When I was a kid this is what I remember telling myself: “When I grow up and learn to drive, I will be able to go Dunkin’ Donuts any time I want.” The thought was very consoling to me every time our car zipped by the store, leaving me powerless and powdered sugar-deprived in the back seat.
Doughnuts have also inspired some very good kids’ books.
1) Who Needs Donuts? By Mark Alan Stamaty
Maybe you remember “Washingtoon,” Mark Alan Stamaty’s terrific political comic strip from The Village Voice. Or maybe you don’t. Regardless, this 1973 book (reissued by Knopf in 2003) is a cult classic for good reason. The story follows a boy named Sam who journeys into the swarming, weirdo-filled streets of what is clearly a pre-Giuliani Manhattan (all that’s missing are the peep shows) in search of a sugar fix. Along the way he lands a job with a paisley-wearing donut impressario, meets a toothless Sad Old Woman, faces catastrophe (escaped bull in a coffee factory), and learns about love.
Every obsessively drawn page is crammed with thousands of dark and hilarious details (look for the hotel inside a phone booth). You can pore over each page for hours and still discover new microscopic zingers. I know this sounds like a book only adults could appreciate, but my kids are nuts for it. And once you read Who Needs Donuts, you’ll want to read this excellent interview with Stamaty explaining the backstory.
2) Arnie The Doughnut by Laurie Keller
With its whimsical cartoon-style illustrations and quip-exchanging fried-dough characters, Laurie Keller’s 2003 entry into the genre would seem to be pure fluff. But there’s a dark side here. First, Arnie, a sweetly naive, life-loving chocolate glazed, realizes that his destiny — and that of all doughnuts — is to be eaten. Then, after his eyes are opened to the cruelty of the world, Arnie is gobsmacked to learn that he’s the only doughnut who didn’t know this was coming. There’s something compellingly grotesque when the other pastries (including the beret-wearing cruller) tell him that they don’t mind being devoured. As you’d expect, there’s a happy ending. But Arnie’s look into the abyss (that is, a gaping human mouth) gives this confection some umami.
3) Homer Price by Robert McCloskey
As comfortable as kids are with technology these days, they still grasp the panic of an I Love Lucy-style “Help-me-turn-off-this-craaaazy-machine!” situation. Robert McCloskey (Make Way for Ducklings, Blueberries for Sal) concocted one of the most memorable such moments in his 1943 collection of stories about small-town Ohio boy Homer Price. In the third tale, young Homer gets into trouble with his uncle’s newfangled automatic doughnut maker. To complicate matters, a millionairess wanders into the diner, and, suddenly overcome by her inner Ina Garten, whips up the batter herself, losing her diamond bracelet in the process.
By the end, our quick-thinking hero manages to recover the bauble (and sell a roomful of warm doughnuts). Unlike the other two titles, this is a book totally free of freaks or authorial winks. If Who Needs Donuts? is the retro Dunkin’ Donuts jelly donut and Arnie the Doughnut is the hip bacon-studded variety, Homer Price is the classic cake doughnut.