Kalamata’s Kitchen

Written by Sarah Thomas
Illustrated by Jo Kosmides Edwards
40 pages  •  Published 2021 (Random House Books for Young Readers)
Book cover
Recommended Age Range: Kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Publisher's Summary: Tomorrow is Kalamata’s first day at a new school, and she’s nervous! What if the kids aren’t friendly? Or worse, what if they don’t like alligators!? If only Kalamata and Al Dente could go back to the Indian spice market they visited this summer, then maybe she’d remember how to feel brave when new experiences seem scary. Luckily for Kalamata, all the magic required for her journey is right in her own kitchen! As Kalamata and her alligator friend, Al Dente, transport themselves to a magical land filled with tasty ingredients, she realizes being brave is exciting! And most importantly, she learns that when we’re nervous about trying new things, food can comfort us and remind us to stay curious, courageous, and compassionate.
Book cover

Dr. Annie's Takeaways

Recommended for: This is a fun, joyful celebration of Indian cooking that works well as an introduction to mindful eating and the potential anxiety-management benefits of the technique. Kalamata is anxious about a first day at a new school, but the book is relevant to any child feeling worried about something in the future who could benefit from some pleasurable, present-moment grounding.
Would a child like it? Many children will enjoy Kalamata’s joyous food-focused adventure, especially children who have enjoyed Indian food and recognize the ingredients Kalamata adventures through. Caregivers who love food and cooking will also enjoy this book.
Evidence-Based Practices: Mindfulness
Tone: Celebratory, vibrant
Story Quality: This story is a love letter to the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of Indian cooking, as well as a book about facing one’s fears, eating mindfully, trying new foods, and braving the first day of school. Do all of these themes make it a tad mixed up at times? Perhaps. It is also delightful and joyous. Kalamata is feeling very anxious about starting at a new school tomorrow, so she climbs under the kitchen table while her mother is cooking dinner and imagines a fantasy spice market in India, like the one she visited with her family over the summer. She goes skiing through “soft, fluffy flakes of rice,” watches popping mustard seed fireworks, and sleds down mountains of turmeric. It’s very fun to imagine along with Kalamata. The book concludes with Kalamata eating a bowl of yellow dal and realizing that she feels brave and ready to meet her new classmates the next day. There’s a recipe at the back of the book to make Kalamata’s Dal, including the featured turmeric, popping mustard seeds, and soft, fluffy rice.
Illustrations: Beautiful, vibrantly-colored illustrations
Representation: Kalamata and her family appear to be Indian (perhaps Indian-American?). They have brown skin and curly dark brown hair. Kalamata has a mama and an appa, and the family visited India over the summer. The author, Sarah Thomas, describes herself as the child of South Indian immigrants. Kalamata’s new school is pictured as having students of different races and ethnicities. Kalamata’s adventure buddy is a male alligator named Al Dente.
Psychological Practices: This story is, on one level, about being brave and trying new foods. But I love this book as an introduction to mindful eating. Mindful eating refers to the practice of focusing on all of the sensory elements of eating (i.e., sight, smell, sound, feel, and taste) as a way to reorient our brains away from future-focused worry to present-moment (usually pleasurable) experiences. It would be fun to read this book with a child prior to an event they’re nervous about (e.g., a move, a first day of school, a big game or performance) and then cook the recipe in the back of the book (or another favorite recipe) while engaging in mindful cooking and eating (i.e., lots of smelling, watching, listening, tasting, feeling). The book is also a celebration of Indian cooking, which is great for building a child’s pride in their family’s culture and/or introducing a child to a food culture that is perhaps different from theirs.
Concerns: There’s a “Taste Bud Pledge” before the story begins that encourages kids to try each new food at least two times (and to share what’s on their plate with those who don’t have enough). For many kids, this is a good idea and helps them to expand their pallots and get used to different flavors and textures (and to think about those less fortunate than themselves). It doesn’t work for all kids, though, especially those with sensory challenges. It would be very easy to skip over this page if it doesn’t apply to the specific child reading the book.

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