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Bentos for A Gaggle of Girls
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Unexpected Cafes in Children’s books

We loved these two books about cafes and food. Food plays a huge part in our life because we have celiac disease (we can’t eat wheat, rye, oats, & barley). I do all of our cooking, and we all enjoy reading about other people who aren’t exactly like everyone else. You might also want to check out our review of a book about a child with celiac disease.

The Peanut-free Cafe, by Gloria Koster, illustrated by Maryann Cocca-Leffler is a beautiful book. We love Maryann Cocca-Leffler’s illustrations, and have enjoyed her book, Clams All Year, every summer. The Peanut-free Cafe is a story about a boy named Simon who loves peanut butter, as do all of his friends at the Nutley school, until a new friend comes to school who is allergic to peanut butter, and explains his EpiPen (a shot disguised in a pen-like form to help if an allergic person has a severe allergy attack) and explains that he needs to eat at a table that has no peanut butter.

The first day, Grant has a peanut-free table, he sits alone. But then his new friends come up with the idea of creating a “Peanut-Free Cafe” with snacks, arts & crafts, & entertainment. Even though Simon helped come up with the idea, and he really likes Grant, he thinks he can’t give up eating peanut butter sandwiches, even to go to the cafe. Simon is a picky eater, and will only eat 4 foods – for lunch, he always has peanut butter.

After watching his friends enjoy the Peanut Free Cafe for several days, Simon loses his appetite and asks his mother for something else. She gives him chili, as she hasn’t been able to get to the supermarket. There’s a happy ending – Simon is with his friends at the table, and Grant is happy and safe with the new Peanut-Free Cafe!

The Peanut-free Cafe is a great book for kids with allergies – it’s always wonderful to see your own differences accepted in a book! It’s also a great book for kids who are going to school or camp or other activities with children who have food allergies – it helps them and their parents understand the importance of respecting allergies.

Matilda’s Humdinger by Lynn Downey and illustrated by Tim Bowers is also about a cafe with a difference, but this time it’s a Diner,not a school. Matilda is a waitress with other things on her mind, and she doesn’t always serve everyone correctly or follow all any of the rules of waitressing, but while she’s waiting tables and working at the diner, her brain is cooking up stories.

When Matilda has finished cooking up a story, she enraptures the whole diner, and business booms as the residents come in droves to hear the story. Unfortunately, the Health Inspector comes, too, and tells Matilda she needs to follow the health code. When she’s scrubbing and concentrating on her work, she can’t cook up stories, and the customers miss the old Matilda.

The stories build up in Matilda, though, so when the Health Inspector comes back, Matilda pictures him as a sheriff, and the Diner owner (Burt) hurries her off into the back room. “Before she knew it, she’d finished a whole chapter of a Western called Gone with the Blazes. She just had to hear how it sounded, so she started reading it out loud.” Meanwhile, back in the diner, two masked men start holding up the Diner, and the Health Inspector is hiding under the table as the masked men point guns at the customers and Burt. Just then, when the Diner becomes silent, they hear a voice from the back room saying, “This is Sheriff Smuckley! Put yer hands up — we’ve got you surrounded!”, and Burt tackles them. Matilda hears the scuffle and comes from the back to help out.

After Matilda and Burt saved his life, the Health Inspector is willing to tear up their citations, AND give them an entertainment license as long as Matilda finishes the story! It’s a sweet ending to a sweet (without being cloying) book. The illustrations of the different animal characters – the Health Inspector as an alligator is perfect! – are wonderful, and show perfect expressions.

All three of my girls enjoyed these two books, and I would recommend them for girls and boys ages 3-9, they are both engaging stories with fun pictures and plots.

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