Ten Tempting Treats in books
Published on: 17 July 2023
Author Lorraine Gregory shares her favourite snack-filled books.
Ever since the Gingerbread House first appeared in fairy tales children’s stories have been chock full of delicious food and it’s really not surprising! Apart from the fact food is a hugely appealing topic for children, describing different foods can play a very important part in world-building, helping to bring history, reality or fantasy to life.
My very first memory of wanting to eat something I read about in a book was one of Silky’s Pop Cakes in Enid Blyton’s 'The Magic Faraway Tree' –swiftly followed by the chocolate cake, toffees and lashings of ginger beer in her Famous Five books.
Then there was the eponymous Turkish Delight in 'The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe' by C.S. Lewis' which hugely appealed to me, so delicious did it sound. I was however convinced that I would never be tempted by it like the traitorous Edward!
Of course, no one could write about snacks in children’s books without mentioning 'Charlie and the Chocolate Factory' by Roald Dahl. What child doesn’t want to imagine a factory full of marvellous sweets and chocolate? All with names that make them sound even MORE tempting – like the everlasting Gobstopper or a Whipple Scrumptious Fudge Mallow Delight! The whole dynamic in the book works so well because this amazing fantasy food world is juxtaposed by Charlie’s poverty-stricken background and the daily meals of endless watery cabbage soup. When Willy Wonka serves Charlie a cup of chocolate from the river you can almost feel it sliding down his throat and filling his empty belly.
Boarding school books were a big favourite of mine growing up, possibly because of the decadent midnight feasts the students were always having in 'Malory Towers',also by Enid Blyton. Even though they featured foods like pork pies, sardines and tinned pineapple which are not, in retrospect, very appealing AT ALL, the midnight feasts provided that delicious hint of rebellion, the camaraderie of secret nighttime adventures and the wonderful bonding experience of sharing food with friends that still makes me long to have one of my own!
I’m very pleased that there are now some more recent boarding school offerings and, as is proper, they also feature excellent snacks!
The 'Murder Most Unladylike series' by Robin Stevens offers up the marvellously named Squashed Fly Biscuits to her dazzling detective team of Daisy Wells and Hazel Wong.
'Libby and the Parisian Puzzle'by Jo Clarke features a delightful travelling school setting down in France for some mystery-solving and a side order of delicious bread, cheese, hot croissants and a few macarons to finish things off!
It would be impossible to forget the 'Harry Potter' series and the incredible magical sweets on offer like the actual jumping Chocolate Frogs and the rather risky Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, plus the delicious sounding Butter Beer. Many of which are now actually available to buy and consume! Something I could never have even imagined as a child.
Moving on from boarding schools, Lesley Parr does a fabulous job of capturing childhood adventures from the past. In Where the River Takes Us, we visit my own childhood era of the super 70s and relive the deliciousness of white bread sandwiches filled with chips or fish fingers and the joy of buying a quarter of your favourite sweets at the corner shop and watching them weigh them out from enormous glass jars. Cola cubes for me please!
I also need to mention Alice Eclair, Spy Extraordinaire by Sarah Todd Taylor which features a talented baker who rustles up the most delicious patisserie while also using her impressive skills to solve crime. It’s just such a clever combination!
So many of these books bring back memories, excite senses, whet appetites and basically drive you to find your own usually far more mundane snacks to keep you going while you dream wistfully about the enticing offerings in the story.
From an author’s point of view there’s so much useful information that can be gleaned from the snacks we put on offer in our books – whether food is plentiful or limited, how it is served, where it comes from, whether it’s real or imaginary, appealing or repulsive, (check out the disgusting Snozcumbers in The BFG by Roald Dahl!) expensive or cheap, a bribe or a reward. It’s a perfect, quick and easy way for us to add important detail without overloading the tale with backstory or info dumps.
And from a plot point of view there’s a lot to be said for allowing your characters to stop for a snack, take a break from all their adventures and give them a chance to recover from the peril you’ve put them in!
Unfortunately, writing about food usually makes the author pretty hungry too and can lead to many trips to the kitchen cupboard/fridge for important supplies to keep us going.
Clearly food will always be an important feature in children’s books and I personally love both reading and writing about it. My latest characters have a strong affinity for biscuits, crisps AND sweets so I was forced to sample all of these while writing for research purposes. Just one of the many sacrifices authors make for their art!
In fact, even writing this article has made me decidedly peckish….
'Interdimensional Explorers' by Lorraine Gregory, illustrated by Jo Lindley, is out now.