Posts Tagged ‘biographies’

“There is such a thing as magic, and the Beatles were magic.” ~ Paul McCartney

All illustrations © 2015 Adam Gustavson (click to enlarge)

I remember February 9, 1964 like it was yesterday — the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show!

There, in my aunt’s living room, I tried to process the heart-swelling moment, the excitement, the energy, the burst-wide-open-never-be-the-same-again feeling. Just look at them! Those Edwardian suits, black pointy boots, cool haircuts! They were good looking, different, charming, revolutionary. I could barely breathe as Paul sang, “Close your eyes, and I’ll kiss you . . . ”

My uncle bought “Meet the Beatles” for me from a record store downtown. I plastered the walls of my bedroom with Beatles pics I had cut out from teen magazines. I collected Beatles bubble gum cards and read everything I could get my hands on about John, Paul, George and Ringo. I began writing faithfully to a new penpal who lived in Liverpool, dreaming of the day when I could set foot on British soil.

I still count my lucky stars that I was just the right age to experience the onset of Beatlemania. As I grew up, so did their music. None of us could have foreseen the lasting impact they’d ultimately have on music history, composition, production and pop culture. Half a century later, they’re still number one.


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The last time I was in New Hampshire, I visited Frost Place in Franconia. I regret not also seeing Derry Farm, where Robert Frost found his literary voice, developed his poetic style, and garnered a lifetime of inspiration from his surroundings and the interesting people he met.

Derry Farm (via Wikimedia Commons)

I might say the core of all my writing was probably the five free years I had there on the farm down the road a mile or two from Derry Village toward Lawrence. The only thing we had was time and seclusion. I couldn’t have figured on it in advance. I hadn’t that kind of foresight. But it turned out right as a doctor’s prescription.

(From: Selected Letters of Robert Frost, Lawrence Thompson, ed. New York: Holt, 1964)

I love Natalie S. Bober’s new picture book, Papa is a Poet: A Story About Robert Frost (Henry Holt, 2013), which describes Frost’s crucial years at Derry Farm as told through the eyes of his oldest daughter Lesley.

We come to know Frost as a loving husband and father, an impoverished poultry farmer, and a word lover who not only instilled a love of reading and writing in his children, but who also taught them how to look carefully at the natural world, to make comparisons, and “to bring on what he called ‘metaphor'”.

Young readers will enjoy reading about the Frost family all-day Sunday picnics, how they wandered through fields and woodlands learning the names of flowers and birds, how they watched the sunset and studied the stars at night, how the children were encouraged to tell stories and record what they saw and felt on paper.

(click to enlarge)

When listening to the speech of his farmer neighbors, Frost “heard the words that had the ring of pure poetry,” inspiring him to “make music out of words.”

While Frost’s passion for writing, his family and their rural lifestyle are clearly celebrated in Lesley’s narrative, she also mentions how her father struggled to make a living as a poet, how he felt like he was a “disappointing failure” to family and friends. She explains why, despite a life “filled to the brim” even when the “cupboard was often bare,” they eventually left the farm and moved to England.

Her Papa had courageously made the difficult, “reckless choice” to pursue the life of a poet. Despite years of poverty and rejection, he’d chosen the road less traveled by.

(click to enlarge)


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Jessie in her kitchen (photo by Isabelle Dervaux).

Bonjour Mes Amis, et Bon Anniversaire, Julia!

We’re tickled pink that award-winning author, illustrator and commercial artist Jessie Hartland is here today to help us celebrate Julia Child’s 100th Birthday. Her graphic biography, Bon Appétit!: The Delicious Life of Julia Child (Schwartz & Wade, 2012), has everyone drooling with delirious delight.

Since its release in May, this exuberant feast of wacky-fun hand-lettered text and cartoony gouache paintings has earned a bevy of well-deserved accolades, including starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

And why not? In just 48 pages, Jessie has accomplished the seemingly impossible, chronicling Julia’s entire amazing life!: as a “gangly girl from Pasadena,” her prankster days at Smith College, her stint doing Top Secret work for the OSS in WWII and marrying bon vivant Paul Child, learning to cook at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, traveling to Germany and Norway, writing and publishing her cookbook masterpiece, and finally launching her TV chef career. Yes, it’s all here, in this frenetic comic-scrapbook hybrid that perfectly captures Julia’s boundless energy and contaigious joie de vivre. There’s even a 32-step recipe for Chicken Galantine (“Here’s a little something I just whipped up!”) and Jessie’s very own recipe for Crepes. I’m sure Julia would get a kick out of every scrumptious detail. Formidable!

(click to enlarge)

Before we hear from Jessie, please put on this Ecole des Trois Gourmandes badge in honor of Julia. She first wore it when she and her co-authors Simone Beck and Louisette Bertholle started their cooking school in Paris, and Julia continued to wear it on “The French Chef.” Thanks to Julia, we can all be Hearty Eaters!

designed by Paul Child

Now, please help me welcome Jessie Hartland to Alphabet Soup. We thank her for sharing all her wonderful personal photos and insights about creating this marvelous book! (more…)

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“Those early years in France were among the best of my life. They marked a crucial period of transformation in which I found my true calling, experienced an awakening of the senses, and had such fun that I hardly stopped moving long enough to catch my breath.” ~Julia Child (My Life in France, Knopf, 2006).


We’ve set out our best red-and-white checked tablecloth today in honor of special guests Susanna Reich and Amy Bates, co-creators of the delectably enchanting picture book biography, Minette’s Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat (Abrams, 2012)!


Shortly after Julia and her husband Paul moved to Paris in 1948, they were adopted by “a mischievous, energetic poussiequette with a lovely speckled coat,” whom they named Minette Mimosa McWilliams Child. This sly, feisty feline instantly charmed her way into their hearts and became an important part of their lives, sitting on Paul’s lap during meals and stealing tidbits off his plate when she thought he wasn’t looking.

Julia with Minette, Paris, 1953 (Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University)

In Minette’s Feast, we are treated to a scrumptious snapshot from those glorious, golden, transformational years of Julia’s culinary awakening through the eyes of her very first cat, who, as this story goes, adamantly preferred fresh mouse or bird to any of the future Queen of Cuisine’s offerings.

Day and night, the “luckiest cat in all of Paris . . . could smell the delicious smells of mayonnaise, hollandaise, cassoulets, cheese soufflés and duck pâtés.” C’est magnifique!

But whether Julia prepared something specially for Minette (fish heads with chicken liver custard), or presented her with tasty scraps from the day’s culinary experiments, for ravenous Mini, “there would always be mouse.”

*licks chops*


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Hello hello hello!

I’m baaaaaaaaaack — just in time to celebrate five years of Alphabet Soup!

Wow, it’s very hard to believe it’s been that long and that I’m still here after 1400+ posts on 2 different platforms, 348 15 pies, 569 a few cupcakes ☺, 145 book reviews, and many, many days when I asked myself, “Why am I doing this again?”

Who’d have thought a very private, non tech-savvy introvert who’d never even read a single food blog (gasp!), could somehow keep finding something to say week after week?

Wonders never cease.

I named the blog, “Alphabet Soup,”  because at the time I was writing my first chapter book about an alphabet collector who acquires a miniature uncle via mail order for the letter U, and included, “soup” because of my first picture book, Dumpling Soup. I was intrigued, and still am, by blogging as an art form, a unique creative outlet that allows me to indulge my love for journaling and creative nonfiction, letter writing, children’s literature, photography, culinary history, typography, food art, food memoirs and baking.

I have learned SO much in five years, only to realize how little I actually know about everything. I have new respect for professional book reviewers, renewed love for teachers and librarians, even have a new appreciation for editors, i.e., “inappropriate submissions.”


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