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.
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.”
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’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.
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 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.”
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.
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.