By Patrick Ryan, Education Specialist Alaska Botanical Garden
As I was going through our children’s book collection recently here at the Garden, I was reminded of two of my favorite stories that seem to fit the season. November is the beginning of the holiday season around the world, and a time of feasting. Many countries have similar festivities involving family, food, candles, gifts etc. It’s a good time to slow down, think about how people lived a hundred years ago, and to be thankful for the many things we enjoy. Thinking back to the original homesteaders throughout history, and here in Alaska, we should be thankful for the skills that have been passed down. I’m going to suggest a couple of children’s books that will help us to understand where our food comes from and how people used to rely on themselves to make many everyday items.
The first is Pancakes, Pancakes by Eric Carle. In this story young Jack wakes up hungry, and asks his mother to make a big pancake for him. But first, his mother needs a few things: flour, an egg, milk, etc. Where do all these things come from? Jack goes to the source for each item and eventually gets his breakfast. Nothing instant in the old days!
Eric Carle’s bright collage illustrations make the story come alive as all the ingredients are assembled.
In the classroom, I used to have a pancake breakfast as a culminating activity after reading this book.
The second story is The Ox-Cart Man by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Clooney.
“In October he backed his ox into his cart and he and his family filled it up with everything they made or grew all year long that was left over.” All the goods are taken to market and sold. Several new items are bought for the family to be used for making more goods for themselves, and the extra to be sold next year. So the cycle begins again.
Both these stories take us back to a simpler time, when hard work was the rule, and the pace of life was much slower. People had to be self-reliant. Before refrigeration, food had to be dried, canned, salted, smoked or pickled. How many of us do these things today?
These books are both classics in children’s literature and should be available on-line or at your local bookstore. You can find a video on-line of someone reading the books aloud too.