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Once, when we were living in England, Len and I discovered some wild blackberry bushes growing in Wimbledon Common across the street from the school where I was teaching. I was excited because I’d never even seen a blackberry in person before, let alone eat one, and I remembered that famous last line from The Tale of Peter Rabbit:

Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail had bread and milk and blackberries for supper.

The ones we picked were a little sour, but good with sugar and a dollop of cream. Because of that fond memory, I’ll always associate blackberries with England. I also like to tell the story of how because we didn’t have a whisk or rotary beater in our little flat, Len whipped the cream with a fork! I knew then I had to marry that man with his power arm. :)

Thus enamored of blackberries, I recently devoured a gorgeous new picture book by Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall featuring A Fine Dessert called blackberry fool, a decadent English sweet dating back to the 16th century consisting of blackberries, cream and sugar.

In this wholly delectable story, we are treated to not one, but FOUR servings of blackberry fool prepared by four families from four different centuries. Such a tasty slice of food and social history! The families all follow the same recipe steps, but of course ingredient sourcing, methods, tools, and technology change through time. They’re united by their love of this dessert and the joy, anticipation and satisfaction that come with making it. No surprise — they all love to lick the bowl — viable proof that some things never change. :)

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Happy Tuesday!

Hope you had a lovely weekend and stayed warm and cozy. Before I get to the cool things, wanted to send out a big HELLO and WELCOME to all our new subscribers. Many of you uncommonly good-looking people found your way over here via a link from Susan Branch’s blog, perhaps hungry for Rachel’s lemon butter cookies. Have you made them yet? Mr. Firth might visit you if you do. So yummy!

Anyway, we’ve set places for you at our table, cushy reserved seats any time you feel like dropping by for a little nosh or nibble. Thanks for finding Alphabet Soup! Extra cookies if you wear a mustache. :)

On with the coolness:

1. Yesterday was an exciting day for people who love children’s and young adult books — the Youth Media Awards, recognizing the tippy top cream of the crop books published in 2014, were announced at the American Library Association Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. We send out big congratulations to all the award winners and honor book recipients, especially Author/Illustrator Dan Santat on his Caldecott Medal for The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend (Little Brown, 2014), and Kwame Alexander on his Newbery Medal for The Crossover (Houghton Mifflin-Harcourt, 2014)! You can see the full list of winners here.

2. Our current blog banner features the watercolor work of Deidre Wicks, a Canadian artist we interviewed in Fall 2013. Her “Tea Party” print is available in three sizes (5×7, 8×10, 11×14) and can be purchased at her Etsy Shop, Water in My Paint. Love those whimsical animals (did you see the robin in the teacup?) and all the cakes! Wanted to show the full image as I had to crop it a little to fit the header space.

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3. Feeling a little under the weather? Seems like a lot of people have caught the flu this winter. If germs have been bothering you (or not), check out Dan Krall’s new picture book Sick Simon (Simon & Schuster, 2015):

Are germs gross, or great? Sick Simon learns how to be health-conscious during cold and flu season in this clever picture book from the author-illustrator of The Great Lollipop Caper.

Simon is going to have the best week ever. Who cares if he has a cold? He goes to school anyway, and sneezes everywhere, and coughs on everyone, and touches everything.

Germs call him a hero! Everyone else calls him…Sick Simon. When will it end? How far will he go? Will the germs take over, or can Sick Simon learn to change his ways?

Achoo and cough cough. We had fun featuring The Great Lollipop Caper and can’t wait to see what Dan’s done with this germy book. I can just imagine the ewwws, yucks, and giggles over the gross humor, but understand it’s snot for everyone. :D

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4. February is Black History Month, and there’s no better place to spend a little time than at The Brown Bookshelf for their annual celebration, 28 Days Later. Each day they’re profiling a different children’s or young adult author or children’s illustrator. A great opportunity to read about the best new and unnoticed works by African-Americans.

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5. Oh, look! Uber-talented pie lover Kendyll Hillegas is now offering her Pie Varieties illustration as a limited edition 11×14 print! Don’t you love it? It features 13 varieties of pie gorgeously rendered in Kendyll’s exquisite style. Craving a piece of lemon meringue, peach, apple, huckleberry or raspberry? Adorn one of your walls with this print and you’ll never go hungry. Edition is limited to 50 pieces (click here for more info). Read more about Kendyll’s amazingly detailed, meticulous work in our 2014 Indie Artist Spotlight.

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6. HOW TO BEHAVE AT A TEA PARTY GIVEAWAY WINNER!

Yes, it’s finally time to announce the lucky person who’ll be receiving a copy of this charming picture book. As before, we consulted the dashingly handsome, ever reliable Monsieur Random Integer Generator, who came out of hibernation just to help us. After sipping multiple cups of Darjeeling and inhaling three hundred raspberry sponge cakes, he tossed all the entrants’ names up in the air and the one that landed closest to his mustache was:

ta da!

Sarah from Sarah’s Bookshelves!

CONGRATULATIONS, SARAH!

*wild cheers* *confetti* *backflips*

Sarah, please send your snail mail address to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com, so we can send the book out lickety split. Thanks, everyone, for entering!

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7. GINGERBREAD FOR LIBERTY! GIVEAWAY WINNER!!

Luckily we were able to snag M. Generator before he retreated to his winter cave, craftily tempting him with warm and spicy homemade gingerbread, which he found très délicieuse. After brushing the crumbs from his mustache, he downed a tankard of cider, sang three bars of “Yankee Doodle” and selected the lucky winner via mental telepathy. He received numerous transmissions from a bevy of cinnamon and ginger-scented beauties, and expressed sincere dismay that he couldn’t gift all the lovely entrants with a prize. He finally came to a decision when the word ‘prairie’ was transferred 21 consecutive times.

ta da da da!

The winner is —  the Prairie Garden Girl herself, Suzy Leopold

CONGRATULATIONS, SUZY!! 

*cartwheels* *trumpet fanfare* *swirls*

Suzy, please send your snail mail address to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com so we can send out your book pronto! Thanks again, everyone, for entering!

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8. Finally, it’s dumpling time! My niece Cobi of Veggietorials recently made this wonderful video featuring Vegan Mandu (Korean dumplings). The paperback edition of my picture book Dumpling Soup includes my mom’s dumpling recipe, but it contains meat as part of the filling, so it’s nice to have a delicious vegan alternative to enjoy on New Year’s. Of course if you love dumplings, you’ll want to eat these more than once a year!

My sis Sylvia is also in the video, wrapping the dumplings (she was Barbra Streisand’s personal chef for about 10 years, and catered many private parties with celebrities such as Liz Taylor, Alan Alda, Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, and Gilda Radner).

Do check out the Veggietorials website if you haven’t already done so (or find more of Cobi’s fabulous cooking videos on her YouTube channel). You can find the Vegan Mandu recipe here for printing out. Enjoy!

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All for now, cutie pies. Do have a good week! :)

xxxxxxxooooooo hugs and kisses from Mr. Cornelius

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Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

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All illustrations © 2015 Vincent X. Kirsch.

There’s nothing more delicious than learning something new about a well-loved food.

When I think of gingerbread, I think of Emily Dickinson lowering basketfuls to the neighborhood children, Laura Ingalls Wilder setting out a pan to cool at Rocky Ridge Farm, or Emily Brontë baking a family parkin. I’d read about gingerbread’s long and interesting history, marveling that Queen Elizabeth I was essentially responsible for the gingerbread boy cookies we now bake every holiday season. But I never imagined a gingerbread baker could be an unsung hero in Revolutionary history.

Officially hitting shelves today, Mara Rockliff’s Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution (HMH, 2015), introduces young readers to Christopher Ludwick, a German-born American patriot living in Philadelphia, who as Baker General of the Continental Army, fed General George Washington’s troops and even snuck off on a secret mission.

Deemed too old and fat at 56 to enlist as a soldier, Ludwick was nevertheless determined to champion the cause of liberty, independence and freedom with his culinary skills. His gingerbread was the best around, but he was also known for his generosity and philanthropic work, especially on behalf of poor children. His motto was, “No empty bellies here, not in my America!” This tantalizing bit of little-known history is brought to life with Vincent X. Kirsch’s whimsical cut-paper illustrations resembling iced gingerbread cookies, and is a wonderful example of finding creative ways to utilize one’s talents. What a great reminder that one person can make a big difference, and that heroes can sometimes be found in unexpected places.

Lucky for us, Mara is here today to tell us about catching her first whiff of Ludwick’s spicy gingerbread, researching his colorful life, and making his story accessible to picture book readers.  Of course I also asked her to share a favorite recipe, so ready your rolling pins. :)

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Fancy hats on, pinkies up — it’s time for a Tea Party!

Wait a minute. Do you know the proper way to behave at a tea party? Are your best manners in check? Hmmmm, sounds like you need a little help. Have no fear: thanks to Madelyn Rosenberg and Heather Ross, How to Behave at a Tea Party (Katherine Tegen Books, 2014) is here!

(click to enlarge)

In this delightful story, Julia briefs her younger brother Charles on the finer points of tea party etiquette. Apparently this includes washing strategic parts of his body (left elbow, right knee, ears, nose), donning fancy clothes and hat, bringing a stuffed animal and present (no snakes), holding the teacup just so, and definitely not inviting the McKagan brothers or the frog.

Also crucial? Not eating the peonies or the tablecloth. And no slurping or burping. “Please” and “thank you” are the mark of civilized guests, who ideally would nibble ever-so-daintily on little sponge cakes with jam and cookie cutter sandwiches.

Well.

Charles and the McKagan brothers have their own ideas. Julia’s perfectly laid plans deterioriate rapidly as the boys make rocket ships out of sugar cubes and towers out of teacups. They are champion burpers and slurpers. Not surprisingly, things come to a CRASHING halt and Julia has a meltdown.

But is this the proper way for a hostess to behave? One certainly can’t have a tea party without any guests. Maybe sugar cube rocket ships could be fun after all, along with castles, moats and dragons. While you’re at it, let’s juggle saucers, put spoons on our noses, and use the tablecloth as a cape! Now you’re talkin’.

Heather Ross’s emotive, action-packed illustrations effectively dramatize Rosenberg’s spare text, heightening the humor at every turn. When Julia reminds Charles to clean his ears, we see Charles brushing the dog’s ears with Julia’s toothbrush. The McKagan brothers are appropriately rambunctious as they tie the stuffed bear to its chair and balance teacups on their heads. And who can resist a dog in a pink tutu or that feisty frog, as he laughs, points, and hot-tubs in a cup (drying himself off with a napkin, of course)?

Julia’s spot-on facial expressions aptly chart her gradual unraveling — from cool, confident and authoritative, to doubtful, peeved, harried, frustrated, exasperated, just plain FED-UP. Ross also deftly captures Julia’s change of heart as she decides to re-invite her guests, and it’s amusing to see Charles and the McKagan brothers treading a little more carefully the second time around as they all settle into a fun afternoon (high tea in a treehouse, anyone?).

How to Behave at a Tea Party serves up the classic older sister-mischievous younger brother scenario with a skillful nod at the importance of remaining flexible, keeping an open mind, and learning how to go with the flow. Since life is often unpredictable, the art of compromise is key. Some will see themselves in Julia, with her need for control, while others will identify with Charles, who has his own definition of fun. Either way, kids will love the face-off between Prim-and-Proper vs. Let’s-Wing-It. One lump or two? :)

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TEA PARTY TREATS!

By now you’re probably anxious to host your own winter tea. What to serve? Madelyn and Heather both like to nibble on homemade cookies with their tea. Madelyn says, “For tea parties, I like anything with jam.” Me too! :)

Be sure to whip up batches of these goodies and read How to Behave at a Tea Party aloud to all your guests. Fancy hats and superhero capes, optional. Just have fun!

JAM THUMBPRINTS
from Madelyn Rosenberg

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • One egg (yolk only)
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • jam of your choice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream the butter and both sugars (by hand). Mix in the egg yolk and gradually add the flour. Finally, add the vanilla and mix well.

Take the dough by teaspoon and roll into balls. You’ll flatten those a bit as you place them on an ungreased cookie sheet, about two inches apart. Put your thumbprint in the middle. Fill with jam (I usually put the jam in a sandwich bag and cut off the end to make it easier to deal with.)

Bake for around 10 minutes or until edges are golden. Careful not to overbake.

Yields 4 dozen cookies.

~ Adapted from the Words Worth Eating Cookbook‘s recipe for German Christmas Cookies.

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(PERFECT?) PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
from Heather Ross

I have been working on this recipe for quite some time, and I am happy to report that I have succeeded in making batch after batch that actually stay soft for up to a week without using icky corn syrup. The list of ingredients might sound like something that only our yoga teacher would consider to be the makings of a cookie, but trust me. These are chewy heaven.

  • 1/2 cup (4 oz) butter, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/2 cup plus one tablespoon peanut butter (my favorite brand is Arrowhead Mills Organic Creamy Valencia Peanut Butter)
  • 1/2 cup organic brown sugar (I like Hain Organic)
  • 1/2 cup turbinado sugar or raw cane sugar (also perfect in your morning coffee!)
  • 1 egg
  • 1-1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dark chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment and set to speed 3, cream butter, peanut butter and sugars until well blended. Some of the sugar will still be granulated.

Add egg and mix well.

In a large bowl, blend the flour, baking powder, soda, and salt together (I use a whisk). Add these ingredients to the butter mixture and blend on speed 2.

Add chocolate chips, mix on speed 1 until well distributed.

Drop cookie dough by teaspoonfuls onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Press each cookie lightly with a fork to flatten.

Bake for exactly 13 minutes, then remove (cookies will still look very soft and squishy) and place baking sheet on the top of your stove and leave your oven on, for about twenty minutes.

Transfer cookies to a plate or cooling rack and allow to cool.

Makes 12 – 20 cookies, depending on size.

Store in an airtight container if possible.

~ This recipe appeared in Heather’s “Weekend” blog.

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FROG TEA SANDWICH
from Mr. Cornelius

  • two slices bread of your choice
  • one slice bologna (or your favorite cold cut)
  • one slice white cheddar cheese
  • 3″- 4″ piece of cucumber
  • two stuffed Manzanilla green olives
  • a little mayo (optional)

1. Wash your paws.

2. Cut each slice of bread into rounds using a 2-1/2″ biscuit or cookie cutter.

3. Slice the bologna into pie-shaped fourths.

4. Cut the corners off the cheese slice, then trim to make a jagged edge all the way around.

5. Slice the cucumber vertically (about 1/8″ thickness), making sure to include the rounded end.

6. If using, spread mayo on one of the bread slices.

7. Carefully roll the baloney pieces and lay on the bread. Place cheese slice and cucumber “tongue” over them.

8. Place other piece of bread on top, and position the olive eyes.

9. Ribbet before eating. Burp afterwards.

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HOW TO BEHAVE AT A TEA PARTY
written by Madelyn Rosenberg
illustrated by Heather Ross
published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2014
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.

*Read an excerpt at the publisher’s website.

**Check out this fun book trailer:

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SPECIAL GIVEAWAY!

We have a brand new copy of How to Behave at a Tea Party to give away to one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. For a chance to win, simply leave a comment at this post telling us what your favorite teatime treat is no later than midnight (EST) Sunday, January 25, 2014. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!

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wkendcookingiconThis post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. No fancy hats or raised pinkies required to join the culinary fun. :)

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*Spreads from How to Behave at a Tea Party posted by permission of the publisher. Text copyright © 2014 Madelyn Rosenberg, illustrations © 2014 Heather Ross, published by Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

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The kind and generous Hallie Durand is offering a signed copy of CATCH THAT COOKIE for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader! All you have to do to enter this giveaway is to leave a comment at yesterday’s post no later than midnight (EST) Thursday, December 18, 2014.

If you already commented yesterday you are automatically entered in the giveaway. The book will be signed by BOTH Hallie and illustrator David Small. What a special treasure!

What are you waiting for? Click here and comment. Good Luck!

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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

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