On a hot day in September, I gathered up my two-year-old daughter and took her to one of Berkeley’s most important places for young eaters: the Edible Schoolyard. While my daughter was busy smashing juicy figs into her face and chasing chickens across the lawn, I tuned my ears to Alice Waters, the pioneering chef of Chez Panisse. We were there to celebrate the release of Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious, a new biographical children’s book by Jacqueline Briggs Martin that traces Alice’s journey to a life of good, healthy food.
Waters founded the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School 20 years ago and since then the project has cultivated knowledge of and appreciation for fresh fruits and veggies among hundreds of young eaters. As a testament to the Edible Schoolyard’s–and Waters’–important role in promoting a more nutritious food system, University of California President Janet Napolitano announced the launch of the U.C. Global Food Initiative among the site’s lush gardens earlier this year.
Back at the book launch, I noticed my little one didn’t care that we were in the presence of an icon–she was far more interested in eating sweet fruit from the vine and playing in the garden. She was simply doing all the things adults we intellectualize and theorize and discuss.
Watching my daughter reminded me that teaching kids about healthy food should fit into their daily lives–as part of their bedtime story routines, for instance. Readers to Eaters, the publishing company behind Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious, has a growing lexicon of books that offer kids the right balance of fun language and whimsical illustration to pique their interest in food, with titles such as Our School Garden!, Sylvia’s Spinach, or the just-released, A Moose Boosh.
In Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious, Jacqueline Briggs Martin paints a vivid picture of Waters’ life, drawing from biographies and cookbooks. The book starts by telling kids that Waters is not your average protagonist: “Some people want new red shoes. Some want to sing on stage or play basketball. Chef Alice Waters wants every kid in the country to come with her on the trip to Delicious. She wants the hungry kids, the happy kids, the tall kids, the short kids to have a delicious lunch–every day.”
Martin leads us through Waters’ life story, weaving in tidbits about her own childhood and memorable, kid-friendly images: “When [Alice]she was three years old, she wore food–a lettuce-leaf skirt, radish bracelets, a necklace of strawberries, a crown of asparagus–and won first prize in a costume contest.”
The trip from the book’s title is a sojourn to France that Waters took in college, where she “learned wonderful food was like a symphony that woke people up.” That life-changing experience sets up the story the rest of us know. Inspired by her experience in France, Waters came home to the U.S. and started cooking with high-quality, fresh local produce.
This discovery of local foods led Waters to open Chez Panisse and eventually the Edible Schoolyard, both of which allow her to share the joys of healthy eating with others. The book captivates readers with side notes, encircling quotes, tips and fun facts that fill in much of the back story of Waters’ journey.
Of course, any good children’s book is only as good as its pictures and Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious is filled with beautiful imagery. The person behind them is Hayelin Choi, an illustrator and textile designer based in Queens, New York. Her impressive children’s book debut captures young Alice’s rosy cheeks, bursting market baskets, tables full of friends, and gardens galore.
At the end of the book, Waters herself addresses her readers with a simple list of guidelines for enthusiastic eaters, both young and old:
- Grow your own food.
- Taste and taste again.
- Always eat in season.
- If your plate is too full, it is hard to taste.
- Cook with your friends!
Alice Waters and the Trip to Delicious is an engaging and delightful read. But beyond simply telling a great story, the book reminds us that what we read to our children has a lasting effect–shouldn’t we use that opportunity to deliver a strong message?