I’m not going to pretend I have reluctant readers. I don’t. I wake in the morning to kids reading on the couch and I catch kids pretending to use the bathroom after bedtime but really sneaking in extra book time. My little angels can make a power play like the best of us, though, and if they know I want to read something specific (cough*poetry*cough), they may politely refuse just to be contrary. And now that they can both read basically anything they want by themselves, I’m not quite as indispensable as I once was.
These cases call for desperate measures, and I have been known to resort to bribing in the cause of good literature and quality family time. I feel no shame. If you, too, are willing to lower your ethical standards to expand your children’s literary horizons, here are my proven methods:
- The Blatant Bribe: This one is simple and works 100% of the time. Simply say, “Whoever wants to read with me may grab a lollipop from the candy bin!” Your children will trip over themselves to get at the forbidden candy. The secret is to offer something long-lasting, to allow them to eat it on the couch (gasp!), and make clear that the treat is totally transactional. As long as you start reading quickly, they’ll eventually be so hooked on the books that it will be absolute Greek tragedy when you have to, you know, stop reading so you can make dinner or something unreasonable like that.
- The Subtle Bribe: Whip out your Trader Joe’s chocolate croissants, your homemade cookies (if you’re feeling fancy), a mug of hot cocoa, anything that smells divine. When your littles follow their noses to the kitchen table, immediately whip out the book and start reading. Don’t announce. Don’t ask for opinions. While their mouths are full of warm, sweet goodness, dive deep into the book. They will likely stay glued without you having to acknowledge your trickery.
- The Force Feeding: As stated before, I parent early risers. For this and other reasons, our family dinner is a 6:45a family breakfast. This means that I fly solo at dinner time, and sometimes we three larks are just a hot mess at 5:30PM. Instead of micromanaging their manners failures or making some floundering attempt at “how was your day,” or “what made you sad/mad/glad,” I pull out our dinnertime book box, full of poetry and nonfiction and sometimes historical fiction. So many books my children would never have read on their own time have been absolutely loved over plates of grilled cheese or curry. This is also the one and only place my children have managed to memorize poetry. When I hear one of them recite, “The bee is not afraid of me,” I suddenly care a lot less how they hold their fork. But if your readers aren’t hiding books in the bathroom closet, you don’t have to pull out the hard stuff at dinner. This is absolutely a perfect time to introduce something with a fast moving plot or something to make them giggle, and I definitely do that, too. One more positive about the force feeding method – no sugar is required. This method is approved for all you rockstar parents with children who think a fresh peach is dessert. I am not of your kind, clearly, but I admire you from afar. From very, very afar.
Now that you are armed with the tools you need to bribe your children, here are some lovely food-themed books to pair with your snack or meal:
Eddie’s Kitchen and How to Make Good Things to Eat by Sarah Garland
Was there ever a cozier, more quotable children’s book? We Asbys will often say, “But Eddie knew what to do!” or “What a floury little fairy princess you are,” and immediately we love each other more. Extra points if you read this one with a British accent.
I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child
This one is absolutely hilarious and as a plus, convinced my daughter to try “green drops from Greenland.”
Another story of a sibling and a reluctant vegetable eater, beautifully imagined and illustrated.
Bebe Goes Shopping by Susan Middleton Elya and Steven Salerno is the only bilingual book about which my youngest did not yell, “No Spanish!” when she was in her English-only phase. It’s funny, musical and cheerfully illustrated, and definitely one of my favorites for introducing new Spanish words.
Max Explains Everything: Grocery Store Expert by Stacy McAnulty and Deborah Hocking
Speaking of cheerful illustrations, this one is a delight. It even features a little potty humor, so you know it’s a win even for the older kids.
Can I Eat That? by food critic Joshua David Stein and Julia Rothman is silly nonfiction, which is the very best kind.
A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall
Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall working together on the same book? I knew I was in heaven before I opened this one and I was not disappointed. Light enough for my kindergartener and heavy enough for my third-grader, inclusive and diverse, perfectly written and illustrated, I can’t say enough good things about this one. Definitely make your own blackberry fool from the recipe in the back. Unless you are a rockstar vegan, of course.
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin and Daniel Salmieri
Perfectly hilarious, whether your kids like spicy salsa or not.
Please, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony
Great for the youngest of readers, and it features donuts. Asby family win for sure.
A is for Artichoke is a board book, and even my kids, who are way past the alphabet book stage, enjoyed going through to see if they had tried all the foods in the book. This is great for parents who are reading to a toddler and an elementary-schooler and are struggling to find common ground.
Speaking of those older kids, you can whip out James and the Giant Peach or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the Clementine series, the last of which is not about food at all really, but her name is Clementine, so I think it counts. The series collection is even called “A Box of Clementines.”
My maybe favorite food book is this memoir in disguise as a cookbook by Jenny Rosenstrach. It’s an oldie but a goodie. I also loved It’s Not About the Broccoli and French Kids Eat Everything.
What are your favorite food-featuring reads??