By Janet Nolan
I admit it.
I have a favorite sandwich. It’s peanut butter and jelly.
Loved it when I was a kid, and I still do.
So, when I first started thinking about writing a picture book that examined where our food comes from, I didn’t have to look any further than the ingredients in my favorite sandwich: peanut butter, jelly, and bread.
PB&J Hooray! Your Sandwich’s Amazing Journey from Farm to Table (Albert Whitman, 2014) begins:
Easy to make,
yummy to eat.
But where does the food come from?
The Grocery Store.
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Working in reverse order—in a question and answer format—the book takes readers through the shopping, delivery, production, harvesting, farming and planting processes.
The book ends with the planting of seeds for peanuts, grapes, and wheat.
In essence, PB&J Hooray! is the back-story for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
When I want to learn something new, I know exactly where to go. I head to the children’s section of my local library. The chairs might be a little small and the tables a tad too short, but I’m like a kid in a candy store pulling books about farming, manufacturing, and shipping off the shelves.
I love the visual and visceral appeal of children’s books and believe the word usage and imagery is the great starting point for acquiring knowledge.
Once I feel I have a handle on a topic, which in this case was how peanuts, grapes, and wheat are grown, I’ll move onto other sources: articles, interviews, nonfiction adult books.
A surprising help in the researching of PB&J Hooray! turned out to be You Tube videos. It was great, sitting at my desk watching wheat being harvested, seeing grapes growing on long twisting vines, and tripping down memory lane when I stumbled upon an old Sesame Street video my kids must have watched a dozen times: A tour of a peanut better making factory accompanied by the catchy tune. I was singing the song for days.
Then comes the writing.
This book was particularly fun to write, because I had such a great time with the language.
Bread in the bread aisle,
peanut butter stacked on shelves,
jars of jelly lined up in a row.
Put in a shopping cart,
pay on the way out.
Carry into kitchens where sandwiches are made.
The repeated refrain allowed me to maintain the question and answer format, while continually returning the focus to the sandwich making experience, as I described how peanuts, grapes and wheat go from farm to table.
To add to the magic, I was blessed with an amazing illustrator, Julia Patton. She lives in Northumberland, England and had never eaten a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
She had her first—research for the book—and claims to have liked it! Her artwork is amazing; there is so much to see and absorb on each page.
Looking at the finished product feels as if I’ve gone full circle. I can imagine someone else, sitting in the children’s section of their local library, reading the book, and feeling the joy of learning something new.