From the multi-page feasts of Redwall to the lembas bread shared by the Fellowship of the Ring to the mouthwatering snack cart offered on the Hogwarts Express, there’s something magical about the combination of food and fantasy. Although the genre occasionally comes under fire for a bland menu of stew and ale, just as many books buck that trend—and for good reason! A shared meal can bind a ragtag band of adventurers into something more like a family. Dinnertime conversation can naturally convey important information about an unfamiliar world without making the reader feel like an encyclopedia has been dumped on her. Watching a fantastical hero rest and eat can convey vulnerability, making it easier for us to relate and allowing the tension of the epic quest to breathe. On the flip side, the tradition of dangerous food in fantasy (think of the common warning against accepting faerie food, lest you be trapped, Persephone-like, in their underground realm) reinforces that we are in a new and different world, with unfamiliar rules, where even basic sustenance can betray us. The practicalities of recipes and the availability of place also grounds us in a specific place and culture, provide readers with concrete details that are all the more needed when fantasy narratives place otherwise constant demands on our suspension of disbelief.
Food can also be comforting and grounding in real life, as anyone who has taken up baking or cooking while stuck at home doubtless knows. Although I am no great cook, I have found that sometimes a good food scene can serve the same purpose vicariously, or, even better, can inspire me to take the trouble (and the risk!) to cook from scratch.
Whether you’re a master chef or a novice like me, this tasting menu of foodie fantasies that puts magical cuisine front and center ought to satisfy any appetite!
Available on Hoopla:
Brave Chef Briannaby Sam Sykes Shy Brianna moves to a new town to get out of the shadow of her family of famous, highly competitive chefs. Unfortunately for her, the town’s population is mostly monsters—who don’t take too fondly to humans or their cuisine. Can she find a way to make her diner thrive? Includes several fantastic illustrated recipes! (For kids in grade 3 and up.)
Rutabaga Adventure Chefby Eric Colossal Magic cooking pot in tow, Rutabaga travels far and wide in search of the rarest and strangest ingredients to make the most delicious meals, from dragon meat skewers to health-restoring smoothies! (For kids in grade 2 and up.)
Love Sugar Magicby Anna Meriano Leonora discovers that her mother and sisters are secretly brujas—witches—and that she shares their ability to bake sweet magic spells into their pastries. Based on Mexican culture and folkore and liberally sprinkled with workable recipes. (For kids in grade 4 and up.)
A Face Like Glassby Frances Hardinge In the underground city of Caverna, the world's most skilled craftsmen toil in the darkness to create delicacies beyond compare--wines that remove memories, cheeses that make you hallucinate, and perfumes that convince you to trust the wearer, even as they slit your throat. On the surface, the people of Caverna seem ordinary, except for one thing: their faces are as blank as untouched snow. Apprentice cheesemaker Neverfell ventures out of her sheltered home and discovers that, to the shock and horror of her neighbors, that she is dangerously different—her face shows her emotions clear as day. (For kids in grade 6 and up.)
Available on Overdrive/Libby:
Baker’s Magicby Diane Zahler Bee is an orphan, alone in a poor, crumbling kingdom. In desperation, she steals a bun from a bakery. To Bee's surprise, the baker offers her a place at his shop. As she learns to bake, Bee discovers that she has a magical power. (For kids in grade 4 and up.)
Dragon With A Chocolate Heartby Stephanie Burgis After a dose of enchanted hot chocolate turns her into a squishy human, you’d think the young dragon Aventurine would be out for revenge, or at least a cure. Instead, she discovers her passion—chocolate—and sets out for the nearest town in order to become a master chocolatier, or die trying. (For kids in grade 4 and up.)
A Dash of Dragonby Heidi Lang At 13, apprentice chef Lailu is a prodigy, intent on making fine cuisine accessible to everyone, not just the rich and powerful—and her specialty is mystic cooking. That is to say, hunting and preparing dangerous magical creatures for meat. When her master’s restaurant and her future career is threatened, Lailu takes on the biggest mystic cooking challenge of all—a dragon hunt. (For kids in grade 5 and up.)
A Tangle of Knotsby Lisa Graff In a slightly magical world where everyone has a Talent, eleven-year-old Cady is an orphan with a phenomenal Talent for cake baking. But little does she know that fate has set her on a journey from the moment she was born. And her destiny leads her to a mysterious address that houses a lost luggage emporium, an old recipe, a family of children searching for their own Talents, and a Talent Thief who will alter her life forever. (For kids in grade 5 and up.)
Blissby Kathryn Littlewood Rosemary Bliss's family has a secret. It's the Bliss Cookery Booke--an ancient, leather-bound volume of enchanted recipes like Singing Gingersnaps. Rose and her siblings are supposed to keep the Cookery Booke locked away while their parents are out of town, but then a mysterious stranger shows up. "Aunt" Lily rides a motorcycle and also whips up exotic (but delicious) dishes for dinner. Soon boring, non-magical recipes feel like life before Aunt Lily--a lot less fun. Book 2 and 3 are available on Hoopla! (For kids in grade 3 and up.)
Print Only (For when we reopen!)
Delicious in Dungeonby Ryoko Kui After their adventuring party is nearly wiped out (and their cleric is eaten!) by a dangerous dragon on the deepest level of a dungeon, Laios and his friends are strapped for both cash and supplies. Desperate for a rematch with the dragon and the chance to revive their cleric friend before she is digested, they decide to do the unthinkable—survive the dungeon by cooking and eating the monsters! (For kids in grade 6 and up.)
Midsummer’s Mayhemby Rajani LaRocca In this contemporary-fantasy retelling of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Mimi and her mysterious friend Vik use strange, magical ingredients they find deep in the woods behind Mimi’s Massachusetts home to bake enchanting treats—that quickly begin to cause mayhem among her family and community. Lord what fools these mortals be! (For kids in grade 4 and up.)