Junk Food in Picture Book Illustration

Today it’s Junk Food Friday, when we will pay tribute to those artists who elevate calories from  salt, fat, refined white sugar, bleached flour, and preservatives to the empyrean.


Sculpted sticks of Umaibo, a Japanese cheese-flavored corn snack, by Koshi Kawachi.

The post does not recommend the consumption of overprocessed food full of empty calories (also known as “cheat food”) nor will it show children eating disgusting quantities of unhealthy things out of the box with their fingers.  There will be, however, graphic depictions of artworks whose raw materials are candy, snack food, and their packaging plus some picture books in which they figure prominently. If you have high nutritional principles or no will power whatsoever, do not read any farther.

Why wouldn’t sugar be a powerful source of inspiration for artists?   It is packed with cultural significance, it can be molded and spun, and it takes color beautifully.

miss piggy-full

A candy wrapper collage by Laura Benjamin.


A candy floor art installation by Pip & Pop (Tanya Schultz).

candy corn kaleidoscope

A candy corn kaleidoscope.

As much as we admire how visual artists have exploited the tactile and sculptural qualities of junk food, it is the picture book illustrators who have realized its narrative potential.  When the hero’s father is laid off in Richard Egielski’s Jazper, he takes a three-week job house-sitting for five evil moths.  In the evenings, he passes the lonely hours reading magic books in the library.


Richard Egielski, Jazper (1998), p. 14. Private collection.

By the time the moths come home, Jazper has mastered the art of transformation and decides to hit the boards to supplement the family income.  When the moths read the great newspaper write-up of the Amazing Jazper’s act, in which he changes into anything from a pickle to a cheese doodle, they vow to take revenge for having allowed him access to the library.


Jazper the stupendous cheese doodle. Richard Egielski, Jazper (1998), p. 17. Private collection.

Or there’s Dennis Nolan’s Hunters of the Great Forest.  The reader has no idea what they might be seeking when they set out one warm night over the mountains and through the forest, braving dragonflies, toads, blue jays and irascible chipmunks.


It’s in the lower right hand corner. Dennis Nolan, Hunters of the Great Forest (2014), p. 32. Private collection.

It takes all their strength and cunning to bring the prize home to the village.


Dennis Nolan, Hunters of the Great Forest (2014), p. 34. Private collection.

Toasted on sticks in front of a roaring fire, just one marshmallow is enough to sustain the entire Lilliputian community.


Dennis Nolan, Hunters of the Great Forest (2014), p. 37. Private collection.

 It’s space aliens against a cat in David Wiesner’s Mr. Wuffles!


This doesn’t look good for our space travelers. David Wiesner, Mr. Wuffles (2013), p. 8. Private collection.

There’s no choice except to abandon ship and take refuge under the radiator, where their Brobdingnagian enemy can’t reach.  But he can sit in front of their hiding place and wait.  And wait.  And wait.


Cheese it! David Wiesner, Mr. Wuffles! (2013), p. 15. Private collection.

They take heart when the ladybug finds rations…  Not bad at all!


Don’t despair lads, we’ll outlast it… David Wiesner, Mr. Wuffles! (2013), p. 19.

Fortified by empty calories, our space aliens find the strength to confound the brute, make their way back to their space ship, and blast off towards the safety of their own galaxy somewhere far far away…

Who would have ever guessed that stories of perseverance, courage, and derring-do could hinge on  sugar and…


If sugary and starchy installations prove impossible to conserve, representations of junk food in the picture book will live on, if properly annotated.   Now pass the doughnuts.


CRUNCH, CRUNCH, CRUNCH. Meg Rosoff, Wild Boars Cook (2008). Illustrated by Sophie Blackall. Private collection.


devilfishThis alarming incident in St. Augustine, Florida, was reported in the 24 May 1879 issue of Frank Leslie’s Boys’ and Girls’ Weekly.  A slightly abridged transcription of the article follows.

“A Flying Monster: Miss Bigly’s Thrilling Adventure in Florida”

I arrived in this quaint old Spanish town a few weeks since in quest of quiet lodgings, which I desire for my own personal uses during the coming season.  There is but little life stirring within the crumbling walls of this old-time citadel; indeed, its architecture, its inhabitants and its customs properly belong to the seventeenth century and it is for one who has but recently emerged from amidst the stirring events constantly occuring in our Northern cities to consider that he is still, in the nineteenth century, within the borders of progressive America….

But to my intents.  My purpose in writing at this time is to furnish you with the details (in brief) of a very romantic, yet thrilling, incident, occurring recently to a young lady from the North, Miss Martha Bigly, who had been sojourning for some days at Olustee Bar, some eighteen miles south of this place.  The hectic flush, that sign of that dread disease, consumption, had supplanted the roseate hue of health upon her fair cheeks, and she had sought this balmy, sun-girdled clime in the hope of regaining that priceless boon–good health.

One bright sunny afternoon, while engaged in strolling along the pebbled beach, picking up fantastically-carved shells that had been washed up from the great mysterious laboratory of the sea, and listening to the waves rolling quietly upon the shore, producing sweet cadences of contentment and peace, she espied what at first appeared to her to be a beautifully-colored shell floating upon the surface of the sea.  Being protected at the feet by a pair of rubber boots, she boldly advanced into the surf and reached out her sun umbrella to aid her in securing the coveted prize, when to her utter horror, this seeming inert object suddenly became a thing of life; the shell-like appearance changed in an instant to that of a monster; long slimy claws were thrown around about a pulpy sac-like body, and with a bound it ascended into the air and hovered around the head of its intended victim.

Being momentarily stunned by the sudden transformation, and horrified by the revolting aspect of this hideous object, she did but parry its onslaughts with her umbrella, and that inconspicuously, retreating to a rock where she stood at bay until the baffled monster returned to the sea and disappeared.  So unexpected was the attack and so revolting the sight of the fish to one of her delicate frame and extreme nervous sensibilities, that it was some days afterward before she regained her wonted composure.

The fish that caused this consternation is known among scientists as the argonauta, a species of the devil-fish indigenous to the waters of the tropics, and ’tis of rare occurrence that it strays away from that latitude, at least so far north as off the coast of Florida.  The power of the propulsion through the air is a rare one with the argonauta, but it undoubtedly exists in some species.  I sent you a sketch of the thrilling incident.—Yours, Invalid.