dessert first, last, and in between

          
          
Now here’s a book that’s got my name written all over it.

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed my subtle tendency total obsession with baking and sweets. Like most writers, I am especially mad for chocolate. Dessert First by Hallie Durand features some particularly decadent chocolate and more than satisfied my present craving.

Eight-year-old Dessert Schneider (whose family owns the Fondue Paris restaurant), is just the kind of spunky, quirky little minx I love to read about. She follows in the tradition of Eloise, Ramona, Junie B., and Clementine — the type of character who gets into the kind of mischief we’d secretly like to, if only we had the nerve.

When her third grade teacher, Mrs. Howdy Doody, encourages the class to march to their own drummers, Dessert decides eating dessert before supper is the way to go. She doesn’t succeed with lemon squares or rice pudding, but cleverly finds a way to win her parents’ approval with hermit cookies. 

Crediting Mrs. Howdy Doody with changing her whole life, Dessert is then committed to forever blazing her own trail, even if it leads straight to trouble — notably, scarfing down an entire box of verboten Double-Decker Chocolate Bars. How could she resist? They called to her from the refrigerator in all their dark, fudgy glory. It’s inconceivable that something so good could make her feel so bad. Dessert must find a way to redeem herself for this terrible mistake, as well as go an entire two weeks without any dessert at all, after she’s tricked by her arch nemesis, Amy D., in a class fundraising project.


Hallie (center) with Normana Schaaf, the real Mrs. Howdy Doody.

A fun, fast read, Dessert First is well paced with a good balance of scenes taking place at school, home, and at the family’s restaurant. The other characters are appealing and keep things lively and interesting. Mrs. Howdy Doody, who champions individualism, is the kind of teacher every parent appreciates — patient, kind, and there to offer much needed comfort and understanding when a child is troubled. Dessert’s younger sister, Charlie, and her brothers Wolfie and Mushy (the Beasties) round out the rambunctious family unit, providing lots of noise and laughs. And of course Guston and Dominique from the restaurant add a French flavor to the mix. How tempting to read about Dessert dunking strawberry hats, cookie braids and animal pretzels into bowls of Maisie’s Melted Lollipop Fondue!   

All fun aside, Dessert’s flaws make her human and believable. Sneaky, persistent, crafty and brazen, her genuine remorse endears her to the reader. The way she handles the fundraising project illustrates her ability to successfully meet a challenge without compromising who she is. At the end, we see that her love of dessert remains undiminished, though her perception of just what is best and how it should be eaten has changed: “sometimes dessert tastes better when you save it for last” — a great sentiment in this day and age of instant gratification.

    
      Fondue Paris is based on loulou, a French bistro in Brooklyn
      formerly owned by Hallie’s friend, Christine Snell,
      who also gave her the famous red fondue pot.

Durand (a.k.a. Holly McGhee of Pippin Properties), says Dessert popped into her head after sharing a slice of iced lemon cake with her best friend. A character who signs her name with a maraschino cherry seemed destined for some pretty tasty adventures. Add to the recipe a red fondue pot Hallie received from a French bistro-owning friend, a favorite family recipe for those scrumptious Double-Ds, and you have the inspiration for an irresistible story that gently teaches many life lessons: taking responsibility for your actions, the importance of self control, and knowing that even though you make mistakes, you are still loved and can find a way to make amends.

Guaranteed to induce hunger, Dessert First is recommended for those who like to taste their words while reading them: pineapple upside-down cake, Snickers cake, flourless chocolate cake, petit fours, snickerdoodles, raspberry truffle bars, apricot pockets, seven-layer bars, et. al. You get the idea. Selected for the Summer 2009 Indie Kids’ List, it’s the first book in what promises to be a divinely delicious series.

Now let’s get to those scrumptious Double-Decker Chocolate bars, shall we?


Nom nom.

Back in her 4-H days, Hallie typed a bunch of recipes, including Double-Ds, for her sister Laurel’s birthday:

     

MORE GOODNESS:

For an excerpt from the book, click here.

Great interviews with Hallie Durand at Hope is the Word and The Children’s Book Review. Find out what her favorite desserts are, and about the time she worked the 3 – 6 a.m. shift with a baker named George!

Nice review at The Reading Zone.

Keep up with Dessert news at Hallie Durand’s Facebook Fan Page!

    
       Don’t miss the surprise under the book jacket!

Dessert First by Hallie Durand
Illustrated by Christine Davenier
Atheneum/Simon & Schuster, 2009
Ages 7-10, 153 pp.
Source: Library Copy


Dessert and her classmates will be back for the second book in the series, Just Desserts, to be released May 2010!

More 2009 Fall for Restaurants posts here.

*Photos posted by permission of author, copyright © 2009 Hallie Durand. All rights reserved.

*Spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2009 Hallie Durand, illustrations © 2009 Christine Davenier, published by Simon & Schuster. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2009 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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