Themed Third Thursday: Let’s Eat!

I noticed while trying to select picture books for BoyChild recently that there are innumerable books for small children that revolve around food. (Friends, family, and feelings finish off the list of the four f’s of children’s literature, I think.) As I browsed the shelves and picked the mind of our branch children’s librarian, I found that the food theme isn’t limited to picture books! Below you’ll find a selection of books with more than a passing concern for victuals for a wide range of ages and interests–books about food, books with a lot of incidental food included, chef biographies, cookbooks, and cookbooks about food in books. It’s rather astonishing, really. Bon appétit!

The Baker's DozenThe Baker’s Dozen: A Counting Book, by Dan Andreasen (2007): When the clock shows the early hour of 5 a.m., we see the baker start his day by making one cream éclair. By the time 6:20 rolls around, he’s on seven tarts, and when the clock strikes 8:00, he’s got twelve small cupcakes ready to go to open the door to his thirteen waiting customers! Cute illustrations of a very cheery chef making a diverse collection of treats will entertain young readers and counters and more definitely inspire requests for a snack! Perfect for preschoolers and early elementary children.

Pancakes, Pancakes! by Eric Carle (1990): Pancakes, Pancakes!In this leveled reader (Ready-to-Read Level One), Jack has to gather what his mother needs to make pancakes (from threshing the wheat to milking the cow!) before he can have his breakfast. While many of the words may be unfamiliar to a child who hasn’t farmed the land, they are at least simple to sound out, and the pictures and progression of the story lend themselves to predictions and picture clue strategies for understanding the text. Don’t let the scary pancake face on the cover fool you…there are no talking breakfast foods in this book! Good for early readers (particularly those fond of pancakes and/or Eric Carle books) and a great mentor text for writing a simple story about putting together a meal (and then doing so)!

Perfect Pancakes if You PleasePerfect Pancakes if You Please, by William Wise, pictures by Richard Egielski (1997): King Felix is a greedy and picky ruler, and he promises the hand of his daughter Princess Elizabeth in marriage in exchange for the perfect stack of pancakes. Her mother comforts her by saying that there is no such thing as a stack of perfect pancakes…unless you used “black magic itself,” and only Maximillian, the Evil Inventor, still used it in their kingdom, and he is so old that she believes he is probably dead by now. She is, unfortunately, incorrect, and when Princess Elizabeth refuses to marry him, he leaves his pancake-making invention to keep making pancakes until they overwhelm the kingdom. A tall, handsome scientist whom Princess Elizabeth had admired during the contest invents a flying machine to take the pancake-making machine to the moon, and the evil inventor gets trapped inside and shipped off with his machine. Princess Elizabeth marries the handsome young scientist, and not another pancake is eaten in all the kingdom ever again. Best for early elementary independent reading and read-alouds.

Gator Gumbo, by Candace Fleming, Gator Gumbopictures by Sally Anne Lambert (2004): A bayou version of The Little Red Hen, Gator Gumbo tells the story of Monsieur Gator who is so old he can’t catch food anymore and is endlessly mocked by his former prey while he sadly eats his vegetables for every meal. One day he gets so angry at their taunts that he gets “hot…red hot…hotter than…Gumbo!” and gets a great idea. You can tell that there’s something stewing in his head more than in his pot by the look in his eye as he asks possum, otter, and skunk if they will help add each ingredient and gets the response, “I ain’t” (instead of “Not I!”) from each of them, so it’s barely a surprise when finally agrees to let the loafers try some tasty gumbo…and they all fall in the pot, the last and best ingredients in his gumbo. A little macabre, sure, but you have to tip your hat to Monsieur Gator for his ingenuity! A good read-aloud for preschool and early elementary or independent read for middle elementary readers.

Amelia Bedelia Bakes OffAmelia Bedelia Bakes Off, by Herman Parish, pictures by Lynn Sweat (2010): I already wrote about the cake and some of the book elements in a previous blog entry, so you can get the details there. In short, in this installment in the series (written by the nephew of the original author after her death), Amelia Bedelia (who we already know is a good cook!) helps out in a bakery with her cousin Alcolu (whose name I cannot pronounce! AL-coe-loo? Al-COE-loo? AL-cuh-loo? Al-cuh-LOO?) as a favor for the baker who is taking the day off. Typical Amelia-Bedelia-ness occurs. And then she makes an impossibly perfect cake out of a basic (but tasty!) recipe. Sure to bring out giggle-fits in less literally-minded children with the background knowledge to understand the misunderstandings. :) An excellent choice for early elementary, particularly children with a pun-ny sense of humor and some baking experience in their personal history. Alternately, this book could be used to introduce some baking knowledge to encourage an attempt at baking (like it did with us!).

George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, George Crum and the Saratoga Chipby Gaylia Taylor, illustrated by Frank Morrison (2006): The author notes the inconsistency and scarcity of historical accounts about the creator of the potato chip, George Crum, a chef at Moon’s Lake House in Saratoga Springs, New York back in the 1800s, but she pieces what she can together into a brief biographical story of the man whose feisty (love that word!) attitude and distaste for being looked down upon helped him stumble accidentally upon a recipe for one of America’s favorite snack foods. With its rich illustrations in acrylic and its text-heavy pages, this picture book is best as a read-aloud for a smallish group of good listeners or for independent middle elementary readers. (Three other picture book biographies I didn’t have a chance to actual read to review are Hiromi’s Hands, The Adventurous Chef: Alexis Soyer, and Bon Appétit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child, and they all look great!)

All in Just One CookieAll in Just One Cookie, by Susan E. Goodman, illustrated by Timothy Bush (2006): Grandma’s expecting company, so she’s baking up a batch of cookies. Her cat and dog (I don’t know why) go on a quest to discover where each of the ingredients originates. With each new ingredient (conveniently listed with instructions like amounts and how to mix it in) comes an explanation of where and how the ingredient is produced for use at home. While this isn’t the sort of book most kids will pore over alone, it would certainly go over well with the curious and those just wanting those chocolate chip cookies at the end! Best for elementary age children with an adult for assistance.

Chocolate Fever, by Robert Kimmel Smith Chocolate Fever(1972): I read this chocolate-themed classic for the first time ever when I was searching for books for this list, and I was pleasantly surprised. While the book clearly has some extremely silly parts (I mean, the kid breaks out in chocolate spots, for Pete’s sake), the gentle references to racism brought up by Mac (the truck driver from whom Henry catches a ride), his reminders to Henry about how his actions must be making his loving parents feel, and the bullying Henry faces on the playground because of his appearance all bring up important and serious topics within the funny framework of a boy catching chocolate fever. Chocolate-loving Henry makes a good story for middle elementary students for independent or group reading.

Lisa the Lollipop FairyLisa the Lollipop Fairy (Rainbow Magic: The Sugar & Spice Fairies), by Daisy Meadows (2013): One of the seven books in the Sugar & Spice Fairies branch of the Rainbow Magic series, Lisa the Lollipop Fairy tells the story of what happens when Jack Frost steals Lisa’s fairy charm and all sugary treats lose their sweetness. Just like in the tooth fairy book from the same series, Kirsty and Rachel save the day (as far as lollipops are concerned–stay tuned for the next book to see if they save ice cream, too!). GirlChild, for some girly-girl reason, really loves these books, so I’d say that the “appeals to 2nd-3rd graders” recommendation from the back of the book can be extended to include almost-first graders and that the “grade 4″ reading level might be overstating things a little. Heaven forbid your child wants to have this book read aloud (not my cup of tea, but maybe yours!), but they make fun, light reading for fairy-obsessed little girls.

Pie, by Sarah Weeks (2011): Product DetailsAlice’s Aunt Polly had run the town’s pie shop–just called PIE–for years, and her award-winning (and very secret!) crust recipe was the envy of all. When she dies suddenly, her will reveals the incomprehensible bequest of her secret recipe to Lardo, her cat, and the somewhat hateful cat to her niece Alice. After these already unusual events, Pie is robbed, and no one can figure out who would have done it. Alice and her friend Charlie investigate the mysterious goings-on and try their hands at some pies (much like everyone else in town). The epilogue isn’t the traditional predictable ending, and a lot of reviewers seemed upset by that, but I thought it was a perfectly reasonable outcome and satisfying closure. Recommended for mother/daughter book clubs, this book includes the recipes for the different pies mentioned in the story (but not the crust recipe!), and the book page on the author’s website includes a number of ideas for using the book in the classroom as well. Readers in middle elementary to middle school would find this simple (but not simplistic) book an enjoyable read.

CookieCookie, by Jacqueline Wilson, illustrated by Nick Sharratt (2008): While I had never heard of this author before finding the book while browsing the shelves, she is apparently quite the thing in places where they get a better selection of books written by English authors, and she deals with a number of tough topics in her vast bibliography of children’s books for a range of ages. Another common thread I noticed among her books is the relatively unusual names of her female protagonists, and Beauty, the main character of this book, is no exception. While the book’s main conflict comes from the emotional abuse dished out by Beauty’s dad to both her and her mother, it still ties in with the food theme for a couple reasons. Beauty’s father uses food as part of his repertoire of insults and intimidation (according to him, Beauty eats too much of it, and her mother is an incompetent cook), and the redemption in the end comes from Beauty’s mother overcoming his harassment and actually making a name and an independence for herself as a cookie baker. Beauty, through helping her mother’s new business and finding her voice in the world, regains the confidence and happiness that she had lost under her father’s tyranny. Serious themes, obviously, but a good book for upper elementary and middle school readers.

The Flavor of Wisconsin for Kids, Flavor of Wisconsin for Kidsby Terese Allen and Bobbie Malone (2012): While you might not live in Wisconsin, you can use the subject search “Cooking–[your state name]” at your local library to find a similar cookbook for your own area! This particular book is organized by different “flavors from” categories, like forests (berries and maple sugar), waters and wetlands (fish and water-grown plants), meat and dairy farms (cheese, of course!), and foods from the different immigrant and native groups that have a strong presence in the area and an impact on regional cuisine. A brief introduction prefaces each section, and historical information is followed by a selection of relatively simple recipes that fit that category. Based on the complexity of the book and the somewhat mature palates necessary to enjoy many of these recipes, I’d recommend it for upper elementary and middle school readers and cooks (and their responsible adults at home or school).

Cool World CookingCool World Cooking: Fun and Tasty Recipes for Kids!, by Lisa Wagner (2013): I didn’t get a chance to try any of these recipes with GirlChild yet, but I love the set-up of the book. It is perfect for elementary age children to use with an adult or by themselves (with minimal adult help for safety purposes). There are several pages of cooking tools with pictures so kids know what they are and cooking terms with photo illustrations for clarity. Each section (Mexican, French, Italian, African, Middle Eastern, and Chinese and Japanese) includes information about the area, a pronunciation guide for the foods, a photo glossary of the ingredients needed for the recipes, and relatively simple recipes with some photographs for directions where it may be unclear. Lists of ingredients, tools needed, and symbols for warnings (oven use, sharp utensil use, nut warning) and variations are included on each recipe. Also includes an index and glossary at the end of the book.

The Unofficial Narnia Cookbook, Product Detailsby Dinah Bucholz (2012): One of several of her cookbooks based off of foods mentioned in some of her favorite books, this cookbook features recipes meant to replicate pretty much every single food or meal mentioned in the entire Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. The author includes a brief introduction to each menu or single recipe that includes a reference to where the food is mentioned in the books so you can look it up when you enjoy the meal. Many of the recipes are kind of complex, so this is definitely a cookbook meant to be used with an adult, not independently. While the index includes the food names, I do wish there were a section where the meals from each book were listed together so it would be easier to find the foods that went along with the book you’re reading without having to comb through the book for what foods are included. These recipes, as well as the ones in the Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook by the same author, are best suited to parents and children who are fans of the respective series (with reading ability of at least one of them in the upper elementary and above range), and they’d be great to use as part of a summer reading push or homeschooling unit.




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Fun Fourth Friday: Inspired by Fairy Tales

Okay, I love a good fractured fairy tale, and even the predictable retellings for kids are fresh and new to them, so here I’ll share some of the fairy-tale-based books I’ve encountered either on my own, while teaching, or recently with BoyChild and GirlChild. If you like a fresh face on a fairy tale, one of these might be for you!

The Magic Porridge Pot, by Paul GaldoneThe Magic Porridge Pot, by Paul Galdone (1976): I’m starting with a classic author with a simple retelling because a lot of kids (or their parents who are trying to tell the story!) may not even know a basic version of folk and fairy tales! (I know GirlChild didn’t when I wrote the Cinderella post a couple years ago!) In this story, a little girl and her mother have nothing to eat, and the little girl comes across an old woman in the woods who gives her a magic porridge pot that will boil with porridge with the right phrase (“Boil, Little Pot, Boil!”) and stop with the right phrase (“Stop, Little Pot, Stop!”). They are well-fed and happy. One day when the little girl is off visiting friends, the mother forgets the stopping words and floods the streets of their village with porridge. In the end, the little girl saves the day and no one in the village is ever hungry again. Galdone has a version of pretty much every classic folk or fairy tale you can imagine (I exaggerate, but not much) available on Amazon.

The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf,The Three Little Pigs and the Somewhat Bad Wolf, by Mark Teague by Mark Teague (2013): In this retelling, the pigs are sent on their way with a hoof full of cash by the farmer and his wife when they retire to Florida. The first two pigs skimp on building materials so they can splurge on potato chips and sody-pop, but the third pig invests in bricks (and gets a bonus sandwich from the owner of the hardware store to keep her belly full). The wolf comes through town on an empty stomach and is hopping mad by the time he is turned away (by locked doors or unsympathetic restauranteurs) from several eating places and happens upon a house that smells rather piggy. In his grouchy frustration, he threatens to blow down the house and eat the pig, and his success in the first task both surprises and emboldens him. In the end, he was more “hangry” than anything else, and the sympathetic pigs and their practical sibling help the wolf out, and he’s barely ever bad again. I think this would make a great read-aloud for young elementary school kids who already know the story because the changes will keep them on their toes and are quite entertaining. (Written and illustrated by the guy who does the illustrations in the How Do Dinosaurs…? series.)

Dog in Boots, by Greg GormleyDog in Boots, by Greg Gormley, illustrated by Roberta Angaramo (2011): Dog reads a very nice story about a cat who wears boots, and he’s inspired to buy a set of his own! He keeps trying different kinds of footwear at the shoestore, but each one turns out unsatisfactory in some way. The shopkeeper finally tells him that he doesn’t have quite the perfect thing, but that Dog does: his own paws! Dog agrees, has a lot of fun, then relaxes with another good book…about a girl who wears a red hood. This is clearly a fairy-tale-inspired book for the very young (I’d say preschool to primary school), and it is quite silly. It could always be a mentor text for young writers to imagine what might happen if Dog tried out something from another fairy tale (like growing long hair like Rapunzel or building houses like the Three Little Pigs) and what the results might be. The front papers show Dog trying out a variety of shoes (to fit the theme of the story), and the back pages show him trying out various costumes from other fairy tales.

The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-Be, The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-Be, by Mimi Greyby Mini Grey (2003): I’m not sure I’ve ever read a retelling of “The Princess and the Pea” from the point-of-view of a garden vegetable…until this one. This is the pea, in fact, that is chosen by the Queen as a test to the various visitors claiming to be princesses to prove their royalty in the standard way. First, the Prince traveled the world looking for a princess so that he wouldn’t lose his allowance (his mother’s threat), but none was quite to his fancy. (The illustration on this page shows Polaroids of a variety of princesses, some of them recognizable from other fairy tales.) The Queen then decides to invite prospects to the castle for the real-princess test, but all the visitors are too polite to mention their uncomfortable sleep, so none pass the test. The chosen pea decides to take matters into his/her own hands and, when her gardener comes to the door during a storm and is whisked away to try the test without being able to explain herself first, the pea tries some subliminal messages while she sleeps. The Queen is excited to hear the planted complaints during breakfast the next morning, and the Prince seems quite pleased with his unconventional “princess.” If the final illustration is to be believed, they live happily ever after while they tend the palace garden.

The Princess and the Peas and Carrots, by Harriet ZiefertThe Princess and the Peas and Carrots, by Harriet Ziefert, illustrations by Travis Foster (2012):  Rosebud is a little girl who likes things just so. If things aren’t quite to her liking (mistakes while coloring, itchy clothes, green things in her food), she gets in quite a mood. During one of those moods (caused by food touching other food on her dinner plate), she shoves her plate away, accidentally causing it to spill her entire meal (chicken, mashed potatoes, peas, carrots, and gravy!) on the floor. Her mother sends her to her room where she takes out her frustration by completely ransacking it and throwing a massive fit. Her parents come and offer to help her…IF she calms down. When she does and apologizes for the messes she’s made, she and her parents work together to restore the room. After she eats her dinner and climbs into bed, her daddy tells her the story of the Princess and the Pea. Rosebud tries to go to sleep after the story, but something isn’t quite right…and her daddy finds a marble in it that had been missed during the clean-up, proving she’s a real princess, too. Cute illustrations and a phase of childhood (or personality type!) with which many parents and kids can identify!

The Great Fairy Tale Disaster, The Great Fairy Tale Disaster, by David Conwayby David Conway and illustrated by Melanie Williamson (2012): The Big Bad Wolf is getting old, and he’s looking for a less stressful fairy tale for a change. His attempts to integrate himself  into different stories don’t work out quite as he plans, especially when the Three Bears find him in their house and start chasing him from story to story, creating chaos in all the fairy tales! The Big Bad Wolf finally escapes back into his own story only to find himself in hot water–again. Poor Wolf can’t catch a break!

The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka and Lane SmithThe Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, by Jon Scieszka, illustrated by Lane Smith (1992): I have to preface this one by saying that if you don’t like the word “stupid,” it’s probably going to spoil your enjoyment of this book. However, I find it absolutely hilarious and nonsensical, and–like most other Jon Scieszka books–a great hook to get boys into reading about things they otherwise wouldn’t. (What better way to work in a telling of the Gingerbread Man or Chicken Little than using them to explain what these silly stories are supposed to be like!) Primarily for those who like the humor of sixth grade boys. ;) It’s also a Caldecott Honor book if you need more convincing.

Fairest, by Gail Carson Levine (2006): Fairest, by Gail Carson LevineSet in the same fantasy world as her first (and Newbery Honor winning) fairy-tale-inspired book, Ella Enchanted, Fairest pretty quickly reveals itself (through subtle details) to be a reimagining of the story of Snow White. Some of the in-world customs (singing random parts of ordinary speech, regional idioms, etc.) interrupt the flow of the book for me, but if you can let yourself get more absorbed in the storyline than a parent with two children interrupting repeatedly can, then you can probably take all those things in stride. Aza (the main character) was adopted by the innkeepers in whose inn she was abandoned as an infant, but her large-boned and pale-faced appearance among her dark, dainty countrymen gives her quite the complex, and she would give anything to be beautiful. Chance brings her to the royal city for the king’s wedding to a foreign commoner, and Aza gets swept into the intrigue that follows the new queen after an accident during the wedding celebrations puts him into a coma. Includes a handsome prince, a magic mirror, ventriloquy, and gnomes. Probably best suited for girls in middle school and up. (This is not the cover I have; mine has a more realistic illustration. I’m not sure which would have made me more likely to pick it up.)

A Tale Dark & Grimm, by Adam GerwitzA Tale Dark & Grimm, by Adam Gidwitz (2010): There is no false advertisement in this title! The first of three in a series, A Tale Dark & Grimm is a retelling of several of the more macabre fairy tales recorded by the Brothers Grimm. It is most definitely not bowdlerized, and it made me quite squeamish in parts. The author gives us frequent humor breaks, however, with his authorly interruptions (set apart by bold print and occasionally a few nearly-blank pages) that warn of gruesomeness to come (and other bits of trivia and explanation). If Lemony Snicket (apparently a reviewer at The New York Times agrees, if the review excerpt on the back of one of the other books is any proof) and Edgar Allen Poe cowrote a story, this might be it. The different fairy tales (most of them pretty obscure to me, but I never could get through our book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales due to a weak stomach and a propensity for vivid dreams) are woven together by making Hansel and Gretel take on a role in each that was probably formerly populated by a nameless unfortunate child. I couldn’t help but think of a former fifth grade student of mine who used to read Anne Rice books during free reading time; she probably would have found this a YA novel that would suit her fancy! I’d recommend these books for middle schoolers and up with intestinal fortitude and a strong ability to separate fantasy from reality.

The Goose Girl, by Shannon HaleThe Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale (2005): Based on a fairy tale with which I was unfamiliar, The Goose Girl tells the story of Ani, a princess who is betrothed (without her knowledge) to a foreign prince and then betrayed by her lady-in-waiting and most of her assigned guards during the long voyage to meet her fiance. Hale developed the more inexplicable elements of the story–the goose girl/princess’s ability to speak to her horse and command the wind–and turned them into some of the magical elements of her fantasy world, the ability to communicate with the natural world. (This also allowed her to branch beyond this fairy tale to create three more books set in the same world and not based on specific tales.) Ani disguises herself as a commoner and calls herself Isi, then uses her animal-speech to find success as a goose girl and plan her attempt to right the wrong that her lady-in-waiting created and save her country from invasion. And, eventually, to get the guy. Enna Burning, River Secrets, and Forest Born follow in the series, recommended for middle school and up. (She and her husband also collaborated on the graphic novel Rapunzel’s Revenge, another fairytale inspired story!)

Beauty, by Robin McKinleyBeauty, by Robin McKinley (1978): Robin McKinley has written a vast number of high-quality fantasy and fairy tale books for adults and young adults. My favorite by far, however, is Beauty. A novel-length retelling of the classic Beauty and the Beast story, you can’t help but think that Disney sampled from McKinley as much as they did from the original story! Beauty is the nickname of the youngest of three daughters, given to her when she replied in disgust to the meaning of her own name, Honour, “I’d rather be called Beauty!” (a request she regretted throughout her awkward teen  years). She is intelligent and practical where her older sisters are sweet and beautiful, and she volunteers herself as her father’s replacement as the Beast’s prisoner to save him and her sisters (one of whom is married, and the other is pining for her betrothed who was lost at sea). Although it was published before I was born, I read this as a teenager, and I think romantics as young as middle school or as old as still can dream would enjoy the book.

I’ve previously reviewed The Frog Prince Continued and Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs so I won’t include them here, but those are additional titles for those who like more goofy than grand in their fairy tales! Find those reviews in my Jon Scieszka and Mo Willems themed reviews!

So there you have it. A good mixture of the silly and the serious, fanciful and farcical, inventive and intense, juvenile and mature (sorry, couldn’t alliterate there!), and all of them inspired by fairy tales! Let me know some of your favorites in the comments!

Waking BeautyUPDATE: I have no idea how I failed to remember Falling for Rapunzelto include a couple books by Leah Wilcox! Waking Beauty and Falling for Rapunzel are hilarious retellings that depend on slapstick confusion and rhyme to entertain. Great for read-alouds for preschool to middle elementary!

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Sickness Delay

So, my kids have been sick again (for almost two weeks!), and we haven’t gotten to the library in three weeks (counting the 4th of July holiday weekend), so I haven’t been able to get all my books for this month’s theme! Themed Third Thursday will be replaced by Fun Fourth Friday again this month!

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Amelia Bedelia Bakes Off (and You Can, Too!)

GirlChild sounded like she was talking nonsense when she was telling me about the Amelia Bedelia book she had been reading, but since those books are full of silliness, I figured she just didn’t quite get the jokes, so I had her reread it aloud to me so I could explain the word play. We discussed homophones (words that sound alike but are spelled differently) and idioms (words or phrases that mean one thing literally but another thing to the group of people who use the idiom (“raining cats and dogs” was the example I used)). While she was reading, I stopped her occasionally to have her explain the jokes to me or to predict how Amelia Bedelia (or her Cousin Alcolu in this book) would interpret what was said. Thankfully, she has some background knowledge about cooking shows and baking in general, so she was able to focus on just understanding their misunderstandings! At the end of the book (which can be seen on the Amazon preview if you don’t have the book in hand! (UPDATE 8/19/14: I can’t see it there anymore, but I found it here instead!)) is the 9-ingredient cake recipe that Amelia Bedelia uses for the sheet cake–which she just goes ahead and makes into a bed cake because she’s so tired!–that wins the bake off for her, and GirlChild expressed a great and overwhelming desire to make the cake! (Everything is a big deal these days–lots of six-year-old drama!) Since Grandma and Grandpa are here this week, I told her we could, and she and BoyChild and I made it this afternoon. She desperately wanted to make it into a bed cake like Amelia Bedelia does, but I wasn’t quite up to trying to sculpt and do fondant and all that to make it really look like a bed like she did, so we just iced it using this frosting recipe and tossed on some sprinkles. It was pretty tasty, and–for anyone with allergy issues–is egg and dairy free! (The frosting has butter and milk, but those could be swapped out for whatever substitute suits your fancy, or you can just use your own allergen-free frosting recipe!)Amelia Bedelia's Sheet Cake

Kids’ books featuring tie-in recipes make it super simple to help connect your kids’ reading to a family activity and make it fun for everyone, and this one was pretty simple and doesn’t require a bunch of bizarre ingredients (or even a bowl for mixing–you mix it right in the baking dish!). Make sure you have enough cocoa in your cupboard (I had to make a last-minute run to the store because my container was emptier than I thought it was!), and mix up this easy cake tonight! It’s great with a cold glass of milk (or milk substitute)!

If you’re into book tie-in activities with your little ones, try an activity or recipe from these other posts, too!

Parents magazine: Read, Cook, Love, by Monica Bhide

Themed Third Thursday: Apples

Topsy and Tim’s Peanut Crunchies (aka, Health Cookies by my Aunt Lois)

Don’t Let the Pigeon Be Your Cake!


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Themed Third Thursday: Dabbling in Dinosaurs Edition

I call this “Dabbling in Dinosaurs” because the books I’m featuring–the books BoyChild loves!–are in no way informative or in-depth; they just dabble. Since dinosaurs are his favorite topic right now but he doesn’t care in the slightest about any scientific information about them, these books are right up my three-year-old’s alley!

Inside-Outside Dinosaurs, by Roxie MunroInside-Outside Dinosaurs, by Roxie Munro (2009): This is the closest to educational these books will get. We bought this book for BoyChild after he chose it from the library and wept openly when we had to return it. (Don’t worry–we commiserated with him, returned it anyway, and waited for a gift-giving opportunity to give him his own so he wasn’t rewarded for crying about returning a book!) Several dinosaurs are featured, and many more are shown in the background of the images (and identified in the back of the book). The featured dinosaurs are shown as a skeleton and have the dinosaur’s name and the meaning of the name. The next spread shows that dinosaur as it might have looked in its natural habitat (with other dinosaurs in the background, too). The last few pages of the book feature outline drawings of the scenes pictured in the book, have colored dots to identify each dinosaur shown, and give the pronunciation and some information about the main dinosaur in the image. (BoyChild never looks at this part, but I’m sure that will come with time.)

Dinotrux, by Chris Gall (2009): Dinotrux, by Chris Gall“Millions of years ago prehistoric TRUCKS roamed the earth. They were HUGE. They were HUNGRY. But they weren’t helpful like they are today.” So begins this silly story of how modern trucks came from the smart dinotrux that escaped extinction and civilized themselves to become the helpful vehicles they are today. With silly names like dumploducus and dozeratops and sight gags like the rollodon squashing a lizard and a few dinotrux leaving smelly messes, the book is probably best for slightly older kids who have a bit of background information on dinosaurs and vehicles and what they’re called (because each dinotrux creature is a reptile version of a vehicle and each name is a portmanteau of a dinosaur name and a vehicle name) and like and understand somewhat subtle potty humor, but BoyChild enjoys browsing this book alone (like he does for a lot of books he loves) and looking at the pictures despite not really getting what’s going on at all. To him, it’s just dinosaurs that kind of look like trucks, and that works for him! (There are also a few others in this series.)

Dinosaur Kisses, by David Ezra SteinDinosaur Kisses, by David Ezra Stein (2013): I first saw this book when we were away from the kids on a short trip, and I almost bought it for BoyChild as a souvenir because I knew he’d love it! (I then realized that it had nothing to do with Nashville and could either be bought cheaper elsewhere or checked out from the library for him, so I was wise and left it on the shelf.) Little Dinah, a newly hatched carnivore of some sort (probably a t-rex) tries stomping and chomping, but then she sees a kiss and wants to try that. After several failed attempts (she always manages to stomp or chomp her intended kissee instead!), she finally finds the perfect creature to get dinosaur “kisses.” David Ezra Stein also wrote Interrupting Chicken, a favorite at the grandparents’ house (because some of the granddaughters call my dad Papa): a Caldecott winner and another hilarious read-aloud for kids.

Dinosaur Vs. (series), by Bob Shea (2008-2014): Dinosaur vs. Bedtime, by Bob SheaYou have to really get your roar on when you read these books aloud to kids! BoyChild will have us read these until we’re absolutely hoarse. With copious amounts of victorious roaring and titles like Dinosaur vs. the Potty and the recently released Dinosaur vs. School, how can you go wrong? My personal favorite is probably Dinosaur vs. the Library (where the little dino finally quiets down for story time!). Roar, roar, roar–Dinosaur wins!

How Do Dinosaurs Get Well Soon?, by Jane Yolen and Mark TeagueHow Do Dinosaurs…? (series), by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague (2000-2013): From the first entry in the series, How Do Dinosaurs Say Good Night?, to the most recent ones, How Do Dinosaurs Say Happy Chanukah? and How Do Dinosaurs Say Merry Christmas?, these hilarious books pose rhetorical questions about all the inappropriate ways the dinosaurs could respond to the given situation and then come back and declare all the right ways the dinosaurs actually respond. What could possibly end up being just a humorous, rhyming manners lesson (albeit very charming and not didactic) is made absolutely hysterical by the illustrations of enormous, realistic-but-anthropomorphic dinosaurs in human homes with human parents acting like any young child might! (Also, the name of each dinosaur is incorporated into the drawing somehow, often along the tail, but sometimes as a part of the background picture, like magnets on the fridge.) BoyChild’s current favorite is How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad? and GirlChild likes the jokes in How Do Dinosaurs Laugh Out Loud?

These are some of BoyChild’s favorites! If you happen to know of any light-reading dinosaur books for little ones with an early interest or if you know of any good dinosaur books for the very young with more of a scientific bent, leave a comment!

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Themed Third Thursday: Grandparents Edition

My father officially retired at the beginning of this month after about a billion years (more or less–probably less) working for a local John Deere store. (Both GirlChild and BoyChild know that–in our family, at least!–the only real tractor is a stunning green!) In honor of his newly-free grandparenthood, I’m reviewing books this month about grandparents! (Also, this gives you tons of time to find that perfect book about grandparents before Grandparents’ Day in September!)

How to Babysit a GrandpaHow to Babysit a Grandpa, by Jean Reagan, illustrated by Lee Wildish (2012): As every little boy knows, sometimes he will have to babysit his grandfather. (*winkwink*) This little boy gives tips for what to do when a grandpa arrives (hide, then surprise him!), how to entertain him, what to feed him, and what to do during his naptime. Even BoyChild knows that you can’t just wait for a grandpa to wake up–you might have to yell, “Wake up, sleepyhead!” or crow, “Croc-o-dile-doo!” (BoyChild still isn’t great with the cockadoodledoo noise…) so that you can get cleaned up before your parents return! Saying goodbye is made easier when you give hugs and kisses, a picture you drew as a gift, and a request to babysit again soon. Cute illustrations complement the realistic depictions of what might go on in a little boy’s head while a grandpa is babysitting. I just might have to buy this book for BoyChild and his grandpas to read together, especially since my parents will be staying with our kids for a few days next month! (Also recently published by the author, How to Babysit a Grandma!)

Spot Visits his Grandparents, Spot Visits his Grandparentsby Eric Hill (1995): A typical Spot lift-the-flap book, this book follows Spot as he visits his grandparents and gets into some mischief with his grandfather (which they hide from his grandmother) while they are outside working in the garden and playing. Spot happens to find a ball in the garden that had belonged to his mother, and he happily shares his discovery with her when he returns home.

The Napping HouseThe Napping House, by Audrey Wood and Don Wood (1984): The cumulative nature of the story, where everything starts on a rainy day with a napping house and a cozy bed, leads to listener participation and prediction, and the illustrations (gently listing toward the reader as each page is turned, a subtle shift in perspective I didn’t even notice until almost the end of the book) provide comprehension clues and endless detail that make rereadings even more fun. This classic book has aged beautifully–while many children’s books get dated because of the illustrations, these are absolutely timeless! This was actually the first time I read this book to my children (I don’t know why!), and GirlChild was the first to be able to predict which napper would join the pile next, but BoyChild’s sharp eyes were the ones who figured out the flea! (GirlChild also predicted that the bed would break…but she was several pages too early in her prediction. :) )

My Pop Pop and Me, My Pop Pop and Meby Irene Smalls, illustrated by Cathy Ann Johnson (2006): Onomatopoeia, repetition, and rhyme characterize this book about a little boy baking with his beloved Pop Pop. The illustrations are brimming over with the joyful togetherness of boy and grandfather, and they even clean up after themselves! The book includes a recipe for the Lemon Bar Cake Bake that they are making together in the book. The author has also written My Nana and Me, but I wasn’t able to find a copy of that title to review!

I'm Going to Grandma'sI’m Going to Grandma’s, by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke (2007): The little girl who is going to Grandma’s is very excited and enjoys time with her grandma and grandpa and the puppy, but she starts to get nervous as bedtime nears. Her grandmother shares with her the story of the patchwork quilt on her bed, how it was made by her grandmother’s grandmother out of pieces of outgrown clothing, and each patch had a story to tell. The little girl then peacefully drifts off to sleep, dreaming of a story quilt all her own. The rhyme scheme in this book has an AAAB, CCCB, DDDB continuing pattern throughout (each page ending with a word that rhymes with “night”), so it would likely make a good mentor text for teaching that sort of continuity in a multi-stanza poem. Mary Ann Hoberman is also the author of the You Read to Me, I’ll Read to You books and several poetry compilations.

Sleepover at Gramma’s House, Sleepover at Gramma's Houseby Barbara Joose, illustrated by Jan Jutte (2010): A little elephant girl is really excited to go visit her gramma because they “love each other so.” She and her grandmother do all sorts of silly and irresponsible things together, and they end the day sitting on the porch swing listening to a summer storm because “the very best way to fall asleep is inside a hug.” I would recommend this as a read-aloud suitable for preschoolers to early elementary, but the unusual vocabulary and flow of the text and the punctuation irregularities might make it difficult for the intended audience to read independently.

Grandpa GreenGrandpa Green, by Lane Smith (2011): Lane Smith may be best known for his illustrations for books by Jon Scieszka (at least to me!), but he is also the author-illustrator of other titles, like The Happy Hocky Family and It’s a Book. This book–a 2012 Caldecott Honor recipient–is very different from his usual bizarre humor, however. It is written as a child telling about his great-grandfather’s life, but the life events are illustrated as topiary trees that the boy is helping tend in an elaborate garden. The great-grandfather apparently uses the garden to help him remember the things that his advanced age would otherwise cause him to forget. The last touching illustration shows the little boy beginning to create his own topiary to help him remember: a life-sized version of his great-grandfather.

What! Cried Granny: An Almost Bedtime Story, What! Cried Grannyby Kate Lum, pictures by Adrian Johnson (1998): Patrick goes to his granny’s house for an overnight trip, but as Granny tries to send him to bed, he realizes he’s missing one thing after another–from a bed to a teddy bear–and his overzealous grandmother hand-crafts each missing item in this tall-tale of a bedtime delay story. (She actually shears some sheep, spins the yarn, knits a blanket, and dyes it when it becomes clear he has no blanket to tuck under his chin.) In the end, he’s lacking nothing…but it’s already daylight again. Poor Granny. (BoyChild didn’t like that she cries at the end!)

Singing with Momma LouSinging with Momma Lou, by Linda Jacobs Altman, illustrations by Larry Johnson (2002): Tamika doesn’t really like visiting Momma Lou in the nursing home every Sunday. Momma Lou used to be her confidante, but now that her grandmother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, she has to remind Momma Lou who she is every time she comes in. After one particularly unhappy visit, Tamika’s father shares with her a scrapbook of her grandmother’s photographs and newspaper clippings, and Tamika decides to try to connect with her again through these mementos. She starts with the picture of Momma Lou holding Tamika as a baby and ends with sharing the clipping of Momma Lou and fellow protesters in jail after a civil rights demonstration. After that last one, Momma Lou no longer has any lucid moments, but Tamika takes the memory of that clipping and sings “We Shall Overcome,” the song they sang in jail and in the nursing home sitting room as they remembered the event, to make herself feel happier when she’s sad.

Zero Grandparents (A Jackson Friends Book), Zero Grandparentsby Michelle Edwards (2001): Second grader Calliope James is unhappy to find that her class will be celebrating Grandparents Day the next week since she no longer has any grandparents. She struggles with her feelings of embarrassment and exclusion, refusing her friends’ offers to share their grandparents with her. Finally, she finds a solution in sharing about one of her grandmothers, the one whom she most resembles and whose picture and belongings she brings to class with her, and her friends’ grandmothers tell her how proud her grandma would have been of her. The second of three books in the Jackson Friends series.

Whether your child calls his or her grandparents Grandma and Grandpa, Meemaw and Pawpaw, Nana and Papa, Oma and Opa, or any regional, language, or family variation in between, sharing these books about grandparents is a great way to keep their grandparents fresh in their minds and on their hearts! (There are a million other great books about grandparents out there, I know! Share some of your favorites in the comments!)

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Themed Third Thursday: The Green Edition

GirlChild turned six earlier this month, and green is her favorite color. In honor of this fact (and, you know, Earth Day and all that), I did a catalog search for children’s books with the word “green” in the title. Here are some of the eclectic results!

Green, by Laura Vaccaro SeegerGreen, by Laura Vaccaro Seeger (2012–toddler to elementary): This incredibly simple book featuring lush paintings and cut-outs to peep from one page to the next defines green in a number of settings and ways. Each page has just two words, an adjective and the word “green,” and the pre-green words rhyme in an alternating pattern (like slow green, faded green, glow green, shaded green, although the first and third don’t always rhyme). Although it’s clearly meant for younger readers, I can see many elementary readers getting engrossed in the art, so it might be a good book to keep in an art classroom, too! It was also a Caldecott Honor book in 2013.

Where Is the Green Sheep?, by Mem Fox, illustrated by Judy Horacek Where Is the Green Sheep?, by Mem Fox, illlustrated by Judy Horacek(2004–toddler/preschool): All different kinds of sheep are found, from colorful sheep to sheep doing a variety of different things, but the green sheep remains elusive. In the end, the green sheep is found sleeping, camouflaged behind a bush. Each page contains a simple sentence stating which sheep is being shown. The refrain, “But where is the green sheep?” (repeated every few pages) helps young listeners participate in the reading, and contrasts and opposites are often used. My favorite illustration is the extreme close-up that just says, “Here is the near sheep.” BoyChild chuckled when I zoomed the book close to his face for that one!

Go Away, Big Green Monster!, by Ed EmberleyGo Away, Big Green Monster!, by Ed Emberley (1992–toddler/preschool): Cut-out pages reveal the big green monster piece by piece, then the reader tells the big green monster to go away piece by piece. This book might be helpful for children who have a fear of monsters and who need to be empowered to get rid of their imaginary tormenters. The last lines, “And DON’T COME BACK! Until I say so,” gives children a tool to banish their fears while still inviting imaginative play (including the occasional biddable monster).

Red Green Blue: A First Book of Colors, by Alison Jay Red Green Blue, by Alison Jay(2009–preschool/early elementary): Actually written by Libby Hamilton, this book is not your typical color concept book. On each page, a little boy (the one on the opening page who is experiencing a “dull and gray” rainy day) watches as a nursery rhyme takes place before his eyes, transitioning from one to the next as though he is moving through scenes that blend into one another. Although each page names a color (emphasized by bold, enlarged type), the illustrations do not go overboard on the color, making it more suitable to slightly older children than most concept books. The illustrations have muted tones and a crackled appearance, much like those old, painted wooden or ceramic plaques you might find in your grandma’s house. A picture appendix of all the nursery rhymes referenced can be found at the back of the book.

Green Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of ColorsGreen Is a Chile Pepper: A Book of Colors, by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by John Parra (2014–preschool/early elementary): Rhyming verse uses colors and some Spanish words to showcase Hispanic American traditions. (Although the CIP data for this book says that this is about children discovering colors in their Hispanic American neighborhood, I’m not sure where in the United States there is a neighborhood that is sufficiently rural and suited to have a monkey climbing the corn stalks…) It references Christmas and Day of the Dead traditions as well as general foods and celebrations, so it might be a good book to share with children to celebrate National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15 in 2014) or for a study of Central and South America.

The Berenstain Bears Go Green, by Jan and Mike BerenstainThe Berenstain Bears Go Green (2013–early elementary): Not as long as the old Berenstain Bears books (saving paper to go green, perhaps?), this title is still not lacking in the didactic tone that typifies the series. Kids like the series, though, and I doubt this book would be any different…and it might make a good, short read-aloud for Earth Day to trigger discussion about simple ways we can be better stewards of our resources. Because it’s a recent publication, the advice given is up-to-date and at least a few items will be doable for the majority of modern children.

The Green Bath, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Steven KelloggThe Green Bath, by Margaret Mahy, illustrated by Steven Kellogg (2013): Sammy’s mother tells him to stop his adventuring and get cleaned up for his grandmother’s visit, and Sammy tries to make the best of his bath in the new green tub his father just installed. He starts to sing “The Owl and the Pussycat,” and the bathtub gets up and races to the beach where Sammy and the tub have a wild adventure with mermaids, a sea serpent, and a bunch of pirates. The tub and Sammy return to the bathroom just in time for his mother and grandmother to walk on in…then Sammy and grandma set off toward the beach in the endpapers. The book is a little odd, surely, since it implies that the bathtub adventure is real and not just Sammy’s imagination, but that doesn’t spoil the fact that this is what most young kids think when they’re playing in the bath anyway!

How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans, by David LaRochelle,How Martha Saved Her Parents from Green Beans, by David LaRochelle illustrated by Mark Fearing (2013–early elementary): Martha, despite her parents’ proddings, refuses to eat the green beans she is served every Tuesday night with dinner. She knows that green beans are bad, but she only finds out how bad when a gang (crop?) of mean green beans comes to town and terrorizes everyone who has ever eaten or encouraged anyone to eat green beans. They end up kidnapping Martha’s parents, and only Martha’s brave act (eating all the beans that resist her insistence to let her parents go) saves them from a terrible fate. In the end, green beans are never served at their house again…but the salad is starting to look suspicious, too. I don’t know if this book will work more as an encouragement to resistant veggie eaters (would BoyChild eat green beans if he imagined that he was saving Mommy and Daddy by doing so?) or if it would make them more likely to declare a vegetable “bad,” but it’s a pretty hilarious book and probably worth trying on those stubborn vegetable haters!

One Green Apple, by Eve BuntingOne Green Apple, by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Lewin (2006–early elementary): A little girl, Farah, who is a recent immigrant to (what I assume to be) the United States goes on a field trip with her brand new class to an apple orchard. She feels different and isolated by her dupatta (a head scarf) and inability to speak or understand English, but one classmate, Anna, tries to introduce herself and include her even though others are mean because, as Farah’s father says, their “home country and [their] new one have had difficulties.” Farah selects her allotted apple from a small, separate tree, away from her classmates, and it is the only green one that gets added to the cider press. Farah hesitates at first to help operate the press, but Anna and a boy make room for her, so she steps in. She even thinks she can taste her unique apple in the cider when they taste it. On the hayrack ride back, another child introduces himself, but when he belches, Farah notes that the laughter sounds the same as in her home country, and as she thinks about how it is only the language that sounds different and she will be able to learn that, she thinks, “I will blend with the others the way my apple blended with the cider.” Inspired by her understanding that she will learn to fit in but with her own personal flavor, she tries her first “outside-myself” word and speaks “app-ell” aloud, causing Anna to applaud her effort. The watercolor illustrations are beautiful, almost photorealistic, but the real reason I like this book is that I can see my GirlChild being the Anna in it, and I am proud of her and what she can do for lonely people around her!

Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey, illustrations by Floyd Cooper Ruth and the Green Book, by Calvin Alexander Ramsey(2010–elementary): This book is historical fiction set in the early 1950s and tells the story of an African American family driving south from Chicago to visit family in Alabama and the unexpected difficulties they face as they try to do simple things like get gas, use a restroom, stop to eat, or get a room at a hotel. It is told from the point-of-view of the young daughter who is put in charge of using the Green Book to find the things that her family needs along the way. The titular book–The Negro Motorist Green Book–was a book published from 1936 to 1964 that gave African Americans traveling through the United States (and eventually Bermuda, Mexico, and Canada) lists of places necessary to travelers that would accept their business. See a need, fill a need. The last page of the book gives a brief history of the book and tells that the last edition was published in 1964–the same year that the president signed the Civil Rights Bill into law, making the book obsolete. This would be a great read-aloud during a study of the Civil Rights Movement because of its true but gentle treatment of a very serious subject.

Nature's Green Umbrella: Tropical Rain Forests, by Gail GibbonsNature’s Green Umbrella: Tropical Rain Forests, by Gail Gibbons (1994–elementary): This nonfiction book features a large amount of information in a relatively unintimidating format. A large, labeled illustration on each spread introduces vocabulary and wildlife names. Illustrated maps and diagrams help explain concepts discussed in the text, a few sentences or somewhat brief paragraphs on each page. At the end of the book, different kinds of rain forests are defined and shown on a map if possible.

Do you  have a favorite green book? Share it with us in the comments!


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