the pair must team up to set things right. Not only is this book super fun but it also has wonderful LGBTQ+, mental health, and fat representation. Dow is also a former pastry chef so readers definitely won’t want to miss the recipes sprinkled throughout the book.


15. Taking Up Space, Alyson Gerber

With nuance and sensitivity, this contemporary middle grade novel addresses disordered eating through the story of twelve-year-old basketball player Sarah. As Sarah’s disorder worsens, her ability to play basketball is threatened. But when she enters a school cooking competition with her crush, she is forced to confront her troubled relationship with food and is slowly able to start healing. It can be difficult to discuss eating disorders honestly without being triggering but Gerber does an excellent job of striking the right balance. The book honors the complexity of this illness and gives insight into Sarah’s disordered thoughts and behaviors while consistently offering both Sarah and vulnerable readers a healthier, recovery-focused perspective.


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