When you’re a kid, you’re asked again and again if you know the muffin man. You’re taught to play “steal the bacon,” you’re coached through the names of the farm animals and their nutritional byproducts, and above all you’re told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The message comes from parents, teachers, cereal boxes, yogurt commercials. But if the simple act of eating breakfast, any breakfast, is character-building, then why doesn’t everyone mature into a routine of buttered toast and betterment every single morning? All sorts of authorities may encourage breakfast, but children’s literature delves into the nuance of breakfast styles. Here are breakfast values a few classic children’s authors have inculcated in our youth.
Dr. Seuss: Food-supply moralist
We all know how Dr. Seuss’ beginning-reader classic Green Eggs and Ham goes. Sam-I-am has a major aversion to the title food until he gets over himself and tries it. Easy little-kid moral: Don’t be a picky eater. But Green Eggs and Ham is not the only Seussian fable about egg breakfast—less well-known is the lengthier, more sophisticated Scambled Eggs Super! Master scrambler Peter T. Hooper begins the book by scoffing at the dull hen’s egg and continues in what can only be described as a homage to all the moralistic buzzwords of high cuisine.
In an anti factory-farming move, Hooper seeks out fowl like the Moth-Watching Sneth and the Grickly Gactus—clearly heritage species—in their natural habitats. But he doesn’t do this alone; he calls on respectful free-trade partnerships from around the globe. There is “Brave Ali from Mt. Strookoo Cuckoo,” “some fellows from Zummz,” a few “friends from Fa-Zoal, 10 miles or so just beyond the North Pole.” When all is said and done, Hooper’s scramble fills up 99 smarmy pans.
Eric Carle: Farm-to-table
Eric Carle’s Pancakes, Pancakes is clearly the book that the locavore breakfast set was raised on. When ruddy country boy Jack wakes wanting pancakes, he needs to go to the source for just about every ingredient. He cuts the wheat, separates the grain, hangs out with the miller while it’s ground, gathers the eggs, milks the cow, churns the butter, and builds a fire. Luckily for him and for anyone reading to an impatient small child, he does not also need to tap maple trees. Instead he hits the cellar for a jar of homemade jam that he and his mother labored over at another very protracted breakfast.
Tomie dePaola: Freegan
A few years ago, I sat down to brunch with a crust-punk who ordered a mimosa while waiting for the next table to vacate so he could raid their plates for scraps. This book presents the selective freeganism familiar to my friend. Pancakes for Breakfast starts with the same morning craving as Eric Carle’s Pancakes, Pancakes, but diverges pretty fast and pretty far. Although the main character takes a few steps toward making herself a meal, when her pets knock over her ingredients while she is out buying maple syrup she does not persevere. Instead, she smells a nice batter-y aroma from the house next door, heads over, and makes herself at home. Aside from the pancake recipe to which our character refers at the beginning of the story, the only words in the entire book are a cross-stitching pictured on the final page: “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” Also a motto that applies to dumpster diving.
Robert McCloskey: Paleo
What Robert McCloskey portrays in Blueberries for Sal is the raw, hunter-gatherer breakfast. It is what the açai bowl wishes it were. In fact, it is so damn paleo that people and bears have interchangeable eating habits. Sure, the end papers of this book show Sal and her mother canning their homemade blueberry jam, but that is offscreen and I maintain ONLY because they have not the bodily blubber to hibernate through the season when superfoods go scarce.
Mark Alan Stamaty: Food cart breakfast
It is not just because Stamaty also did cartoons for the Village Voice or because the hero of his book Who Needs Donuts? drags around a wagon full of donuts that I say this he is a champion of the food cart breakfast. The protagonist, Sam, moves to the city in search of donuts, but he spends much more time collecting donuts than eating them. This may seem strange until the book reaches its climax and you understand what role donuts truly serve in this book. When the “Sad Old Woman” who lives in the basement beneath the coffee factory is endangered by a sudden breach in the coffee machines, it is Sam’s donuts that save the day by soaking up the threatening tsunami of coffee. And isn’t that really what food cart breakfast is all about? Soaking up excessive amounts of the to-go coffee that’s the real staple of your breakfast?
Margaret Wise Brown: Midnight breakfast
Good Night Moon may not technically be a breakfast book, but the fact that it contains not one but two appearances of a crusty leftover bowl of oatmeal definitely sends a pointed message about breakfast. When Margaret Wise Brown says goodnight to that “comb and brush and bowl full of mush” hanging out on the bedside table, she is saying goodnight to the possibility of a well-paced morning with a balanced breakfast. This bunny baby will be rushing out the door in the morning and staring at the rebuke of a half eaten bowl of oatmeal until he closes his eyes for the night. The irony of Good Night Moon is that it is clearly a book for night owls who are more likely to slam a bowl of cereal as a midnight snack than as part of a complete breakfast.