Just Imagine

How to Cook Children

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About the Author and the Illustrator of How to Cook Children

Esmelia Sniff, the transferred storyteller of How to Cook Children,  is a traditional witch whose interests include cackling, mumbling, incontinence and licking toads. She runs the world famous restaurant – the Knife and Nursery – and also owns the world’s largest gingerbread house, a 78-room mansion with an escape-proof cupboard.

Martin Howard and Colin Stimpson are an author/illustrator team who have worked together on many projects. As well as the quirky ‘cookbook’ How to Cook Children (2008) they have also written the hilarious The Wickedest Witch (2009) and Germs! (2011).

About the Book

An essential for every witch’s bookshelf, How to Cook Children is an unparalleled collection of recipes presented by world-renowned crone, Esmelia Sniff. Don’t even think of cooking a child without it!

In the classic, ghastly, hilarious style typical of children’s authors such as Roald Dahl, this book is a ten-year-old’s paradise – filled to the brim with bogies, squashed frogs, minced children, ghosts, zombie chickens and the funniest witches ever seen! The illustrations are slick and colourful and the language is dark, amusing, gruesome and engaging.

Before Reading

Ask the children to look at the front cover of the book and use a Post-it to record everything they see. Who do they think Esmelia Sniff might be?

It would be interesting at this stage to ask the children which genre they think this book belongs to? Is it fiction? Non-fiction? How can they tell?

Making connections

Before reading the book, ask the children to discuss what they already know about witches. What do they look like? Where might they live? What do they eat? How do they travel? Do they know any famous witches? Note their suggestions on the whiteboard, prompting them to make reference to specific witches from literature e.g. the White Witch in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

First encounters

Allow some time for the children to explore the book. You may want to focus on a specific spread or section. It is best if the children have their own copy, so that they can read at their own pace and write down their responses.

  • What did you like or dislike about the book? Encourage them to talk about the text and the illustration.
  • Is there anything that puzzles you about the book?
  • Do you have any questions?
  • Did anything make you laugh?

Use the children’s questions to initiate a discussion – they will be more engaged working on their own areas of interest. Some questions might be answered easily, whilst others may need to be explored at a later date, or after further exploration of the book.

During Reading

We have used three types of question you can focus on during the exploration of this book (Wayne Tennent, 2014). These are literal questions (‘looking’, e.g. When? What? Who?), inference questions (‘clue’, e.g How do you know that…?) and thinking questions (‘thinking’, e.g Do you think that…?)

Additionally, we have used evaluative questions – e.g. how well…, how effective…

At all stages, invite the children to share their ideas and responses. Avoid asking  leading questions. The prompts and activities below are  intended to be used as supplementary questions. Please select or adapt the questions which you think are most appropriate for the children that you are working with. They will ask and answer many of their own questions, if they are encouraged to look closely at the text and pictures, and discuss their ideas.

Looking questions

  • What is happening on this page?
  • Tell me what this book is about?

Clue questions

  • Is this book fiction or non-fiction? What makes you think that? Prompt the children to use evidence from the text to support their opinion.
  • Are these instruction texts or information texts? What do you think? Can you refer to the book to support your opinion?

Thinking questions

  • Why do you think the author/illustrator/editor/designer chose to set the text and diagrams out in this way?
  • Why do you think scary witches are popular characters in children’s books?
  • Do you think it is fair to portray witches in this way? Why do you think that?

Evaluative questions

  • Did this text engage you? Did you enjoy reading it? Why? Why not?


A few words from our General Editor…

What impression do you get of Esmelia Sniff? Encourage the children to use evidence to explain their thinking.

How does Esmelia feel about children? Which words does the author use to convey the witch’s feelings?

Can you identify a word in this chapter that means the same as ‘witch’?

What is the best thing about cooking with children?

Recipes galore

After exploring the recipes discuss them with the children:

  • Which is their favourite?
  • Which do they think is the ghastliest?
  • Are any of them similar to recipes they know? In what way?

Author’s voice and point of view

  • What do you notice about the way in which Esmelia writes?
  • Discuss the differences between informal speech and Standard English.
  • In pairs, improvise interviews with Esmelia. One child takes on the role of interviewer and the other takes on the role of Esmelia. If needed, model some questions and answers before they begin.What questions would they like to ask her? How might she respond?
  • What do you think the other witches mentioned in the book might think of Esmelia?
  • Why do you think the author chose to write the book in this style? Encourage the children to think about the effect of the writing and how it makes them feel.
  • In pairs, ask the children to read Esmelia’s introduction out loud. Can they do so expressively? How might they speak to capture her character and eccentricities?

blank-bubble-map-template_399870Use a Bubble Map (David Hyerle, 2008)  to record everything you have found out about Esmelia. We know for example that she likes getting into a fight on a Friday night and coming home for a curry and that she likes her Irish stew to taste of ditch water! You do not need to fill all the bubbles and you can add additional bubbles, if you need them.


  • Whilst, reading with the children ask them to identify examples of humour and puns. Draw attention to new features as appropriate. Make a display of favourite quotations
  • Which was the funniest recipe? Why?
  • What language or words especially made you laugh and why?
  • How does the author off-set the darkness of the subject matter?


  • How do the witches and their recipes reflect our perceptions of the cuisine from other countries? Groanhilde the German witch makes Bratwurst and Upset Cabbage, whilst Kideefa Skingh likes Moppet Vindaloo.
  • Consider how the names of the witches reinforce stereotypes. Is this funny, problematic, both?
  • How does the rhythm and ‘voice’ of each witch’s introduction reflect where they come from?
  • Can the children try reading each introduction in a different accent or witchy voice? How would this book be different if the author had not used cultural stereotypes?



Allow time for the children to look at the adverts at the back of the book.

  • Can they find the gadgets, inventions and restaurants mentioned throughout the book? Ask them to examine the language used in these adverts.
  • How do the authors use repetition, puns, humour, adjectives and layout to create their adverts?
  • Which is the most successful and why?
  • Why have these adverts been included in the back of the recipe book?
  • How would the book be different if they were interspersed throughout the recipe book?

Looking at language

The recipes centre around a range of eccentric, hilarious and truly terrible old cronies. There are lots of examples of wonderful vocabulary, puns and phrases perfect for discussion, before or after reading the book. These include:

  • Withering (pg 15)
  • Enfant (pg 16)
  • Gestures (pg 17)
  • Bunions (pg 18)
  • Teeth removal, nose lengthening and vest implants (pg 19)
  • A tough old critter (pg 19)
  • Ornamental (pg 23)
  • Watch your waistline! (pg 38)
  • They should hubble, bubble, boil and bubble a bit more (pg 41)
  • Peas be upon you (pg 42)
  • There’s faerie folk a peeing out of every nook and cranny (pg 47)
  • I calls it Doodoo Magic (pg 50)
  • A Pig Loo (pg 55)
  • Garnish (pg 57)
  • Slap ‘em on the barby (pg 59)

Cultural and literary references

There are many cultural and literary references throughout the book. Can the children spot them? Look out for references to plastic surgery, Elvis Presley, fairy tale princesses, Hansel and Gretel and Irish folklore. Which are familiar to the children?

After Reading

Identifying features

Review the features of an information text with the children. Give them a blank set of labels and have them write the characteristics of each feature on a label so they have a set of card:  introduction, titles, sub-titles, words in bold or italics, pictures and captions, diagrams, table of contents and an index page.

Ask the children to use these labels to identify the relevant features on their favourite page.

Now ask the children to look for features of an procedural/instructional text or recipe. Can they find reference to an introduction, a method, ingredients, numbered stages? The children could also use a large piece of tracing paper to draw around these features on their favourite page so they can understand the layout.

double-bubble-map_18280Comparing texts

Ask the children to compare this book with another, more traditional, recipe or cook book. Which features are similar? Which features are different? Which is the better text for giving the same information? Why do you think this? You could use a double bubble map to record the differences.

Logical order

Give the children copies of one recipe but muddled up. Can they re-order the instructions so it flows logically? Can they explain what clues they looked for in the text to help them re-order it?


Retrieving information

Can the children use the information from across the book to copy and complete the information in this table?

Witch Recipe Ingredients Interesting fact about the witch
Kideefa Skingh

A girl called Tina

Boy sauce


Spaniel No. 2

Pickled Whinger

Works in a kitchen haunted by the mysterious Lady Origami


A back story

Ask the children to choose their favourite witch and write her biography. Why did Iris O’Rambly turn her eye into a toffee apple? How did Maman Bumbumbaya bring back a chicken from the dead by accident? What has Kideeta Skingh done to win the ‘nastiest witch of the year’ award twelve times in a row?

Rewriting recipes

Can you re-write a recipe from the book for a more traditional cook book? What language would you remove? What language and features would you keep?


Revolting recipes

Have a look at Roald Dahl’s wonderful gruesome book Revolting Recipes. Explore the language, structure and layout. How are the recipes  similar to the ones in How to Cook Children? How are they different? You could use a double-bubble map to record the similarities and differences between two recipes.

You could also encourage the children to read an extract from The Witches by Roald Dahl and discuss how he portrays the Grand High Witch. Is her mission similar to Esmelia’s?

Around the world

In this delightful book, the recipes come from every corner of the world. Use an enlarged map of the world to identify and track where each witch comes from. Can they find where Elvivissa Pursley, Consuela del Diablo and Lady Soo-shi all live? What dish is each country famous for? Perhaps the children would like to try cooking some of the dishes adapted and mentioned in the book: paella, Irish stew, sushi and Baked Alaska.

Ask the children to imagine they are a hideous hag and write their own favourite, signature recipe for cooking children. Review the conventions of recipe writing: an introduction, a list of ingredients, a method in logical order, time connectives. Make a list of the specific features of this text: jokes and puns, diagrams and picture

If you enjoyed this book, you might like…

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World by Kate Pankhurst

The Witches by Roald Dahl

Until I Met Dudley by Roger McGough

Winnie the Witch by Valerie Thomas and Korky Paul

Revolting Recipes by Roald Dahl

Moomins Cookbook by Sami Malila, Tove Jansson

The Star Wars Cookbook by Lara Starr

The Lost Happy Endings by Carol Ann Duffy