Candy and Sweets in Art and Children’s Stories

Eleanor Abbott, a young San Diego school teacher invented Candy Land in 1948 in the midst of a polio epidemic

Sweets and children go hand in hand, especially in non-Western countries, where sweetness is so connected to childhood (and to femininity) that ‘real men’ eschew sweets and instead take up smoking, and probably drinking as well. When I was a teenager, my Japanese host father saw a photo of my Western father eating something sweet and laughed.

It’s not just a Japanese thing, either. Go back to the Golden Age of Men Smoking and the Life Magazine cover below, with the big, burly man delicately eating ice cream looks like a comical juxtaposition.

Kemp Starrett, Big Workman eating ice cream sundae with delicacy - Cover of September 26, 1930 Life magazine
Kemp Starrett, Big Workman eating ice cream sundae with delicacy – Cover of September 26, 1930 Life magazine
Stevan Dohanos 1907-1994 Saturday Evening Post Cover, September 1951

Food is always important in children’s stories. As a sensory pleasure, food in children’s narrative is analogue to the sex of adult literature.

Roald Dahl was clearly addicted to sugar, as described in the biography by Jeremy Treglown. He kept cases of chocolate bars. But you don’t need to read any Dahl biography to know the importance of sweets in Dahl’s life. His children’s books are full of sweet treats, culminating in the food and power fantasy of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

For illustrators, food in children’s books must look edible, much as food in advertisements must make the hungry consumer rush out and buy the product. Below are some illustrated examples of sweet treats.

Poster by Mario Menzardi, circa 1954 ice cream sandwich
From Meal Magic for Moderns, published in the February 1959 issue of Family Circle magazine
NOVEMBER 1932 BOYS’ LIFE MAGAZINE baby ruth chocolate bar advertisement

Four children have been chosen to compete in a national competition to find the tastiest confection in the country. Who will invent a candy more delicious than the Oozing Crunchorama or the Neon Lightning Chew?

Logan, the Candymaker’s son, who can detect the color of chocolate by touch alone?

Miles, the boy who is allergic to merry-go-rounds and the color pink?

Daisy, the cheerful girl who can lift a fifty-pound lump of taffy like it’s a feather?

Or Philip, the suit-and-tie wearing boy who’s always scribbling in a secret notebook?

This sweet, charming, and cleverly crafted story, told from each contestant’s perspective, is filled with mystery, friendship, and juicy revelations.

It has been a few months since the nationwide New Candy Contest, and Logan, Miles, Philip, and Daisy have returned to their regular lives. But when the winning candy bar comes down the conveyor belt at the Life is Sweet candy factory, Logan realizes something’s very wrong….

When the Candymaker announces that they will be going on tour to introduce the new candy bar, the four friends see this as an opportunity to make things right. But with a fifty-year-old secret revealed and stakes higher for each of them than they ever imagined, they will have to trust one another–and themselves–in order to face what lies ahead.

In this action-packed sequel to the bestselling novel The Candymakers, prepare to embark on a journey full of hidden treasures, secret worlds, and candy. LOTS and LOTS of candy.

Keep Cool With Cool Aid 1937
1949 – Kool-Aid and Kool-Aid Ice Cream
Kool-Aid advertisement from the July 1943 issue of Women’s Home Companion magazine
Gourmet Magazine May 1959-jelly
Norman Mills Price
Marie-Madeleine FRANC-NOHAIN [1878-1942] Alphabet In Pictures 1933
Stig Lindberg illustrations, Krakel Spectacle buys a candy – Lennard Hellsing, German first edition 1962
Poster by Lubatti, circa 1940 jam advertisement
The Story of the Weathercock by Evelyn Sharpe 1907 illustrated by Charles Robinson Serves you right young man said the Brownie
Leonetto Cappiello (FRENCH, 1875-1942)
Cowham, Hilda Gertrude b,1873)- Doll’s Cocoa Party
Poster by Giuseppe Magagnoli, 1923, “candies, sugar-coated almonds, chocolate”

Chocolate boxes haven’t always depicted the product itself. In earlier eras, chocolate was advertised using a bigger story. Take the illustration below. This picture was one of the scenes used for the packaging of Quality Street chocolates. “Listening at Doors” is an illustration by Hugh Thomson for the play Quality Street by J. M. Barrie (of Peter and Wendy fame). The chocolate selection was named after the play, not the other way round. It doesn’t make my mouth water, but what it did do for 20th century consumers was create a milieu in which chocolates fit nicely.

By 1956, advertisements for Quality Street chocolates included some actual chocolate. Well, the wrappers, at least. The beautiful little packages make you want to take one. Now, chocolates were marketed at men as a way of wooing women.

‘The Candy of Our Time’ Poster illustration by Menzardi, 1954

Cadbury went the same route. You can spend years learning the piano, or you could just buy her a box of Roses chocolates.

An advertisement for Cadbury’s Roses Chocolates, from May 4, 1961, illustrator not credited
Alphonse Mucha Chocolat Ideal 1897 Art Nouveau
Alphonse Mucha Chocolat Ideal 1897 Art Nouveau
Hilary Knight’s Mother Goose


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell Hoban

Garth Pig and the Ice-cream Lady by Mary Rayner

Header illustration by Gomi Tarō.