Maddi’s Fridge, by Lois Brandt

Best friends Sofia and Maddi live in the same neighborhood, go to the same school, and play in the same park, but while Sofia’s fridge at home is full of nutritious food, the fridge at Maddi’s house is empty. Sofia learns that Maddi’s family doesn’t have enough money to fill their fridge and promises Maddi she’ll keep this discovery a secret. But because Sofia wants to help her friend, she’s faced with a difficult decision: to keep her promise or tell her parents about Maddi’s empty fridge. Filled with colorful artwork, this storybook addresses issues of poverty with honesty and sensitivity while instilling important lessons in friendship, empathy, trust, and helping others. A call to action section, with six effective ways for children to help fight hunger and information on anti-hunger groups, is also included.

There is so much to love about Maddi’s Fridge, but perhaps the best of its strengths is that the reader learns from the book by falling seamlessly into the main character’s perspective – facing her problem, feeling her feelings, considering her alternatives, and pondering the outcomes of her choices. A human being of any age will learn something about how we confront hunger in actual life – not as an issue we can click and post about, not as a disturbing statistic, not as a box of cans for the food bank we can drop some beans into as we push our loaded cart out of the grocery store. This is the story of two girls who care about each other – girls with names and faces. We can see clearly how both friends can be helped or hurt by the ways they choose to confront their situation.

Respecting the Child’s Eye View

I like the many subtle ways Maddi’s Fridge shows us that hunger is both a simple and complex problem to solve. Sofia tries to feed her friend several times. She can’t ask for food because she can’t tell Maddi’s secret, and sneaking food to school turns out to be more complicated than she thought (some food doesn’t survive an overnight visit to a grade-school backpack). Her failures introduce humor into the story, but also engage the reader’s sympathy (Sofia is trying so hard!) and subtly remind us that there’s no quick-fix to this problem.

I like the author’s respect for her characters. We never lose the child’s-eye view on the situation, but even when we giggle over fish in the backpack, we aren’t invited to scorn Sofia. Maddi’s patience with her friend’s attempts to help is also beautiful. By the third attempt, she’s expecting something “gross”, but she’s still willing to engage with her friend. Maddi, Sofia, and the reader can all tell how much love their is between these good friends.

The parallel chain of effort, in which Sofia is trying to climb the rock wall at the park and Maddi is encouraging her, adds depth to the characterization and the story. Each girl has something to offer, some advantage. Maddi is without resources in one sense, but she can climb the wall and coach Sofia to climb it. I liked this as a frame for the attempted feeding, but also as a reminder that a hungry person is still a whole person, with skills and interests. The rock wall scenes remind readers to see Maddi and Sofia as equals.

Trust and Betrayal

Maddi’s Fridge raises an important question that applies across many aspects of child safety. Secrets can be part of the innocent fun at a birthday party, or dangerous weapons against children being drawn into the power of those planning to harm them. A secret between children can be a matter of trust, but it can also be a tool for bullying, or simply the result of a childish attempt to solve a problem that requires more mature judgment.

In one sense, Sofia has to betray Maddi’s trust to get her family the help they need. The fact that their conversation AFTER the betrayal is included in the story is important. Sofia broke her promise. She broke it for the best of good reasons, but she still needed to talk it over with Maddi. Their friendship and their understanding of each other’s needs and motives shines through in this conversation. I was glad it was included in the story.

Why Vin Vogel’s Illustrations Are Just Right!

The story begins the minute you open Maddi’s Fridge because there are pictures on the end sheets – I love that! It’s morning in the front of the book, evening in the back of the book, and the illustrations here and throughout the story are chock full of details. The friendly, quirky drawings look like something a child could draw – almost – which shows an exceptional level of care and sophistication in the artist, in my view. Like the text of the story, the illustrations encompass both the depth of the subject and the child’s-eye-view of the characters and readers. There’s plenty to point at and talk over if you’re sharing this book with your littlest littles, and plenty to support an older child’s reading of the story and attract the eye even for grade schoolers who can appreciate the point and make use of the helpful resources at the end of the book.

Interview with A Seventh Grader

I happen to have a seventh-grader handy around the house, and I was interested in her perspective on the story. She recognized the book when I opened the box from the publisher, and I decided to include her views in my review.

Where did you first read this book?

I read it in second grade, and I didn’t remember even about the cheesy pizza bombs. I just remember Maddi’s Fridge and the picture on the cover.

Tell me the story again in your own words.

There are these 2 best friends named Maddi and Sofia. Sofia is slightly better off than Maddi, and Sofia always has food in her refrigerator, while Maddi only has a jug of milk. Maddi made Sofia promise not to tell anyone about her empty refrigerator. Because she wanted to help, Sofia told her mom anyway. They packed food into grocery bags and gave them to Maddi’s mom. Maddi did call her on breaking her promise, but they made up and ate cheesy pizza bombs with their families.

What do you think about Maddi and Sofia’s relationship?

I think that they are thick-and-thin best friends.

Why did Maddi make Sofia promise not to tell about her empty fridge?

Either she was embarrassed about it, or she didn’t want to accept help.

Do you think Sofia should have told her mom about Maddi’s problem? Why or why not?

Yes, because Maddi might have starved otherwise.

What do you think the mothers are talking about in their conversation when they finally meet near the end of the book?

Why Sofia’s family had no money, health food (obviously), and momish things.

How do you think this book could help someone who was hungry?

It would encourage them to stop by their local soup kitchen, or food bank instead of slowly starving themselves.

How do you think this book could help people who want to take care of their neighbors?

It will let them know what they can do to help, which saves thinking about what they could successfully (keyword: successfully) do.

Maddi’s Fridge is available on Amazon in hardcover and Kindle editions. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for this review.

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