Reading with children

a blog by Magic Tales

child reading

Deliciously Entertaining: The Psychology of Meals in Children’s Literature

Making Sense of Meals
When we think of popular children’s literature, dining scenes often play a pivotal role in the storyline. Whether it's Alice's mad tea-party in Alice in Wonderland or sumptuous feasts at Hogwarts in Harry Potter, meal moments serve a greater purpose in children's literature than just filling empty bellies. They are both mundane and magnificent phenomena, serving to explore deeper themes, advance plotlines, and reveal intriguing aspects of character development.

The Role of Meals in Literature
On the surface level, meal scenes in children’s literature depict aspects of everyday life, ensuring that young readers can relate. Yet, they are wonderfully versatile, providing an avenue for writers to seamlessly blend the mundane with the extraordinary. These food-focused scenes not only create a cozy and familiar setting for readers but they also open avenues for complex conversations, conflicts, and resolutions.

Food for Thought
Meal scenes provide valuable insight into different cultures and traditions, enabling readers to learn about diverse foods and eating habits. For instance, books like Esperanza Rising offer a peek into Mexican cuisine and traditions, thereby expanding children's horizons whilst cultivating cultural sensitivity.

The Power of Food in Character Development
Meals also render a sense of belonging or alienation, thereby contributing to character development. Food preferences or special dietary restrictions can paint a character as an outsider, building a sense of empathy or curiosity in young readers. For example, R.J. Palacio's Wonder showcases the protagonist's struggle for acceptance in school, heightening the emotional impact when he must eat alone.

Setting the Stage for Conflict
At other times, meals serve as the setting for pivotal life lessons and conflicts. In Roald Dahl’s Matilda, the terrifying scene where Bruce Bogtrotter is forced to consume an enormous chocolate cake provides a powerful glimpse into the sadistic nature of Miss Trunchbull and the underlying theme of child oppression.

In Celebration and Commiseration
The use of meal scenes in children’s literature is also effective in signifying celebration or consolidation. Feasts often echo victory, unity, and joy while sparse meals underscore struggle and resilience. The grand feast in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia signifies the end of the White Witch's tyrannical regime and a return to prosperity and unity.

Thus, the humble act of breaking bread in children's literature is more than about satiating hunger, it is about the subtle exploration of themes such as unity, individuality, tradition, and morality. Moreover, it offers teachers and parents insights into making reading a nourishing activity in more ways than one, making literature a delicious journey into the realms of human nature and society.

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