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
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

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
Poster by Mario Menzardi, circa 1954 ice cream sandwich
Keep Cool With Cool Aid 1937
1945
Poster by Lubatti, circa 1940 jam advertisement
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
The Story of the Weathercock by Evelyn Sharpe 1907 illustrated by Charles Robinson Serves you right young man said the Brownie

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.

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

SEE ALSO

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.