Ah, the wonder of pancakes!!
Does any other breakfast treat arouse as much unabashed joy and anticipation among diners of all ages? Whether you call them hotcakes, griddle cakes, flapjacks, flatcars, or heavenly hots, the reaction is the same. Almost every culture in the world has its own version of the pancake (crepes, blinis, galettes), and they’re all special. They’re also pretty ancient, dating back to Roman times.
As far as children’s books, pancakes outnumber bagels, pies, and cookies. They are the perfect example of how a beloved food establishes instant reader interest and connection, reinforced by the power of sensual description.
The first pancake stories, which have a long history and dubious European origin, fall into the Aarne-Thompson 2025 folktale classification of fleeing food. Earliest recorded versions, such as “The Runaway Pancake,” date back to 19th century Germany and Norway. During this same period, the gingerbread man stories became popular in America. I suppose, then, we could rightly call pancakes the first “fast food.”
But I won’t let them get away from you today. Here are some of my favorite pancake picture books, hot off the griddle, and guaranteed to make your kiddos, ages 4-8, flip!
1. Pancakes for Breakfast , by Tomie dePaola (Harcourt, 1978). This wordless classic never loses its charm. A woman who lives alone with her cat and dog wakes up one winter morning craving pancakes, but must gather the ingredients. She fetches eggs from the hen house, milks the cow, churns some butter, then goes out to buy some maple syrup. Upon returning, she discovers that her pets have eaten everything. No matter, the irresistible aroma of pancakes which drifts into her little house brings about a happy ending. A masterpiece of anticipation with stacks of drool-worthy pancakes.
2. Curious George Makes Pancakes, based on the character created by Margret and H.A. Rey (Houghton Mifflin, 1998). Our curious monkey friend attends a charity pancake breakfast with the man in the yellow hat. While the man is off buying tickets, George’s nose leads him to a long griddle dotted with fresh pancakes. Unnoticed, he decides to help by sprinkling blueberries on them. George’s pancakes are a big hit, but when the cook sees him, he chases George away. The illos are adorable throughout, showing maple-syruped George getting stuck to everything, and wildly making and flipping pancakes with four limbs. With charcoal pencil and watercolor illos.
3. Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle (Simon & Schuster, 1990). Jack craves a big pancake for breakfast, and learns how to make it from scratch. From cutting and threshing wheat, grinding it into flour, to gathering eggs, milking the cow, churning butter, and fetching strawberry jam – to the actual process of combining the ingredients with his mother, young readers will certainly gain new appreciation for a food they probably take for granted in this microwave/toaster age. Carle’s bright collages remain unique and fresh.
4. Hey, Pancakes! by Tamson Weston, pictures by Stephen Gammell (Harcourt, 2003). If you like your pancakes rhyming, rollicking, and rambunctious, this is the book for you. Three kids and their dog make a royal mess as they stir up some boisterous batter. Pancakes flip and fly through pages full of splatters and splots. Kids will no doubt love the short, catchy rhyme and beg you to make the recipe for Grandma’s Pancakes included in the book. Gammell’s mixed media illos create the perfect high pitched frenzy that celebrates the pure, unadulterated joy of pancakes.
5. Mama Panya’s Pancakes: A Village Tale from Kenya, by Mary and Rich Chamberlin, pictures by Julia Cairns (Barefoot Books, 2005). On the way to market, Adika and his mother meet many friends who live in various parts of their rural village. Happily anticipating a pancake supper that evening, Adika simply can’t resist inviting everyone to share their meal. Mama Panya is worried that she won’t be able to feed so many people, but Adika keeps telling her that she has “a little bit, and a little bit more,” and that will be enough. This handsome book contains a list of Kiswahili greetings, map of Kenya, glossary of the plants and animals Adika and his mother encounter on their journey, info about village life in Kenya, and of course, Mama Panya’s recipe for spicy pancakes. Julia Cairns’ beautiful and engaging watercolor illos enrich this story about the rewards of giving what little you have.
*See also: my review of George Washington’s Breakfast (hoecakes).