Foodie Books for Kids: Tony and the Pizza Champions

I have repeatedly failed at making homemade pizza. My yeast doesn't work...or I roll it out all lumpy and uneven...or I burn the crust. I can't even get the pre-made Whole Foods kind right - I can never get an even crust and end up with a trapezoidal shape that is really thick in some places and paper-thin in others. Then Nigella Lawson turned me on to using naan and I've never looked back.

My troubled relationship with pizza dough aside, pizza is absolutely one of my favorite foods ever...if not the favorite. I love the play of salty and sweet, and I adore its endless diversity. I read about its cultural history, and I dream of new topping combinations. It really is the Every Food: there's a flavor for everyone. It can be vegetarian, vegan, meatlovers...I think it can even be gluten-free.

So imagine my delight when I got Tony and the Pizza Champions (Chronicle) in the mail! It's by Tony Gemignani (two-time Food Network pizza-tossing gold medalist) and illustrated by Matthew Trueman. It's the story of "Tossing" Tony, "Quick" Ken, and their team of master pizza-tossers who get invited to compete in the World Pizza Championships in Italy. In the midst of their travels, the reader learns all kinds of pizza trivia (in England, people sometimes order pizza with sweet corn and tuna fish on top...which, I have to admit, kind of makes me nauseous). The team travels to Italy where they compete against Brazilians and Italians, but can the Americans take the gold medal?

Each of the team members in the story is actually based on a real-life person, and the book ends with photos of each guy ("Silly" Siler really does ride a unicycle). Additionally, there's a recipe for "Tossing Tony's Pizza Dough" as well as instructions for tossing the dough. The book also says you can go to www.chroniclebooks.com/pizzachamps "to see videos of Tony making and tossing dough." But when I went to the site I saw a video of Tony "balling" the dough but the others weren't working...which is always the problem of including Internet content in books.

Overall, the story is spunky and fun - it has a lot of boy appeal, especially with its subtle play-with-your-food encouragement (though, I assure you, girls will enjoy this equally). The illustrations are reminiscent of Giselle Potter...but much more my taste than Potter's work. Body proportions are out of whack, but the formatting and bold colors have a grounding effect. There's definitely a cartoon quality to the art, which helps its appeal. This feels like a foodie book that is actually created with kids in mind - firstly, it's actually about a food that kids will eat! And it lacks the preciousness that sometimes seeps into foodie books for kids - no shades of pink here, no baking, no anthropomorphic animals. Just straight up stunts, action, and joy. An absolute blast.

Eat, drink, and give pizza another try.

NOTE: Once again, I find myself doing a complete 180 from the Kirkus review. What is up?!

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