We mostly talk middle-grade here at From the Mixed-Up Files, but I’m also happy when I can give some attention to the little sibling of MG books, the chapter book.
Today I have the honor of visiting with author Veera Hiranandani. We discuss food, friends, and her new Phoebe. G. Green chapter book series published by Grosset and Dunlap/PSS! (an imprint of Penguin Random House).
MUF: Welcome Veera! First of all, tell us a little bit about the first book in your new Phoebe G. Green series, LUNCH WILL NEVER BE THE SAME.
VH: I’ve always been passionate about food and have tried to share that with my kids. I also know a lot of kids who are really into food and I didn’t see many books for kids celebrating that. I have seen a bunch of “picky eater” stories out there, so I wanted to create something for the kids who really love exploring food and also something to inspire the kids who are more reluctant. I had a funny, adventurous character in mind who sometimes gets herself in trouble, but ultimately learns to not only accept what makes her unique, but the differences around her. The book is as much about how Phoebe negotiates her friendships as it is about her love for food.
MUF: I love that this book is about food. Why did you decide to use food to bring together Phoebe and the new girl, Camille?
VH: Well, I’ve always admired how the French eat and how they teach their children to eat. I wish we’d do more of that in America and banish all the children’s menus! I’d rather restaurants just offer half-portions off their regular menu. If kids see over and over that they are only supposed to choose from hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken nuggets, and mac and cheese, they get the message that they’re only supposed to like those things. So it felt right to have Phoebe enter into a friendship with a child from France. That idea seemed rich with possibilities, both food and friendship related.
MUF: Yes it is, and I love how your book is full of new types of food for most American kids. Did you do a lot of taste testing yourself for research for this book?
VH: I’m always taste testing something for better or worse. Sometimes I reference dishes that we’ve enjoyed as a family and sometimes I did research on more traditional French dishes that I mention in the book (including using my editor, Eve Adler, who grew up in France as a resource). I don’t include very specific recipes in the book because I wanted it to be more about inspiration than the actual recipes. There are many amazing chefs out there who can fill in that information if someone wants to make Beef Bourguignon, Julia Child is probably a better resource than I am for that recipe!
MUF: I think it’s perfect that you introduce your readers to new foods through Phoebe. What advice can you give kids about trying new foods on their own?
VH: That it’s a life-long adventure. Also, sometimes if you don’t like something the first time, it’s good to give it a few more tries. Camille tells Phoebe in one of the books, “My mom says you taste something the first time to get to know it and then taste it again to become friends with it.”
MUF: Speaking of friends, I love that this book is also about friendship. Phoebe is navigating her old friendship with Sage while making a new friend as well. Do you have any advice for readers who are dealing with the same kinds of changes in their own friendships?
VH: Along with good food, friendship is one of our greatest pleasures in life. But friendship can be a little more complicated than a good meal. Phoebe suddenly finds herself with two close friends and has to figure out how that’s going to work for her. She usually comes to the realization that accepting her friends’ differences, being kind, and being honest is the best way to go. But she doesn’t always take the shortest route getting there. Being accepting, kind, and honest still applies in grown-up friendships too!
MUF: Before you go, can you share a little about the next book in the series, FARM FRESH FUN?
VH: I’ve found that one of the best ways to get kids to try something new is having them pick it right out of a garden or cook it themselves. It really empowers them. My kids have gobbled up vegetables they normally don’t love when they’ve picked it out of the ground. They also will eat anything they cook, even something they haven’t wanted to eat when I’ve cooked it alone. It’s so important for kids to connect with food that way. In FARM FRESH FUN, I wanted to have Phoebe experience the thrill of collecting eggs, picking her own spinach, making her own goat cheese, and creating a true farm-to-table lunch. But a day out with Phoebe is always unpredictable and her enthusiasm usually gets the best of her, as it does at the farm, especially when her best buddy, Sage, is involved.
MUF: Thank you, Veera, for sharing your books (and your love of food) with us!
Readers, Veera’s publisher is offering to give away the first two books in the Phoebe G. Green series to one lucky reader. Please leave a comment below to be considered. Only US residents are eligible. Thanks!
And Happy Eating, everyone!
Elissa Cruz eats food. And she has friends, too. She is the ARA for SCBWI Utah/Southern Idaho region and cohost of #MGlitchat on Twitter. She is happily married to her husband of 19 years, and together they live with their five children. The husband and children eat a lot food, too, and usually invite their friends along on the adventure. Life is good.