Maddi’s Fridge is a sweet picture book about a serious subject. In the story, written by Lois Brandt and illustrated by Vin Vogel, Sofia learns that her friend Maddi’s family doesn’t have enough food.
Seeing, or not seeing, childhood hunger
Just like Sofia, one of my children learned that a friend in elementary school was often hungry. Many days, school lunch was the only meal that friend had.
It was different when I was growing up. I didn’t know anyone that was hungry. Or at least, if I did, I didn’t know it. Even when my father was out of work, we always had enough food. It never occurred to me that it might be otherwise, for me, or for anyone I knew.
Perhaps it should have. I knew that, when Daddy was growing up, in the Great Depression, hunger was everywhere. People who could hunt and fish, or who had a bit of land where they could keep chickens or a garden, had advantages. But fish don’t always bite, a storm or a dry spell could destroy a garden, and a feral dog could wipe out a hen house overnight.
Looking back at my own childhood, with an adult perspective, I can see signs that some of my friends might not have had enough food. I didn’t see it when I was a child. But if I had, I’m not sure that I’d have known what to do.
How childhood hunger is addressed in Maddi’s Fridge
In Maddi’s Fridge, Sofia doesn’t know what to do, either. But she knows that she has to help her friend. Maddi made her promise not to tell anyone about the empty refrigerator at her home, so Sofia gets creative, trying to come up with ways to get food for Maddi without breaking her promise.
Her attempts, as well meaning as they are, go a little bit sideways, until she finally tells her mom.
There’s a second story that runs parallel with the main story. Maddi and Sofia spend a lot of time in the book playing on the playground. There’s a climbing wall there, and Maddi can climb it easily. Sofia can’t. That’s important, because this minor story line portrays Maddi as capable and strong, someone who can, in fact, help Sofia do something difficult. It makes it clear, in a subtle way, that being poor doesn’t destroy your competence. Being hungry isn’t the same thing as being helpless.
On top of all that, the writing is beautiful. In places, it’s almost poetic. Like when Sofia runs home, carrying the knowledge that her best friend is hungry. “The sun went down behind the buildings and took all the colors with it.”
The cartoon-style illustrations are richly detailed, bright and friendly. They depict a neighborhood full of real people and specific places. While they make Maddi’s and Sofia’s emotions clear, they also embody some of the gentle humor in the book. They help keep the story engaging and approachable, not serious and scary.
Even so, the story gives parents many things to talk about with their children. Promises, why they’re important, and when you shouldn’t keep them. Kindness. The corporal works of mercy. Almsgiving. Friendship. Hunger.
Maddi’s Fridge is recommended for children ages 4 to 8, but I think it would work for children through elementary school. While the issue of childhood hunger is serious, the story is neither preachy nor patronizing. It is instead silly and sweet and strong. It is brilliant and appealing. That’s because it is, at heart, a story about friends. It’s about Maddi helping Sofia climb the wall, and Sofia helping Maddi get enough to eat.
Because that’s what friends are for.
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