One of my favorite genres of reading is cookbooks.
It all began when I was ten, the Christmas of 1963. My mother gave me Betty Crocker’s Cook Book for Boys and Girls, originally published in 1957 by Golden Books, illustrated by Gloria Kamen, and written by, well, Betty Crocker, of course!
A lot of cooking happened at my house. Between them, my grandparents had 22 brothers and sisters and they all came to visit throughout the year. My grandmother was a very good cook—she’d done it professionally for a doctor’s family—but she didn’t always have time or patience for teaching. My mother complained that Grandma never let her help in the kitchen. I got to help now and then, but mostly I watched. And Grandma didn’t cook out of books—it was all in her head. Or her sisters gave her recipes on cards.
Therefore, a cookbook was a novelty. Perhaps my mother was getting me ready to be the family cook, but I didn’t know that. This was a welcome gift, a curiously new kind of reading experience.
To this day, I crave a new cookbook with commentary, vignettes, family stories, and information about the ingredients. You can find a recipe online, but you can learn about life, culture, history, and adventure from a cookbook.
The people who created this book were brilliant. (I don’t want to burst your bubble if you don’t already know, but Betty Crocker was an amalgamation of people.) They created “home testers,” boys and girls who comment throughout the book, furthering the impression that every boy and girl can cook.
The recipes are simple, but tremendously creative. Strong visual elements are included to show the steps of a recipe, how you might decorate your finished work, and how you might serve it. Photos show many of the finished recipes, but I prefer the illustrations. The illustrator, Gloria Kamen, draws believable children. Today, I believe there would be children of many colors included in this book and recipes would be representative of our world cultures.
IN THE CLASSROOM
There’s a reproduction available today. You can give this as a first cookbook to your own children or grandchildren or you can use it in the classroom as an information text.
In today’s terms, there’s still decoding going on. You are reading, and it’s much better than the back of the cereal box. You are learning to follow step-by-step instructions, read expository writing, and organize your responses in a way that fiction doesn’t inspire. Cookbooks provide a set of skills that are essential for everyday life. They prepare the way for science and math texts.
Looking at this book would be a perfect paired text for Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages or Glory Be by Augusta Scattergood or The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine or Countdown by Deborah Wiles. A novel set in the 1950s or 1960s will provide a setting to discuss the food that was popular at the time.
How are the attitudes of the fictional characters echoed in the cookbook? (higher order thinking)
How has our attitude about food changed from the time this cookbook was published?
What is not in the Betty Crocker Cook Book for Boys and Girls that would be included today?
Compare the food talked about in the novel to the recipes presented in the cookbook.
This book will help you get across that reading doesn’t always have to be about stories … but everything we read adds to our knowledge and helps our understanding.
As for me, I’m making a recipe out of the Cook Book for Boys and Girls tonight. A year after I received this book for Christmas, I became the weekday cook at our house. My mom worked more than full-time … the book came in handy!
Do you have favorite cookbooks for kids? I’ll be sharing more of my own favorites in the weeks to come.