Talking to Kids About Childhood Hunger with Maddi’s Fridge

A touching exploration of childhood hunger, courageous generosity, and staying true to friends in need.

Cover of the book Maddi's Fridge“The belly is an ungrateful wretch,” wrote Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, a novel about life in a Soviet labor camp. “It never remembers past favors, it always wants more tomorrow.” Starvation is a terrifying reality for much of the world’s population, but childhood hunger is a true tragedy. According to the non-profit organization Feeding America, “good nutrition, particularly in the first three years of life, is important for establishing a good foundation that has implications for a child’s future physical and mental health, academic achievement, and economic productivity.” During the year of 2015, 13.1 million children in the United States were unable to consistently access enough nutritious food necessary for a healthy life.

Childhood hunger is the subject of Maddi’s Fridge (public library), a touching story about two friends—Sofia and Maddi—one with a fridge full of food, the other with only bread to eat. Together, they struggle to come to terms with the implications of Maddi’s empty fridge. The book tackles the thorny subjects of poverty and childhood hunger—and the shame associated with them—with subtle grace and elegance.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

The story opens with the heroes playing in a park. Sofia gets hungry, so the girls head back to Maddi’s apartment for a snack. There’s nothing in Maddi’s fridge except for some milk and bread. The heartbreaking conversation that ensues exposes Maddi’s secret and opens Sofia’s eyes to a hidden, unfortunate reality of her friend’s life.

Sofia swung open the door of Maddi’s fridge. ‘What have you got?’

‘We have milk,’ Maddi said. ‘I’m saving it for Ryan. He’s still little.’

‘Why doesn’t your mom go to the store?’ Sofia asked.

‘We don’t have enough money.’

‘But what if you get hungry?’

‘We have some bread,’ Maddi said.

‘I guess I’ll go home to eat,’ Sofia said.

‘Please don’t tell anyone,’ Maddi said.



‘I promise.’

Sworn to secrecy, Sofia heads home to her own fridge which is stocked full of delicious, nutritious food.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

That night at supper, Sofia thinks of Maddi and her empty fridge.

‘Here you go,’ Mom said.

Sofia and Luis each had a plate of fish and rice. Mom had a plate of fish and rice. Even Pepito had his bowl of dog food (with a little bit of fish and rice).

Maddi and Ryan only had some bread and a small carton of milk.

Sofia couldn’t tell Mom. She had to keep her promise to Maddi.

After asking her mother if fish is good for kids to eat, Sofia secretly decides to pack a fish in her backpack and give it to Maddi the next day.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

Of course, fish doesn’t keep well in backpacks. The resulting smell knocks the girls off their feet.

‘Yuck!’ Maddi said the next day.

‘Oh!’ Sofia said. ‘Double yuck.’

Fish may be good for kids, but fish is not good for backpacks.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

Sofia eventually manages to sneak Maddi a couple burritos and some other food that keeps in her backpack, but she’s still faced with the ultimate dilemma. Should she keep her promise to Maddi? Or should Sofia tell her mother and try to get Maddi and her family more food than she can fit in her backpack? Eventually she decides to tell her mother. Sofia’s mother packs up food for Maddi’s family, and Sofia’s family delivers it to Maddi’s apartment together.

Artwork from the book Maddi's Fridge

At the end of the story, Maddi confronts Sofia and asks her why she broke her promise.

‘You broke your promise,” Maddi said.

‘I’m sorry,’ Sofia said. ‘Are you mad?’

‘A promise is important,’ Maddi said.

‘You’re more important,’ Sofia said. ‘I wanted you to have milk too.’

Maddi smiled.

‘Are we still friends?’ Sofia asked.

‘Always,’ Maddi said.

Where did the idea for Maddi’s Fridge come from? According to an interview with author Lois Brandt, the story is based on personal experience.

Maddi’s Fridge is a story that has been in my heart since I was about ten. Stories and events stick inside my head until I give them voice on paper. In this case, I couldn’t forget the day I found out my best friend had no food in her home. This wasn’t a temporary ‘Mom and Dad were too busy to shop.’  They had absolutely no food and were days away from their mom’s payday.

A discovery like that changes your world. It changed forever the way I looked at people with less money or resources. These are our friends and neighbors who are struggling for food, housing, and jobs. What do you do when your best friend is in trouble? Maddi’s Fridge tells that story.

The thought-provoking subject matter in Maddi’s Fridge is sure to raise awareness of an epidemic hunger crisis that is largely hidden from public view. Childhood hunger is a serious issue that impacts millions of children living in the United States and around the world. Please join us in making a donation to Feeding America to support a local foodbank in your area.

Parents and educators looking for activities related to the book can download coloring sheets, recipes, and activities on Lois Brandt’s website. Complement with Trombone Shorty, a heartwarming book that touches on issues of poverty and overcoming obstacles.