Taking Up Space by Alyson Gerber is a middle school novel about friendship, family love, body image, and self-esteem, but it is also about a young girl’s complicated relationship with food.
Sarah, a talented basketball player, finds her self-esteem is directly linked to how well she plays on the girl’s basketball team. Unfortunately, the changes happening in her developing body cause her to feel awkward and slow on the court. To complicate matters, the ongoing absence of food at home contributes to her feelings of being unloved. As a result, Sarah begins to restrict the food that she consumes in an attempt to gain control over her situation.
Things change, however, when Sarah pairs up with classmate Benny (with whom she has a crush) for a Junior Chef cooking competition. With Benny, Sarah discovers that she not only enjoys cooking, she also realizes that the dishes she prepares are irresistibly delicious! She wrestles between her desire to enjoy food and her fears about eating the wrong food.
Ultimately, Sarah finds success both in basketball and in her personal life. She and Benny’s culinary achievements at the Junior Chef competition help contribute to Sarah’s realization that her strengths go much deeper than just on the court.
Recommended interest age – 8 to 12 years old
Chickpea & Butternut Squash Tagine – A North African stew made with an assortment of spices and dried fruit.
During the Junior Chef competition, Sarah and Benny made a version of a chickpea and date tagine. I decided to make a similar chickpea tagine recipe. The photos above are from my Chickpea & Butternut Squash Tagine dish made with directions from Jenné Claiborne’s website, Sweet Potato Soul. It is very simple to make, delightfully sweet, and full of spice flavors.
One final mention: Vermont has a wonderful food competition for middle school students called Jr Iron Chef VT. This year’s Jr Iron Chef VT food competition will take place at The Champlain Expo on March 12th, 2022.
I am so looking forward to attending! — Carole