Fresh-Picked Poetry: A Day at the Farmer’s Market by Michelle Schaub, illustrated by Amy Huntington (9781580895477, Amazon)
Through a series of poems, take a visit to the farmer’s market. From the early work done by farmers long before their customers are awake to the market itself, this book celebrates one of the joys of summer. There are poems about how markets transform empty parking lots, the displays of heaped produce, the friendly sharing of samples, tempting baked goods, and the feeling of community that markets bring. It’s also a collection that celebrates the food too, the freshness of the produce and the bounty that people bring home.
Schaub very successfully has captured the summer joy of farmer’s markets across the country. One can hear the bustle and busyness of the market, captured in her poetry. Throughout there is a sense of humor and immense pleasure at what the market provides beyond the food itself. The poetry has a lightness that reflects the feel of summer and sunshine.
Huntington’s illustrations are equally bright and sunny. She incorporates people of a wide variety of backgrounds and cultures in her images, making sure to fully celebrate communities in her images. She also cleverly weaves a story in her images with a loose dog who adds to the energy of the day.
A fresh and vibrant look at farmer’s markets that is perfect zest to a summer day. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Bear Likes Jam by Ciara Gavin
Released February 14, 2017.
This is the third book in the sweet series about a bear that lives with a flock of ducks. Bear discovers his love of jam and forgot to share it with the ducklings. He ate it late at night and during the day. Mama Duck worried that Bear wasn’t eating a balanced diet, even though Bear proved that he could balance very well. So she started trying to feed Bear vegetables at dinner with no jam. Bear refused to even taste them and went to bed hungry. Breakfast was oatmeal with no jam in sight. Dinner came around with no jam either. But then the ducks showed Bear a new game! It was a game that got him eating vegetables without even noticing and then he was a happy bear because he could also have a jar or two of jam a day along with the ducks.
Throughout this series, Gavin has played off of the fact that Bear has unique needs just because he’s a bear compared to all of the other ducks in the family. The last book was about hibernating and this one is about delicious foods. Bear is a wonderful character who just is who he is. His love of jam suits his character perfectly and once again the ducks band together to create a solution to help Bear be healthier and yet still be himself too.
The art has delicate lines, the ducklings tiny compared to the mountainous bear. The watercolors add sweep across some pages, but most of the pages use white as a background. Small details add to the appeal with flowered pillows on seats to get little ducklings high enough and ducklings merrily munching on fruits and vegetables.
A book that addresses healthy eating with a sense of balance and plenty of sweetness. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers.
Is That Wise Pig? by Jan Thomas (InfoSoup)
Cow, Pig and Mouse are all making soup together. Mouse adds one onion, Cow adds two cabbages, but Pig tries to add three umbrellas! The other two ask Pig if that is wise. Then Mouse adds four tomatoes, Cow adds five potatoes, and Pig tries to add six galoshes. Is that wise? More ingredients go in and Pig even adds nine carrots! Then Pig reveals that she asked ten friends to join them, something that probably was not wise. Suddenly Pig’s galoshes and umbrellas make a lot of sense as the soup flies!
As always, Thomas completely understands the farcical humor that toddlers adore. Children will be so engaged in laughing at Pig’s ingredients that they won’t see the ending coming until the reveal. There is also a counting component to the book that is subtly done and the book feels much more like a story than one teaching numbers. Thomas’ illustrations will work well with a crowd, projecting easily even to those in the back thanks to their strong black lines and simple colors.
Expect lots of requests for seconds of this silly book. Appropriate for ages 2-4.
Reviewed from copy received from Beach Lane Books.
The Ugly Dumpling by Stephanie Campisi, illustrated by Shahar Kober (InfoSoup)
In a dim sum restaurant, one dumpling is sad because he is considered ugly. He tried to make up for it with outfits or wrinkling his brow, but he was always the one left behind and ignored.Then a cockroach came along and offered to show the Ugly Dumpling the beauty in the world. They explored the kitchen together with all of its wonders. Then the Ugly Dumpling noticed something. There were more ugly dumplings who looked just like him! He was in fact a steamed bun and fit in perfectly. The same could not be said for the cockroach though when he was revealed to all in the dining room. But by that point, the Ugly Dumpling knew just what to do.
This is a clever riff on the Ugly Duckling story that manages to tweak the story just enough to keep it fresh and new but also so that the traditional tale is still able to be seen as well. It is the character of the cockroach that makes this book really work. The addition of a friend to model self-esteem even if you are unique is crucial here and then for the tables to turn at the end of the story. The text is simple and straight-forward, making it a great book to share aloud with a strong story arc.
Kober’s illustrations are jaunty and lively. Showing the kitchen as a kind of wonderland is magical with the towers of plates that look like skyscrapers, the woks that are almost volcanic, and the landscapes of flour. The emotions of the dumpling and other characters are done clearly and the illustrations are large enough to work with a group nicely.
A strong pick for a book to share aloud, this dynamic picture book is sure to suit everyone’s tastes. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
The Potato King by Christoph Niemann (InfoSoup)
A Prussian king named Fritz loved the idea of the potato. It was easy to grow and healthy too and could just solve the hunger problems in his country. So he went to a nearby village and told them about the potato and its benefits and planted some potatoes for them. But people don’t like to be told what to eat, and the village rejected the potato entirely. Then King Fritz had an idea. He ordered his army to go to the village and guard the potato field, telling them to be very lax about it. Suddenly, the people were very interested in a food that they were being stopped from eating and that was valuable enough to guard with soldiers. They snuck into the field and stole the potatoes, planting them in their own gardens. It was a clever use of reverse psychology to create a crop that would end up being a staple of the area.
Translated from the original German, this picture book is told very simply. The book ends with a brief history of the potato and how it came to Europe from South America. It also admits that this tale may be a myth, but that’s part of what makes it all the more fun to tell. Niemann manages to take a moment in history and turn it into a rollicking tale that young children will enjoy immensely and will relate to immediately.
The illustrations in the book are done entirely in potato prints of different colors combined with actual potatoes too. The prints work particularly well when used to create larger scenes of hills of grass and crowds of soldiers. Somehow the crude images have their own personality too, particularly the king himself whose open mouth and bright red color mark his as unique right from the start.
Nominated for a German Youth Literature Prize, this picture book has a wonderful organic charm all its own. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
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.
A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
Released January 27, 2015.
Follow one recipe through the centuries in this exceptional picture book! Starting over 300 years ago in England, the book starts with a mother and daughter out picking blackberries. Once home, the mother skims cream from the milk from their cow and whips it with a bundle of twigs for 15 minutes until she has whipped cream. That is combined with squashed and strained blackberries mixed with sugar to create blackberry fool. The fool then needs to be cooled, so they head to the hillside to chill it with sheets of winter ice that they store there. Then the family enjoys it and the little girl licks the bowl clean. As readers turn to the next family in Charleston, South Carolina about 200 years ago, they will notice so many changes just not in the recipe itself. The method of refrigeration changes, the method of whisking the cream and the time it takes, the way they get the ingredients, and the family setting. Next comes even more changes as the setting turns to a century ago in Boston and then the final family, a modern San Diego father and son. Each family brings updates to the methods but enjoys the delicious dessert exactly the same way, with gusto!
Jenkins has an author’s note at the end of the book that further explains and points out the changes from one century to the next in the way food is procured and prepared. Even the use of actual recipes only appears in the final family. Written in a jolly way, this picture book uses repetition and patterns to make sure that children will see the differences in the way the food is prepared as the time passes. It is a fascinating look at how food preparation has progressed but also in how very much has stayed the same.
Blackall’s illustrations are playful and clever. She too uses repetition in her illustrations, showing the joy of licking the whisk or spatula and the final head dive into the bowl after the meal is complete. There is a simplicity to her art as well, allowing the settings she conveys on the page to speak clearly. One knows even without the words that you are in a different time and place thanks just to the illustrations.
A joy to read and share, this book has all the delight of a great dessert but is also packed full of historical information and detail. Appropriate for ages 6-9.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Schwartz & Wade and Edelweiss.
Chik Chak Shabbat by Mara Rockliff, illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker
Every Saturday, the residents of one apartment building spend the day smelling marvelous smells drifting down from the 5th floor. And every Saturday evening, everyone gathers on the 5th floor for Goldie’s cholent, a traditional Jewish stew. But then one Saturday, there was no wonderful smell and when little Lali Omar went up the stairs, she found that Goldie was too sick to get the cholent cooking and it was too late to start the slow-cooking stew. All is not lost though, as the neighbors look through their own pantries and refrigerators and create a Saturday meal that is not cholent but has many of the same ingredients incorporated into foods from their own personal heritages. There is Korean barley tea, tomato pizza, potato curry, and beans and rice.
Rockliff’s Shabbat tale is an amazingly diverse story. While it follows Jewish traditions in the beginning, including Goldie sharing memories as a little girl of Shabbat with her extended family, the magic comes when Goldie gets ill. Not only does the reader quickly realize how important this shared meal and time is for the entire building, but suddenly the heritage of each person is shown through their food. It’s a clever way to show community and diversity in a single situation.
Brooker’s illustrations combine cut paper art with rich thick paint. The result is the same winning combination of dishes served at the community Shabbat table. The different textures and colors come together to be something more than their individual parts, creating a dynamic world.
Celebrating community, this book shows how diverse people can come together in friendship and harmony to save the day. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Rabbi Benjamin’s Buttons by Alice B. McGinty, illustrated by Jennifer Black Reinhardt
In the fall, the congregation gave Rabbi Benjamin a vest in honor of the new year. It was yellow with four bright silver buttons down the front and it was a perfect fit. Rabbi Benjamin wore his vest to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, which also involved a lot of food. Each family offered their own special food for the holiday, and Rabbi Benjamin’s vest was a lot tighter by the end. During Sukkot, Rabbi visited each of the families and again had lots of food and his vest grew even tighter. Until on the last day of Sukkot, one of the silver buttons popped right off his vest. Chanukah came and Rabbi Benjamin ate lots of latke, and he lost a second silver button. Spring came along with Passover, and the rabbi lost the last two buttons that had tried to stretch across his growing belly. He was very upset about how he had ruined his special vest. So he changed a few things. He got out and moved more along with his congregation. And when he tried on the vest for Rosh Hashanah, it was far too big to wear. But don’t worry, Rabbi Benjamin had a loving congregation ready to help him again.
This book has a wonderful radiance about it. The heart of the book is really the love felt between the congregation and Rabbi Benjamin. He is unfailingly kind and giving as are they, perhaps a bit too giving when it comes to the food! At the same time, the story is a smart and very enjoyable way for readers to learn about the various Jewish holidays throughout the year and the traditions associated with them. The book has an index of the holidays at the end, including recipes for each holiday. There is also a glossary of Jewish words.
Reinhardt’s illustrations also capture the loving community on the page. Rabbi Benjamin almost glows on each page, not only due to his shining yellow vest but also with his popping and vibrant personality. The diverse ethnicities of the congregation is also appreciated.
A cheery look at Jewish holidays and the bounty of friendship and community, this book will be appreciated by people of all faiths. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.