Junk Food in Picture Books

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

Today we pay tribute to those artists who elevate calories from  salt, fat, refined white sugar, bleached flour, and preservatives to the empyrean.  The post does not recommend the consumption of over processed 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

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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!

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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.

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

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

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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…

ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE [VITAMIN B1], RIBOFLAVIN [VITAMIN B2], FOLIC ACID), SOYBEAN AND PALM OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS, WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, SKIM MILK CHEESE (SKIM MILK, WHEY PROTEIN, CHEESE CULTURES, SALT, ENZYMES, ANNATTO EXTRACT FOR COLOR), CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS …

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.

 

2 thoughts on “Junk Food in Picture Books

    • Cotsen only has the books, not the examples of junk-food inspired art. They are there to provide some perspective…
      Andrea Immel

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