Today, !5th May, is world Family Day.
Sharing this post which I had written for The Bookwallis Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/thebookwallis
'When I hear the word FOOD, I cannot help but think FAMILY!!'
Some of my favourite memories of time spent with family, is centered around food.
Sitting around a food laden table, sharing stories about the food, the recipes, the people whose ‘specials’ those dishes are, how the dishes were created in ‘the old days’ before modern appliances...is a wonderful way to keep culture and traditions alive.
I love sitting around our Christmas table, sharing stories about Christmases past, the award winning cake of one Aunt, the absolutely terrible culinary creations of another, and the efforts of our family members to keep the traditions alive. From the pre-Christmas ‘timetable’ chalked up to schedule the preparation of 16 varieties of sweets made in our house to the packing of these home-made delicacies for friends, family and neighbours. From staying up late after Christmas midnight mass, opening our presents while gorging on traditional cakes, sweets, and hot chocolate, along with newer traditions introduced over the years, like my now ‘world famous mince pies’, along with those from Harrods brought over by my fancy London sister...to waking up early to knead the dough for our traditional fried bread called ‘fugias’, to prepping the suckling pig to be sent to the bakery to bake in the huge wood fired ovens.
Families have gathered for time immemorial to eat together, to socialise, to celebrate. As we gather, we pass along recipes and food traditions to the next generation. Food connects us, and its preparation and consumption are activities that can bridge members of multiple generations. Food is a big part of our cultural identities, it is also one of the ties that binds us together.
Good food has a way of bringing families together, and anytime families gather—even to eat—family history is made. So, whether we realise it or not, our family food traditions are part of our family history.
This especially rings true today, in a world that is increasingly keeping us away from extended family, as we move out of our hometowns, for jobs or a better life.
"Food is not rational. Food is culture, habit, craving and identity." - Jonathan Safran Foer
I instantly connected with these first two books, with similar instances in my own family…
1. WE HAD A PICNIC THIS SUNDAY PAST by Jaqueline Woodsen
A wonderful picture book about a family’s potluck picnic in the park. Each character brings something to the table, literally...food or humour or charm. From prank playing cousins, to the family Casanova, to each family member's special dish...this book, like any family gathering, gently highlights the do’s and don’ts unique to each of our families. The cousin who comes empty handed, is frowned upon...highlighting the importance of not going empty handed to a gathering. While one cousin whose apple pie is always dry, is missed when she is late to the picnic and the mention of her pie is handled with much tact by Grandma, demonstrating to the young ones how to be honest, yet not hurt anyone's feelings.
Extension Activities: A class/ group potluck A picnic with each one bringing in a special from their own homes, the story behind the dish and the recipe to share (optional)
2. DON’T LET AUNTY MABEL BLESS THE TABLE by Vanessa Brantly Newton
As a large extended family gathers at Aunt Mabel’s house for Sunday dinner, they can’t wait to dig into the delicious meal she has prepared. But they need patience, oh so much patience, as she needs to pray and give thanks before everyone can dig in. But what happens when the prayer goes on and on and on? I love this book for all the idiosyncrasies of family members. A fun and endearing read, and I’m sure, even if praying before a meal is not in the readers culture, they will be able to relate this story to other quirks of family members. (I identify with this one in my family, as one particular family member, overcome with being together with the entire family will pray for all eternity and then shed tears of joy, much to the confusion of the children present.)
Extension activities: Character sketch. Children can share about family members by writing a ‘character sketch’ about one of their favourite (or least favourite) family members.
3. A PLACE FOR ELIJAH by Kelly Easton Reuben
As Sarah's family prepares for Passover, Sarah makes sure to save a chair at the table for the prophet Elijah, laying an extra place setting for him, as is the tradition. However as they sit down to their Passover Seder, they notice that the power has gone off across the street, and worry about how their neighbours will cope in the cold weather. As the parents narrate the story of Moses and how the Jewish people escaped from slavery to the promised land, they hear a knock at the door. It is their neighbour from across the road, they invite her in and offer her the extra place already kept ready for the prophet, explaining the significance for each dish on the seder plate. Each time a new visitor pops by, the family welcomes them, sharing their food and stories. With every new visitor, Sarah sets another place for Elijah. As she sets the 10th chair at the table...she is worried, will Elijah come before yet another visitor, because they don’t have any more chairs in the house. ( I love this wonderful tradition of leaving a place for the Prophet Elijah)
Extension Activity: A celebrations and customs project. Each child can choose to highlight a certain festival or celebration from their families. It could be festivals, birthdays, death anniversaries, weddings, or achievements. These sharing's could be put together in a book for children to browse through in the classroom or converted to a printable e-book to share with each child.
4. AUNTY YANG’S GREAT SOYA BEAN PICNIC by Ginnie Lo
In this beautiful book which seems to be drawn from true events, two Chinese-American sisters, try to keep their traditions alive as they bring their families together each year, sharing tales of family members back home in China, while making and eating their traditional family dishes. “Mama said she wanted us cousins to grow up ‘as close as four soybeans in a soybean pod.’” One summer as the two families go for a drive, Auntie Yang spots a soya bean farm in the middle of a row of corn fields, starting a new tradition...the Annual Soya Bean picnic, bringing Chinese-American families together to share their heritage, food and stories. This is a story that highlights the importance of traditions and get-togethers, in helping us build a sense of identity when far from home.
5. BEE-BIM-BOP by Linda Sue Park
6. POP-POP AND ME and A RECIPE by Irene Smalls
Two books perfect for the youngest listener to highlight food and families. Bee-Bim-Bop is a wonderful rhythmic text which takes us through the preparation of this traditional Korean dish by a mother and daughter, who proudly serve it to the rest of the family.
‘Pop-Pop and Me’ is filled with onomatopoeia, making it a fun, sound filled read! This is a beautiful story of a grand-pa and grandson as they bake together.
Both books emphasising family bonding, while cooking together.
A few more books featuring food and families:
Macher Jhol by Richa Jha, illustrated by Sumanta Dey
Thukpa for All by Prabha Ram and Sheila Preuitt, illustrated by Shilpa Ranade
Head Curry by Mohammed Khadeer Babu
Mazoo Mazoo by Sandhya Rao, illustrated by Srividhya Natarajan
Noon Chai and a Story by Aditi Rao, illustrated by Ghazal Qadri
The Grand Chapati Contest by Asha Nehemiah, illustrated by Chetan Sharm
Traditions connect us to our roots and as parents, we are responsible for passing them to our children, along with offering them opportunities of their own to make new memories with their grandparents.
As educators, by offering our students books about family and their food traditions, we may prompt them to get stories from their grandparents, encouraging communication across generations. This exchange of traditions, memories and the accompanying emotions, expose children to the range within our own country itself, while deepening their sense of identity and instilling pride about their own. While the food, the preparation and the celebrations may be different, the underlying emotions remain the same.
"Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people eat together."..Guy Fieri
SEL competencies: Self awareness, social awareness and relationship skills