GINGERBREAD FRIENDS by Jan Brett (Putnam, 2008),
Picture Book, ages 4-8, 32 pp. On shelves now.
Mmmmm!! Look what just popped out of the oven — Gingerbread Friends, a freshly-baked sequel to Jan Brett’s scrumptious 1999 book, Gingerbread Baby.
Yes! That sassy, cocky little cookie baby is back for another adventure. We last saw him safely tucked away in a little gingerbread house made especially for him by his creator, Mattie. Though surrounded by lots of treats and toys, the Gingerbread Baby is lonely when Mattie goes off to ski and skate with his friends.
So, the next day, when Mattie is busy in the kitchen, the Gingerbread Baby decides to pop on over to the village to find some friends of his own. There, he sees a man and woman just his size in the bakery window. Although he sings and dances for them, they won’t move or even look at him. Undaunted, the Gingerbread Baby approaches a Sugar Cookie Girl and tries to win her over with his song:
I’m the Gingerbread Baby,
Gallant as can be,
I’ll be friends with you,
If you’ll be friends with me.
But she, too, remains stiff and silent. His efforts to similarly befriend some swans and a couple dancing atop a mountainous cake are equally fruitless, so he ends up running through a little door just his size and falls asleep. He is rudely awakened by the strange sensation of someone nibbling on his marshmallow pom pom. A cheeky mouse! A frantic chase ensues, involving a cat, the baker, his wife, and a fox! Can the Gingerbread Baby escape with his life once again?
Set in a snow-luscious Swiss mountainside village, Gingerbread Friends will satisfy your holiday sweet tooth with its delectable, lick-the-page watercolor and gouache illustrations, all rendered in Brett’s intricate, detailed trademark style. The spreads featuring all the bakery confections — breads, cakes, pies, mountains of cookies and candies, can only be described as “an ultimate feast for the eyes.” The side borders depict an equally delicious subplot — Mattie is shown busy in the kitchen, baking — well, I won’t tell you what and spoil the ending, but trust me, the fruits of his labor delightfully explode in a final giant foldout page.
Brett has said that it takes her an hour to draw an inch, and her brilliant work is proof of the pudding. Young readers will have a ball poring over the pictures, which serve up new details with each glance. I love the spread of the Gingerbread Baby outside the bakery — a tiny cookie person at a big blue door, and of course the gingerbread side borders, featuring recipe ingredients framed in frosted hearts, which inspire unabashed drooling every time, as it effectively hints at the ending and revs up anticipation.
For those of you who haven’t yet visited Jan Brett’s website, prepare to be amazed. It contains 4,696 (gasp!) pages, filled not only with book information, but activities (placemats, puzzles, signs, labels, drawing lessons, on and on), coloring pages, home and school projects, videos, games, and the occasional contests. To extend your enjoyment of Gingerbread Friends, you can create and print out your own greeting cards and envelopes, make a 2009 calendar, construct a 3 x 6 foot mural, or even design your own gingerbread friend. Loads of holiday and year-round fun for all ages, a real internet treasure trove that gives new meaning to the term, “interactive.”
*If you somehow missed Gingerbread Baby, be sure to watch this video with Jan reading the story to several children. They’re even munching on gingerbread men cookies while listening to her. Man, I love the smell of gingerbread baking in the kitchen (Jan says her studio smelled like gingerbread for an entire year while she was working on this book).
You can find Jan’s recipe for gingerbread babies here. Grab it before it gets away from you!
Don’t miss this fun interview where she answers questions posed by students and teachers.
Also, from Scholastic, a great Author Study page, featuring lessons based on many of her other books.
For my tasty tidbit of a post about the history of gingerbread, gingerbread men stories, and my personal favorite gingerbread men recipe, click here.