Wondering how to teach kids to eat better, especially during the holidays? Books can be a great way to tell the stories of food, farmers, and food and agriculture workers across the globe.Schools around the world are striving to teach kids the importance of eating nutritious, sustainably produced food through visits to farms, hands-on cooking lessons, and interactive school gardens. This education can start and be further enriched at home through books with food and nutrition topics and farming and agriculture themes.
This holiday season, consider giving a gift that nourishes children’s inquisitiveness and encourages their creativity and participation in building healthier food systems. Food Tank has compiled a list of 25 children’s books that can help stimulate food and agriculture awareness across all ages. From learning about where food comes from and the hardworking hands that grow it, to the importance of vibrant ecosystems, to cultural food diversity, these books will make great gifts for hungry young minds.
1. Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root
A box, a bucket, a boot, or a pan, this book teaches children that almost anything can be turned into a “farm” for green, growing things. With rhyming text and colorful illustrations depicting a diverse group of young farmers, Anywhere Farm assures aspiring green thumbs that all they need is soil, sunshine, some water, and a seed.
2. Bee & Me by Alison Jay
This wordless picture book follows a young girl on a journey of ecological discovery, presenting actions that children can take to aid in conservation. An afterword describes the plight of the dwindling honeybee population and suggests plants that readers can grow to help bee populations.
3. Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson
Before food makes it to the grocery store or our plates, many people work very hard: plowing, planting, harvesting, milking, egg gathering, packing and weighing crates, driving delivery trucks, and cashiering at the grocery store. This book is a celebration of all the workers involved in getting food from the ground to the table.
4. Bread Lab! by Kim Binczewski
Iris likes to help her Aunt Mary, a plant scientist, by collecting leaves and seeds for her lab. But now they’re experimenting with something new—baking bread. This picture book captures the science and fun of breadmaking as Iris discovers the ingredients, process, and flavor of baking homemade bread.
5. Chirri & Chirra, In the Tall Grass by Kaya Doi
Identical Japanese twins Chirri and Chirra shrink to the size of insects when they ride their bicycles into a patch of tall grass. Their tale presents to children the connections between food and nature through an up-close view of the lives of small creatures. They come across friendly, hardworking bumblebees and beetles, sharing honey sponge cake and freshly squeezed mixed-leaf juice.
6. Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for the Earth by Mary McKenna Siddals
This book provides a rhyming alphabetical recipe for making successful compost, from apple cores to zinnia heads. Its colorful, collage-style illustrations utilize recyclable items such as newspaper and fabric scraps. An author’s note presents lesser-known items that make good compost—like laundry lint—and closes with a “Chef’s Note” cautioning young environmental chefs about compost to
do’s and don’ts.
7. Eco Warriors to the Rescue! by Tania McCartney
Banjo, Matilda, and Ned go on an adventure into the Australian native landscape, learning the best ways to care for Australia’s flora. The three friends share tips to protect the landscape and battle enemies that threaten the environment such as litter and pollution. Included is a double spread devoted to the floral emblems for each Australian state and territory, and another that outlines Australian Native Birth Flowers.
8. First Book of Sushi by Amy Wilson Sanger
This rhyming ode to Japanese cuisine introduces young readers to traditional Japanese ingredients and dishes, from pickled ginger to temaki. Dishes are illustrated in bright patterns and textured, mixed-media collages. The book is part of the author’s World Snacks series for toddlers, which also includes titles Yum Yum Dim Sum and ¡Hola! Jalapeño.
9. Food and Farming (Geography for Fun) by Pam Robson
Food and Farming provides interactive projects for young geographers to examine where food comes from and how it’s produced. Simple, fun projects illustrate how soil and climate affect food production, how food is transported around the world, and how intensive farming can affect wildlife. Filled with concepts to explore, such as what lives in soil and what foods are made from, this book will help enhance children’s knowledge of the food system.
10. Gaia Girls Enter the Earth by Lee Welles
Showing that saving the environment can be very personal, this story follows Elizabeth and her family’s small organic farm, which is threatened by the takeover of a large corporate factory farm. The spirit of the earth, Gaia, contacts Elizabeth and helps to unleash her power over land and to hear the living soil to help save her farm. The book is followed by Gaia Girls Way of Water.
11. In the Garden by Green Start Series
Part of the Green Start series, In the Garden teaches young children about healthy foods to grow, and how these foods will help grow them into healthy humans. With very simple text and illustrations suitable for preschoolers, this book teaches children the basics of a healthy diet.
12. It’s Milking Time by Phyllis Alsdurf
It’s Milking Time tells the story of a young girl who lives on a dairy farm. Every morning and every evening, she helps her father milk the cows and care for the calves. This book explains how the work on a dairy farm never stops, and details the journey of milk from the young girl’s farm to the world beyond—other families will buy their milk, butter, and cheese at stores and farmers’ markets across the country.
13. Mama Miti: Wangari Maathai and the Trees of Kenya by Donna Jo Napoli
This book is part fiction, part biography of Wangari Muta Maathai, known as “Mama Miti,” who in 1977 founded the Green Belt Movement and was the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. The story follows Mama Miti as she works to revitalize a deforested Kenya and teaches communities the many values that planting trees provides, from providing food and wood to combatting soil erosion.
14. Over and Under the Pond by Kate Messner
A companion to the acclaimed picture books Over and Under the Snow and Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt, this book details the plants and animals found in mountain ponds. It reveals a rich, interconnected ecosystem where fish, amphibians, animals, and birds lay eggs, build nests, and store food. Inquisitive young readers can access additional information about these animals, including whirligig beetles, red-winged blackbirds, and river otters, in the glossary.
15. Our School Garden! by Rick Swann
Michael starts his first day in a new school in a new city and is feeling all alone—until he discovers the school garden. He discovers not just how vegetables grow throughout the year but how friendships and community can grow from a garden. The book, written in verse, also features sidebars on many aspects of school gardening, from companion planting to harvesting, and includes a resource page.
16. Rachel Carson and Her Book that Changed the World by Laurie Lawlor
This book celebrates the life of Rachel Carson and her seminal work, Silent Spring. It describes her love for nature as a child, her fight to carve a place for herself as a woman scientist, and her work documenting the effects of insecticides on bird and animal life. An epilogue elaborates on the significance of Silent Spring.
17. Sow and Grow: A Gardening Book for Children by Tina Davis
Sow and Grow provides a year’s worth of indoor-gardening playtime ideas, all linked to seasonal celebrations and changes. The book acquaints children with the basics of plant biology, teaching them the meanings of words like “fruit” and “flower” and explaining the roles of light, air, and water in plants’ development. Each activity is described in child-friendly language and parents are encouraged to participate.
18. The Forest in the Clouds by Sneed B. Collard III
The Forest in the Clouds explores the unique ecosystem of the Monte Verde cloud forest in Costa Rica. Young readers can learn about rare creatures and plants unique to the cloud forest, which is home to more than 300 different types of birds, 500 species of butterflies, and countless insects. A glossary, a guide to further reading, and links to websites are provided for further information about saving the cloud forests.
19. The Garden of Happiness by Erika Tamar
Set in a littered lot in New York’s Alphabet City, this story follows young Marisol as she watches her neighbors transform the lot into an urban community garden. Neighbors plant their favorite flowers and foods, representing their diverse cultural diets. Pining to grow something, too, Marisol plants a seed she finds on the sidewalk, waters it faithfully, and waits for it to grow.
20. The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway
Based on the real story of the “good farm” movement underway in Honduras, this book centers on a struggling farming family and their journey to growing enough food to meet their needs. When her father leaves home to find work, 11 year-old Mar starts to apply the sustainable farming practices she learns at school, such as terracing, composting, and companion planting, to her family farm. The book includes information about the real families and teacher behind this story, as well as resources and suggestions for getting involved in gardening or supporting global food security.
21. The Perfectly Wonky Carrot by Chris Newman
Tap Carrotsworth, a crooked-looking carrot, enters a beauty contest and proves that wonky fruits and vegetables are still nutrient-rich, healthy, and delicious. The story promotes positive body image and less wasteful consumption practices, highlighting the food industry’s unsustainable cosmetic standards. Five percent of the book’s sales go to food waste charities in the United Kingdom.
22. Tortilittas Para Mamá and Other Nursery Rhymes by Margot C. Griego, Betsy L. Bucks, Sharon S. Gilbert, Laurel H. Kimball
Tortillas Para Mamá is a bilingual collection of Spanish and Latin American nursery rhymes that have been preserved through oral tradition and passed on from generation to generation. The rhymes represent different aspects of Latin American culture, including cooking and food traditions. Many rhymes come with instructions for accompanying finger plays or other activities.
23. Uno’s Garden by Graeme Base
Uno’s Garden is a blend of storybook, puzzle, and numbers book, set in an exotic forest full of fantasy animals. As Uno builds his home in the forest, it quickly expands to a village and finally a polluted city devoid of animals and plants, except for those preserved in Uno’s garden. The book delves into ecological themes such as extinction, overpopulation, and the delicate balance of nature, as Uno teaches his children how to preserve and regenerate the flora and fauna of the forest.
24. Why Do We Need Bees? by Katie Daynes
In this lift-the-flap book, young children can explore questions such as “Why do bees visit flowers? How do bees carry nectar? What are drone bees?” Providing an introduction to the world of bees, this book aims to spark conversation and encourage children and parents to help bee populations.
25. Zora’s Zucchini by Katherine Pryor
After planting and tending to a dozen free zucchini plants, Zora is thrilled with her bountiful crop, and Zora’s family enjoys zucchini in many creative ways. But there is more zucchini than her family can possibly eat, so Zora starts a Garden Swap and trades her zucchini for other home-grown produce. This story reveals the benefits of gardening, healthy eating, and community food shares, as well as encourages donating, preserving, and sharing extras from the garden.
(Danielle Nierenberg is the President, Food Tank, <firstname.lastname@example.org>)