Crab Cake by Andrea Tsurumi (9780544959002)
Crab loves to bake cakes. He makes them every day as all of the fish and ocean creatures do what they usually do too. Pufferfish puffs, Parrotfish eats coral, Dolphin blows bubbles. But when one night a disaster happens and a load of trash is dumped on their part of the ocean bed, no one knows what to do. Everyone else freezes, just staring at the mess. Crab though doesn’t freeze and makes a big cake for everyone to share. As the animals come together, they form a plan. It’s all thanks to one crab who just kept on doing what he does best.
Tsurumi’s picture book is filled with lots of small touches that bring this underwater world fully to life. The book reads aloud beautifully with quiet moments at first, the loveliness of crab making cakes for everyone, and then the disaster and its aftermath. It is a picture book that celebrates the creation of a community and the power of food to bring everyone together. It is also a book that looks at our oceans, caring for them and a love of the creatures who live there. The illustrations have a great cartoon look and feel to them that works well, creating moments of humor and drama very effectively.
A winning read for storytimes about fish, crabs or the environment. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bloom by Kevin Panetta, illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau (9781626726413)
A sweet combination of romance and baking rises to perfection in this graphic novel for teens. All Ari wants to do is leave their small town and move to the big city with his band. Unfortunately, he has to stay and help with his family’s bakery which is struggling financially. Then Ari comes up with a plan, to hire someone else to help in the bakery so that he is free to leave. That’s when Hector enters his life, a big calm guy who loves to bake just as much as Ari hates it. The two of them slowly becomes friends with romance hanging in the air, and that’s when Ari ruins it all.
We need so many more books for teens that focus on life after high school, particularly ones where the characters don’t have any real plans of what to do and aren’t headed for college. The story line here is beautifully laid out, creating a real connection between the two main characters that builds and grows. Then comes the devastating choice that Ari makes to blame Hector for an accident that they were both involved in. Panetta again allows the story to have a lovely natural pace even in this disaster, giving the reader pause about whether this is going to be a love story or not.
The art by Ganucheau is exceptional. The two characters are drawn with an eye for reality but also romance. They could not be more different with Ari light and rather dreamy and Hector a more anchoring and settled figure even in their depictions on the page. The baking scenes as they two work together are the epitome of romantic scenes, showing their connection to one another long before it fully emerges in the story.
A great LGBT graphic novel filled with romance and treats. Appropriate for ages 15-20.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
Eventown by Corey Ann Haydu (9780062689801)
Elodee’s family faced a tragedy this year and had trouble recovering from it. Elodee is always angry and her twin sister, Naomi, is getting quieter. Given those circumstances, moving to Eventown seemed like the best plan. The family had vacationed in Eventown and had great memories of being there. When they move into their house that is just like every other house in town, they discover a life filled with hikes into the hills, no cars, walking to school past a waterfall and woods, and rosebushes everywhere. Their lives find a comforting rhythm there. But things are a bit too perfect: there are no clouds in the sky, no rainy days, and ice cream doesn’t melt down your wrists. When the twins are sent to the Welcome Center, they are given a chance to tell six stories of their lives, days of their greatest sorrows and joys. Naomi goes first and tells her stories, but Elodee’s session is interrupted. Naomi is quickly fitting into the town while Elodee remembers more of their life before and starts to ask questions about their lives in Eventown.
Haydu’s novel takes a deep look at grief and pain and its purpose in our lives. It looks at what happens when bad memories are removed and perfection is put in their place. It is a limited perfection, one with no books to read, only one song to listen to, no cell phones, no Internet and no television. It is idyllic and eerie, a Stepford version of childhood. Horror is sidestepped neatly here, instead becoming a book about empowerment and making your own choices while asking important questions.
Elodee is a great main character. The fact that she is a twin is an important element in the book as it focuses on everyone in Eventown being the same but even then Elodee and Naomi are very different from one another. The twins make an interesting counterpoint to the entire town, with Elodee and her vivid anger, big questions and willingness to be different making an ideal person to expose what is really going on.
Filled with magic and mystery, this book is a compelling look at the price of perfection. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Katherine Tegen Books.
Good Morning, Neighbor by Davide Cali, illustrated by Maria Dek (9781616896997)
One morning, Mouse wakes up and wants an omelet for breakfast. The trouble is, he doesn’t have an egg. So he asks the blackbird for an egg. Blackbird has flour, but no egg perhaps they could make a cake instead! The two set off to find an egg, and along the way, they gather more and more animals and ingredients. The dormouse has butter. Mole has sugar. Hedgehog has apples. Raccoon has cinnamon. Lizard has raisins. And finally, Bat has an egg! Owl lets them bake the cake in her oven. But when the divvying up of the cake comes into question, does Mouse get anything? After all, she didn’t really contribute something. Or did she?
This book is a clever riff on Stone Soup where everyone’s contributions come together to make something much more special. It uses repetition very nicely to give it a distinct folklore flavor. The final question of whether Mouse gets a slice of cake for initiating the idea and the entire process is an interesting one. The end will satisfy everyone except maybe hungry children who will want some apple cake themselves.
The illustrations add to the folklore appeal with their friendly animals and forest setting that is whimsically depicted. Each animal has their own personality and feel thanks to the illustrations and the way they appear on the page.
A great read-aloud choice that would pair well with autumn stories about apples and baking. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from library copy.
Gingerbread for Liberty: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
German-born Christopher Ludwick had come to the Colonies as a young man looking for the opportunity to create his own bakery. He did just that, creating gorgeous gingerbread for his town. When the Revolutionary War began, he was eager to defend his America in any way he could, so he headed off to join General George Washington. When he got there, the soldiers were hungry and complaining about the quality of food they were getting. Ludwick jumped into action, feeing the armies bread from his ovens. But the dangers weren’t done yet. The King of England pulled together armies from other countries and sent them into battle. The soldiers came from Germany and Ludwick offered to see if he could convince them not to fight. Once again it was food and the promise of having enough to eat that convinced the soldiers to lay down their arms. Many battles later, the war was won, but Ludwick and General Washington had one final mammoth baking task ahead of them.
Rockliff keeps the tone of this book quite lighthearted even as Ludwick finds himself taking grave risks with his life. The writing is jolly and merry throughout. The tone suits this baker whose optimism shines on the page and whose patriotism seemed to know no limits. His accomplishments exceed what is shown in this picture book. Make sure to read the Author’s Note at the end of the book to learn more about this amazing patriot and what he did for children and education as well as liberty.
Kirsch’s illustrations are a gingery delight. Done in the forms of elaborate gingerbread cookies, the characters are shown as flat brown cookies with plenty of icing. From the brown outlines to the white lines of icing, there is no mistaking what they are meant to be. They too add a sweet and optimistic feel to this jolly picture book.
An unsung hero of the Revolutionary War and beyond, this picture book celebrates the impact that one man can have in making history. Appropriate for ages 6-8.
Reviewed from library copy.
Tea Cakes for Tosh by Kelly Starling Lyons, illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Tosh loved spending time with his grandma Honey, who baked him tea cakes. She told him stories of the cakes, dating all the way back to his great-great-great-great-grandma Ida who made the best tea cakes around. But those tea cakes were not for her children, they were for her owners since she was a slave. Sometimes though, she would make some extra cakes for her children to promise that things would change. Honey started to forget things, like where she parked her car and phone numbers. Then one day, she forgot how to make tea cakes. Luckily, Tosh knew just how to help.
Lyons has created a relationship between grandmother and grandchild here that is warm and loving and filled with sweet baked good too. She shows the importance of generation in a family by tying in the history of the tea cakes. I appreciate seeing a boy’s relationship with his grandmother where the boy is also interested in his heritage and being in the kitchen.
Lewis has illustrated the book with realistic watercolors that capture the relationship of the two main characters. He switches to black and white images when family history is discussed and shows the tea cakes on recipe cards too. The entire book is filled with warm colors that speak to the sunny relationship being depicted.
A beauty of a book, this picture book celebrates family heritage, grandparents and the power of food to bring people closer together. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from library copy.
My Mixed-Up Berry Blue Summer by Jennifer Gennari
June has lived on Lake Champlain with her mother forever. They run the marina with its supplies and café. That’s where June learned to make pies, and she is determined to enter the fair this summer to prove what a great baker she is. But this summer is going to be very different from other summers. First, her mother’s girlfriend has moved in with them. Then there is the pressure from Vermont’s new civil union law that has their small town divided. There are people who won’t shop at the marina anymore because June’s mother is gay. It is a summer unlike any other, one where June will have to figure out how she feels about having two mothers, and then whether she has the courage to speak up.
Gennari’s debut novel courageously takes on not only the issue of gay parents but also the political backlash that can occur to a family in modern America. Through the eyes of June, we see a strong mother and daughter connection, an understanding that her mother is gay, but then the realization that that will be much more public with a girlfriend or spouse. Gennari makes this a very human story that embraces the power of community and the complexities as well. As a special aside, I will mention the great librarian character who shows a lot of support for June and her family.
This book is short and active. It’s a perfect summer read with plenty of dips in the lake, boats on the water, bike rides in the heat, and ripening berries all around. Nicely, it is about more relationships than the mother and her girlfriend. June is faced with losing a friend because of their difference in opinion and then June’s changing feelings toward Luke, a boy who is her best friend.
Perfect for a summer read while floating on a lake, this book is strong, courageous and radiant. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pie by Sarah Weeks
When Alice’s Aunt Polly dies, the entire community of Ipswitch feels the loss. Polly, the Pie Queen, left behind quite a void, one that had been filled by her pie shop and her incredible gift for baking pies. Every resident had a favorite and with her death, they knew they would never taste them again. But for Alice it is much worse, she has lost one of her dearest friends as well as the shop where she spent much of her time. Her Aunt Polly left the recipe for her award-winning pie crust to Lardo, her ornery cat, and she left Lardo to Alice. No one is really sure how someone can leave a recipe to a cat. As the days pass, strange things start happening, but only Alice seems to notice. She knows there is someone out there trying to get their hands on the recipe. With her new friend, Charlie, Alice is determined to solve the mystery.
Weeks has written a book as light as meringue but that has plenty of depth as well. The story is great fun to read. It has the tang of a mystery combined with the sweetness of pie. The pie recipes shared at the beginning of each chapter will have you drooling and determined to see if you could maybe be the next Blueberry Award winner.
Notice how that rhymes with Newbery Award winner? Weeks has a lot of fun with her brief description of how the Blueberry Award is announced. It closely resembles the Newbery Award process and had me giggling. It’s a great insider joke to have in a children’s book.
Alice is a strong character, struggling with the loss of her aunt. She is determined, creative and imaginative, singing little songs to herself all the time. These are the things her aunt supported in her, but that her own mother doesn’t understand. The family dynamic is an important piece of the entire book and is written with great honesty.
A delicious, fun read, this book of pie and mystery is a treat whether read with alamode or alone. It’s an ideal book for classroom sharing as well, after all who doesn’t like pie? Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic Press.
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