Hey, Good Lookin’, the cake kart’s here! What’s your pleasure?
Today, I’m dreaming about german chocolate cake. Mmmm, that distinctive caramel-y frosting full of coconut and pecans! No, maybe I want some chocolate cheesecake. I have a delicious recipe that’s oh so smooth and creamy. Then again, since the weather has definitely warmed up, it might be refreshing to think light — angel food, sponge, or chiffon. But what about a nice homemade pineapple upside down cake — that’s certain to evoke fond childhood memories. Sigh. So many cakes, so little time.
While I’m trying to make up my mind, why not sample some of these charming cake picture books? They’ve been lovingly baked with the finest ingredients, are great for kids ages 4-8, and will rise to any celebratory occasion. Reading, after all, is the best party going.
Don’t be shy. Have as many pieces as you like:
BUNNY CAKES by Rosemary Wells (Viking, 1997). Can’t party down without this timeless classic. A charmer just like mom’s best recipe. As soon as you open the book, the endpapers featuring adorable baking ingredients will beckon and delight. Max and his older sister, Ruby, are busy trying to bake a cake for Grandma’s birthday. Max has his heart set on an earthworm birthday cake with Marshmallow Squirters. Ruby is thinking of an angel surprise cake with raspberry-fluff icing. The brief text creates just the right amount of tension, as we see how little Max “helps” Ruby bake her cake, while putting the finishing touches on his. Pitch perfect childlike emotion and an endearing look at sibling relationships. Wells draws the cutest bunnies around.
BEVERLY BILLINGSLY TAKES THE CAKE by Alexander Stadler (Gulliver Books, 2005). In this fourth book of the series about this adventurous bear, Beverly decides to bake a caramel candy castle cake for her friend, Oliver’s, birthday. Undaunted by her mother’s comment that the recipe looks a little complicated, Beverly forges on, dreaming about her perfect creation day and night, taking great pains to select just the right ingredients. Things go swimmingly until her mom takes the cake out of the oven, and discovers Beverly forgot to grease the pans. Ackkk! After having a fit, will Beverly be able to make something new using the broken pieces? Simple, chunky outline/gouache illos and a recipe for Beverly’s Busy Day Cake round out this satisfying meal, which touts the rewards of a little creative problem solving.
ELLA TAKES THE CAKE by Carmela and Steven D’Amico (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2005). I’ve always been partial to elephants and I love all the Ella books. In this installment, Ella finally gets her chance to help her mom in the bakery by delivering a layer cake to Captain Kernel at the lighthouse. On the way, she meets up with Bossy Belinda, offers to return some library books for Mr. Sneed, and ends up with a runaway cart. Will her good luck red hat help when these obstacles fall in her way? Ella’s a resourceful, endearing character who’s easy to root for. The D’Amicos have created a cozy seaside village resembling the French Riviera, and while the elephants are remniscent of Babar, Ella has a charm all her own.
IF YOU GIVE A CAT A CUPCAKE by Laura Numeroff, pictures by Felicia Bond (HarperCollins, 2008). Well, the mouse got his cookie, the moose his muffin, and the pig, his pancake — so it’s only fair that the cat gets a cupcake. But — be prepared, because after he asks for sprinkles to go with it, there are lots of surprising consequences to keep even the finickiest of eaters happy and amused. Cupcakes are known to inspire far-fetched scenarios, and this latest book in the popular series delivers a cool batch. Loving the pastel baking cups and pink frosting!
MUD IS CAKE by Pam Muñoz Ryan, pictures by David McPhail (Hyperion, 2002). This book celebrates the power of the imagination: “Mud is cake/if you pretend/and don’t really take a bite. And juice is tea/with a fairy queen/if you act it out just right.” Exactly what I’ve been preaching for most of my life! Love this simple rhyming paean to the innocence of childhood and the as-yet-untarnished belief that all things are possible. David McPhail’s rich, gentle, soft-focus brown ink and watercolor paintings are simply gorgeous, and draw the reader into a free and glorious world of toys turned real, with a girl and boy in charge of their fantasies. Spreads featuring a purple bathtub at sea and an elephant trying on pink pumps are joyfulicious, and Ryan’s verse is pitch perfect and evocative. Kids will ask for second and third helpings.
WHOPPER CAKE by Karma Wilson, pictures by Will Hillenbrand (McElderry, 2007). If you like your cake stories tall and funny, this is the book for you. Grandad sets out to bake the biggest birthday cake in the world to match the size of Grandma’s heart. He follows a cookbook recipe, but multiplies the ingredients by at least 100. This requires mixing the batter in the bed of his truck and using a paddle to stir everything up. Kids’ eyes are sure to grow bigger and bigger, as they see the cake expand to unbelievable proportions. Everybody in the neighborhood gets a whiff of the cake, and helps decorate it. Will Grandma be pleased with her surprise? Busy, frantic illos splatter cake batter right off the page. Recipe for Whopper Cake (yay for chocolate!) is included, natch.
THE BAKE SHOP GHOST by Jacqueline K. Ogburn, pictures by Marjorie Priceman (Houghton Mifflin, 2005). Cora Lee Merriweather is the best baker around — the “chocolate in her Mississippi mud pie was darker than the devil’s own heart. Her sponge cake was so light the angels kept hoping it would float up to heaven. No birthday was complete without a Merriweather layer cake with her special buttercream frosting.” But even good bakers have to die, and some of them come back to haunt their bake shops.
Three bakers buy the shop, but Cora Lee scares all of them off. Terrorizes is more like it. The shop sits empty for years until Annie Washington shows up. The best pastry chef on a cruise ship, Annie isn’t one to scare easily. She moves right in, and after giving Cora Lee a good battle for her batter, finally comes right out and asks how they can make the peace. Cora Lee issues this challenge: “Make me a cake so rich and so sweet, it will fill me up and bring tears to my eyes. A cake like one I might have baked, but that no one ever made for me.” After baking dozens of cakes, Annie finally creates just the right one. Beautifully told, this engrossing story will surely captivate and inspire with its notes of friendship, persistence, cooperation, and its beautiful bounty of cakes. Young listeners will beg for rereads, and be anxious to try the recipe for Ghost Pleasing Chocolate Cake.
And finally, the icing on the cake — an eighth bonus title for older readers ages 8-ish and up:
FRANKENSTEIN TAKES THE CAKE by Adam Rex (Harcourt, 2008). This will probably be the strangest, crunchiest, most irreverent oogla boogla cake book you’ll ever read in your entire life. The cake being served is in honor of Frankenstein and his undead bride’s wedding. Through an eclectic blend of hyper-creative art styles, comic strip panels, poem parodies, strange vignettes, and blog entries about a headless horseman with a pumpkin fixation, Rex serves up a feast of funny that is by turns hilarious, warped, and monstrously fine-tuned to make one’s head spin. Monsters include Dracula, Medusa, the Sphinx, the ubiquitous Mother-in-Law, and something that seems to terrorize more and more people these days: writer’s block (as experienced by Poe). I have to say Rex’s title page piece of cake is serenely sublime. Faboo reviews abound: Fuse 8, and a must-read co-review with Kelly Fineman and Jules at 7-Imp.
You may lick your forks now.
Cake Kart image posted by permission, copyright © 2009 Julie Paschkis. All rights reserved.