About the Holiday
National Popcorn Day commemorates a snack that is enjoyed around the world—and why not?! It’s tasty, the perfect finger food, and fun to make! The history of popcorn may surprise you. Records of this favorite treat go back to the Aztecs and beyond. Early explorers of the 1500s wrote about native peoples+ roasting corn until it popped and described it as looking like a “white flower.” Indigenous peoples ate popcorn and strung it to use for decoration.
Most people now eat popcorn with salt and butter or a variety of flavorings, but can you imagine having it with milk? Way before Corn Flakes and Cheerios came on the scene, people ate it as cereal! And popcorn really became popular during the Great Depression, when it was one of the only inexpensive treats people could afford. Why not pop up a batch and snuggle in to learn more about popcorn with today’s book.
Written by Elaine Landau | Illustrated by Brian Lies
Popcorn catches our fancy whether we’re at home, at the movies, at a carnival or at an amusement park. How much do we like it? Well, “each year Americans munch on 1,124,000 pounds” of the crunchy stuff! That’s about “68 quarts for every man, woman, and child!” Wondering if that corn on the cob you enjoy all summer could make popcorn if you cooked it just right? The answer to that is: nope! “Farmers grow all kinds of corn. But popcorn is the only corn that pops. It’s got to do with just the right combination of water, starch, and a hard, airtight shell, called a hull.” You can learn a few more interesting facts like this one when you take the short quiz!
Where does popcorn grow? In the Corn Belt, of course! That’s not something you wear, but an area of Midwest America that had just the right soil and weather conditions to raise the different kinds of corn you love to eat. How long has popcorn been around? Would you believe that “researchers have found 1,000-year-old grains of popcorn?” Or that “the kernels still popped?” They did! But popcorn has an even longer history than that. The oldest ears of popcorn discovered were 5,600 years old and were found “in a cave in New Mexico.” These ears were tiny, though—only “about the size of your pinky finger.”
These days, we just pop a bag of kernels in the microwave and in a few minutes it’s ready, but early popcorn eaters had some ingenious ways of cooking their treat. “The Iroquois of the Great Lakes region popped popcorn in special jugs that they placed in heated sand.” The jugs worked like a convection oven and kept the popcorn in one place. How did the Iroquois enjoy their popcorn? They made soup with it! Some Native Americans cooked their popcorn on the cob in the husks, while others put the ear on a stick and held it over a fire to roast.
Some Native Americans also had stories to tell about popcorn. One such tale relates that “spirits lived inside each popcorn kernel.” The spirits were quiet and happy as long as they weren’t disturbed. But if the house grew hot, the spirits became angry. If the house became too hot, the spirits would get so angry that “they would burst out of their houses and fly off into the air as annoyed puffs of steam.” The Aztecs used popcorn in ceremonies, and, because of its resemblance to hailstones, it was used as tribute to the water god Tlaloc to ask for protection for fishermen during storms.
So how did popcorn become so popular? A little creative advertising helped that along. In 1885 the first popcorn machines were developed. These little carts with the enticing glass windows that allowed people to watch the popping process were great hits. “Men were hired to pop popcorn in front of stores to draw in customers.” Can you imagine what these men were called? Right! Poppers!
Two world events also helped popcorn sales. During the Great Depression, popcorn was an inexpensive treat, and during World War II, delicious popcorn took the place of candy, which could not be produced since all the sugar was used to supply soldiers overseas. When a television set became common in most homes and people stopped going to the movies as much, popcorn sales plummeted. But creative companies came up with ways to make popping popcorn at home easy and fun. Popcorn and TV became a favorite pastime.
Popcorn is a healthy snack, too! As a good source of protein, iron, carbohydrates, and fiber while being low-calorie, popcorn is a treat parents can’t say “no” to! To learn more fascinating facts about popcorn—including the answer to that big question: What makes popcorn pop?—you’ll want to pop over to your favorite bookseller or library and pick up this book!
With wit and an easy conversational style, Elaine Landau cooks up an engaging look at popcorn. Short sections answer the questions kids have about popcorn while offering new and intriguing tidbits that will make kids feel pretty smart about one of our favorite snack foods.
Brian Lies lends his distinctive art style to illustrations that echo Landou’s humor while also enhancing the text with visual guides for deeper understanding. Along the way, young readers can follow a rascally, popcorn-loving raccoon as he enjoys popcorn on the cob in the field, moves a jar of popcorn from the fridge to the cabinet with—almost—no mishaps, roasts popcorn over a fire pit, and runs off with a full bowl of popcorn.
For kids (or adults) who love popcorn, food history, or cooking and to inspire fun classroom science and history lessons, Popcorn! can’t be beat!
Ages 6 – 9
Charlesbridge, 2003 | ISBN 978-1570914430
Discover more about Brian Lies and check out all of his great books and art on his website.
National Popcorn Day Activity
Popcorn Toss Up! Matching Puzzle
The popcorn’s flying! Can you match the six pairs of kernels so you can enjoy a tasty snack in this printable Popcorn Toss Up! Matching Puzzle?
Picture Book Review