Review: Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat

Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat 

by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Giselle Potter

Beach Lane Books (imprint of Simon & Schuster)

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Meg Wiviott

Moving quickly from bookkeeper at LA’s Seventh Street produce market in the mid-1950s to sales (the only woman among a workforce of men) Frieda Caplan “loved people” and “She loved to talk.” Frieda also loved to try new things, especially fruits and vegetables other than apples, bananas, and potatoes. Frieda’s instincts and “a funny feeling in her elbows” told her when she’d found something other people would grow to love too. With packaging and recipes she encouraged people to try new things, like mushrooms, while the other salesmen all said, “No!” It was not long before Frieda owned her own produce company and sold unusual fruits and vegetables: black radishes, baby corn, kiwi fruit, jicama, and quince. If you see produce in the grocery you’ve never seen before, chances are it’s there because of Frieda Caplan.
Rockliff delightfully portrays Frieda Caplan’s rise from bookkeeper to entrepreneur, with a glimpse at some of the hurdles Ms. Caplan must have encountered as a woman in a male dominated profession. Rockliff’s alliterations “mounds of mangosteen, heaps of jicama, and quantities of quince” compliment Potter’s bright illustrations of the market and produce. Potter’s illustrations of people’s hairstyles and attire mark the march of time well. More detailed information on Frieda Caplan and sources are included in an Afterword.
Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat certainly has literary merit, is appropriate for its intended audience, and is well researched. It is an interesting picture book biography of a Jewish woman, the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, who worked hard to achieve success in a profession that did not welcome women.

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Meg Wiviott is the author of the YA novel in verse PAPER HEARTS, which received a 2016 Christopher Award. Her picture book, BENNO AND THE NIGHT OF BROKEN GLASS, was selected as one of SLJ’s Best Picture Books of 2010 and made CCBC’s Best Choice List. She holds an MFA from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.