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Book reports have always been the bread-and-butter of elementary school activities, right up there with recess and talent shows. Oftentimes, though—as endearing as they are—book report day needs a little something extra to keep fellow students engaged and attentive. Just short of pyrotechnics, there’s no better way to capture a youngster’s attention than with (what else?) food. That’s why, for my third-grade book report on Roald Dahl’s The Twits, I made a replica of Mr. Twit’s head (and notoriously crumb-filled beard) out of mashed potatoes, a couple of olives, some hot dogs and a whole bunch of pretzel sticks. It was, as you might imagine, a weird, messy hit.
But this creation wasn’t just something my eight-year-old mind dreamed up. No, it was a recipe found in what I now consider one of the greatest cookbooks for children: Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes. Inspired by Dahl’s famed stories, written by Dahl’s widow, Felicity, and published in 1982, this almost 40-year-old cookbook (complete with classic Quinten Blake illustrations) is the perfect children’s-literature-meets-the-kitchen crossover that every parent should keep on their shelf.
Getting kids into the kitchen and helping them learn the ropes is a goal of many parents who hope to set up their youngsters not just for a lifetime of culinary self-sufficiency (A.K.A. not relying on delivery for every meal) but a true appreciation for cooking as both art and science. What better way to foster that relationship than by bringing their favorite storybook characters into the mix?
Each recipe from Revolting Recipes is for a food—always silly, mostly with trippy names—from a Dahl book, so the connection between reading and cooking is easy to spot. There’s “lickable wallpaper” and “hair toffee to make hair grow on bald men” from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; “Snozzcumbers” from The BFG; “Fresh mudburgers” from James and the Giant Peach and more. The recipes have varying degrees of difficulty—some requiring parental help, some are mostly doable on their own—which ensures opportunities for budding chefs to both learn and let their independence shine. (There’s even a follow-up book, Roald Dahl’s Even More Revolting Recipes, in case you burn through recipes in the first book too quickly.)
Children’s books like those written by Dahl are beacons of imagination, playfulness and creativity: all qualities that also make cooking a delight. The ability to spark a child’s imagination at a young age—through both reading and cooking—will ensure a delicious life, both inside and outside the kitchen.