Review: Saturday At The Food Pantry By O’Neill & Magro

This book caught my eye for many reasons: the cute illustrations, the striking color palette, and the food pantry concept. You don’t see that often in picture books. It is a sweet book, immensely sensitive and understanding of a difficult subject. Take a look at Saturday at the Food Pantry by Diane O’Neill, illustrated by Brizida Magro, 2021.

Molly sitting at the round kitchen table while her mom pours milk into her glass. A big sugar canister with a spoon is also on the table next to a cinnamon container. The right page has Molly holding the fridge door open while her mom puts the milk into the fridge. The fridge is nearly empty with just butter, an onion, ketchup and mayo.

The story opens with Molly and her mom sitting down to yet another dinner of chili. Molly is not thrilled with the repetition, but her mother assures her that it tastes even better when the spices sink in. They even get to make “fancy milk” which Molly happily enjoys while her mother lets her know that tomorrow they will be shopping. Molly is excited to think what they can get, until her mom lets her know they will be going to a food pantry. She doesn’t know what that is. “It’s a place for people who need food.” her mom shares, adding “Everybody needs help sometimes.”

Both pages show long lines of mostly women and various ethnicities and shapes, including one in a wheelchair. Molly and her mom wait at the end of the first line. Then Molly sits on the ground with her green backpack coloring a rainbow on paper. On the right page, they are still in that line but Molly is leaning forward spying her classmate Caitlin peaking around a woman with a green coat.

We then follow Molly as she struggles to sleep, a bit hungry. And then off to the food pantry. There is a line as they wait for it to open. While Molly entertains herself coloring while she waits, she spies a friend from her class at school. Caitlin ignores her though, so Molly runs over to say hi only to hear Caitlin quietly tell her she didn’t want anyone to know they needed help. Molly doesn’t know what to think. “Was there something wrong with needing help?” she wonders.

Molly and her mom are at the end of a line of people. Molly's mom is down on a knee talking to Molly kindly. Molly looks confused. The woman right in front of Molly is turned and listening with a smile.

Molly’s mom suggests she draws some pictures while they wait. The people in the line are friendly and help with distractions by requesting pictures. Soon Molly convinces Caitlin to help her keep up with the artistic demands. When they finally get inside the store, the girls hand some pictures to a woman opening the doors. She is delighted.

On the left page, Molly is handing a hand turkey drawing to a woman. 3 other people are near them, one is in a wheelchair. The right page shows Caitlin coming to help Molly draw. Caitlin draws a cat and Molly is drawing another rainbow. There are 3 hands reaching towards them from around the page.

Molly wonders why her mom has to sign her name, and smiles a little differently than usual. But then they are off to shop. Molly tries to add some yummy looking cookies, but her mom turns her down, afraid people will think they aren’t being sensible. Molly is confused. Her mom looks concerned too, but Molly is determined that they can’t be doing anything wrong. She reminds her mom, “Everybody needs help sometimes, remember?”

Molly is handing her mom a box of sugar cookies. Her mom stands next to their cart and in front of metal shelves full of food. On the right page, Molly is filling the page from her chest up, holding the box of cookies and looking confused at the box. Molly has tan skin, wavy brown hair and a yellow beanie with a pink pom.

Molly is curious by all the signs saying how many of each item you are allowed to take. Her mom explains that it ensures everyone who needs help can get it. They fill their cart and head to the checkout. She is thrilled to see her and Caitlin’s pictures hanging on the wall. And even more thrilled by the kindness of the checkout man who reminds them that “Everybody deserves a treat.”

Molly puts different items into their cart which is slowly filling up. Molly's mom is getting powdered milk off a shelf and holding pasta.

This is such a well done book. It is so sweet and genuine in its storytelling. I love how the tender subject of food insecurity is handled from a child’s perspective, without shying away from the discomfort and answering questions as they come.

Molly and Caitlin stand facing each other over the gutter of the book with hands reaching out towards each other in an almost embrace. There are bags of food around their feet. Caitlin is a white girl with short reddish brown hair and big black glasses.

The illustrations are playful and almost feel perfect for animation. It keeps the mood of the book light and fun, which is really helpful. A book like this is so important to help families discuss food insecurity which, according to the note in the back, has increased dramatically during the pandemic. I love well done books like this to help open discussions, talk about hard things, brainstorm helping others, and talk through the discomfort when it happens in a child’s own family.

This book is really cute and has a great touch to the subject. Highly recommend.

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