The Hungry Reader: The Search for Delicious

When it comes to books about food, and books that appeal to both young and old, Natalie Babbitt's The Search for Delicious is one that cannot go unread.

The Search for Delicious is a fairy tale written like an old-fashioned parable or children's story, full of wise, thoughtful observation of human nature. It's also a cracking good story and very funny too.

The story starts in a small kingdom (of course) with a king and queen who can't agree. The prime minister is making a dictionary, and he needs to define delicious. The king insists that the most delicious thing is an apple. The queen says no, "Delicious is a Christmas pudding."

Soon everyone is at odds, and the Prime Minister's young foster son is sent out to poll the whole country before civil war breaks out over the true meaning of delicious.

Here's a favorite bit:

"The most delicious food, is it?" she beamed. "Well, now, there's no trouble with that. My name is Whimsey Mildew and I'm fifty-nine, and I make the best fruitcake in the kingdom. It's by far the most delicious thing there is and I'm sure a great many people will agree with me." She stopped and looked expectantly at her husband.

But the farmer scratched at his knee nervously and kept his eyes on Gaylen. "Did the King say we have to be honest?"

"Absolutely," said Gaylen.

"Honest, eh?" said the farmer. He looked miserably up at the sky and swallowed. Then he looked at Gaylen again. His eyes narrowed. He shoved his hands into his pockets and drew a deep breath. "My name is Mildew," he said slowly, "and I'm sixty-one, and I just hate fruitcake!"." His wife's jaw dropped and she stared at him, her face changing to a deeper shade of red. "I don't care, Whimsey!" he cried. "I'm glad it's out at last. For thirty years I've been eating that fruitcake of yours - ugh! - when all I really wanted was a simple plumcake. Plumcake! Do you hear?"

More adventures and hot feelings over favorite food ensue as the boy travels the kingdom. There's a mermaid, and some other fairy tale elements, but it feels like a fable about human nature.

How does it end up? We won't tell, but we will say that the ending is very satisfying and even timely for our world today.

This is a lesser-known book by Natalie Babbitt, author of such classics as Tuck Everlasting, but we feel this is up there with her better work, and it's worth a read for every food-lover who has ever argued over what was more delicious - apples? Or Christmas pudding?

• Buy The Search for Delicious, $6.99 at Amazon