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Book Reviews

We review the Help Yourself Cookbook from Ruby Roth

Book Review:
Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids:
60+ Easy Plant-Based Recipes Kids Can Make to Stay Healthy and Save the World 

by Ruby Roth
review by Marla Rose

For those not familiar with her, Ruby Roth is an artist/illustrator and author of a series of groundbreaking books for children. She burst onto the scene in 2009 with her pioneering animal advocacy primer for kids, That's Why We Don't Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things, which educated children on the various industries that exploit and violate animals with a tone that was never condescending, always honest but also careful about sensitivities and avoiding manipulation. Since then, Ruby has come out with three more books, all lushly illustrated by the author, each aimed at instilling pride in children for their compassionate convictions, gently teaching how even the youngest can take effective action for animals, helping to nurture and empower a new generation of mindful, engaged citizens. Though the subjects could easily devolve into a lecturing or cloying tone, Ruby manages to approach them with the solemnity they deserve while remembering how important it also is to have moments of levity and lightness to avoid emotional overload. Her books are clearly written by an artist who also is a seasoned social justice activist and her approach is a lesson in how to maintain a lifelong commitment to the issues that matter to us without losing our hope.

Ruby’s latest book is a bit of a departure from her previous works and it fills a void in the vegan lit sphere: The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids: 60 Easy Plant-Based Recipes Kids Can Make to Stay Healthy and Save the Earth is a vegan cookbook aimed at kids and, as with her other books, filled with tasty bits of useful information as well. This book is decidedly lighter than That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: Brightly colorful and whimsically illustrated, each page or side-by-side spread is a treated like a canvas with a fun little scene, filled with smiling cherry tomatoes, adorable animals (koalas teach us that as leaf-eaters, they are known as folivores), and simple dishes transformed into boats, towers and "jungle mash." Her recipes are imaginative and not too serious, meant to entice and be easily executed, giving kids a sense of pride and accomplishment. Where adult supervision is advised, it is very obvious with her “adult alert” visual cues but most recipes are ones that can be safely done from start to finish by children. I am not sure of the age recommendations. I am guessing that this cookbook would be ideal for children from 7 - 12 years of age but it could certainly easily skew in either direction.

The recipes are simple in execution and in ingredients, most relying on a handful of easily accessible, whole foods components that engage the senses and the imagination. For example, her Tiger Stripes Seaweed Salad makes a pretty brown and orange dish out of seaweed, carrots and flavoring elements. Her Leprechaun Footprint Avo Toast illustrates how to cut an avocado and rewards little chefs with a delicious result. Her Pink Couscous tints the grains a pretty fuchsia with beets and creates a pretty contrast with buttery green pistachios. Children learn more about issues like palm oil and the importance of insects to our ecosystem while parents learn more about how to encourage safe and enthusiastic kitchen skills in their children. The recipes and instructions are written with a child-like voice that feels authentic, using words like “one BIG stalk” to describe how much celery to add to a dish and defining words like “marinating,” “sous chef” and “cacao” (“Rhymes with ka-POW,” she writes) in an educational but unpretentious way. This book is like having a big sister or brother in the kitchen with the cook but, you know, the nice kind. The only small complaint that I have is that this is a soft-covered book where the bind is rather tight and you will want to protect its beautiful pages from food smears and stains. I recommend using something to hold the book open so fingers that are not quite squeaky-clean won’t muck them up. (Something like this looks like a cool option to keeping your cookbooks in good condition.)

I highly recommend The Help Yourself Cookbook for Kids. It is a fantastic addition to the overall vegan library of resources and expands upon what fellow author-illustrator Mollie Katzen did with her vegetarian children’s cookbooks in the 1990s to a new generation of engaged, thoughtful and compassionate kids. Whether this is for someone who is already vegan, someone who is a budding chef, someone who would like to know more about the issues in the world or someone who just likes cool pictures (and who doesn’t?), this is a great first cookbook that will inspire excitement and confidence in the kitchen. Learning how to feed ourselves well without harming others in the process is such an empowering and important lifelong practice. You won’t be disappointed in this book.

Check out a recipe from the book we posted here!

2013-2016, Vegan Street

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