rebecca kai dotlich: heart, sky, stars

#16 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2011.

During the Christmas holidays every year, Rebecca Kai Dotlich makes sugar cookies with her grandchildren. I love this photo of her with three-year-old Mia. I wonder what they’re talking about as they coax all that butter into submission?

For Mia, this is a relatively new family tradition, but for Rebecca, it’s a beautiful extension of what she did for years with her own two children. (“I am no cook — it is laughable —  but I am a mighty fine baker of homemade cut-out sugar cookies.”) All the gold in the world couldn’t buy or replace those precious memories of a warm kitchen, comfy aprons, wooden spoons and rolling pins, clouds of flour dusting counter and nose, the tap-splat of sweet creamery butter, and the sweet avalanche of sugar as it spills out of a measuring cup.

When I first invited Rebecca to the Potluck, she immediately thought about her sugar cookies and asked if she should write a poem about them. Of course I was wild about the idea, since cookies are my favorite thing to bake, and I love to hear how they sweeten other people’s lives. Lucky for us, Rebecca ended up sending two poems. She explains why:

As I began to write a poem about those cookies, the same cookies I’ve made every Christmas since my children were small (and now with my grandchildren), I began to write words of a different recipe; ones that included but a dash of a cookie image. And it became very long. Even though much of my heart is stirred into that poem, I also wanted to write the poem I was asked for, so I baked a shorter, smaller poem, focusing strictly on the beauty of the cookie; the visually delicious aspect of them. What else? A cookie haiku.


     A Cookie Haiku

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

Frosted blue, crisp tips

sugared with sprinkle-candies;

sky treats melt in mouth.

Copyright © 2011 Rebecca Kai Dotlich. All rights reserved.


Positively scrumptious! Lovely how Rebecca focuses her poetic lens on her favorite cookie, distilling the essential goodness of the entire plate.

She said I could share the original longer poem if I wanted to. Wanted to?! Are you kidding? I’ve always believed cooking is an act of love — a gift of patience, time well spent, a sincere wish to please, a sharing, and that perfect measure of heart mixed in for lasting flavor. I’m so grateful Rebecca baked this one up just for us:

“Morning Star” by geoarts/flickr

by Rebecca Kai Dotlich

On this day you would find

a soft package of stars

wrapped in sky, a ribboned tie

made of cloud, and a peace

of joy for your heart,

and they would fit perfectly

in the palm of your small hand;

but because I am simply your grand

(mother) and not capable of magic,

you will find toy teapots, blue marbles,

chocolate bells and sugared trees —

baby dolls and spy pens.

But I will find a way (don’t ever doubt)

to hide keys that open treasures;

you will find them scattered, like crumbs,

even when you are alone. Especially

when you are alone. I give you these

because I can, because I will, and that is why.

Because I do not own the stars.

And they were out of sky.

© 2011 Rebecca Kai Dotlich. All rights reserved.


Part of Jane Yolen’s writing mantra is “Heart on Page.” This poem is precisely that. No wonder Rebecca is one of the most beloved children’s poets writing today. About her recipe:

Rebecca: I’ve used this for years. I usually mix 4 batches at a time. So quadruple the recipe twice and you have plenty of cookies for days. (I always freeze some but my family likes them straight from the freezer, cool and crisp, so they still don’t last long.) I always replace shortening with real butter (and usually use a little extra) and add a little more sugar and vanilla than it calls for.

(makes about 2 dozen)

2/3 cup shortening (*butter)
3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
4 tsp milk
2 cups sifted flour
1-1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Thoroughly cream butter (shortening), sugar and vanilla. Add egg; beat till light and fluffy. Stir in milk. Sift together dry ingredients; blend into creamed mixture. Divide dough in half, wrap in wax paper and chill for maybe just 15-20 minutes before rolling out.

On lightly floured surface, roll to 1/8 inch thickness. Cut in desired shapes with cutters. Bake on greased cookie sheet at 375 degrees about 6 to 8 minutes. Cool slightly; remove from pan.


6 T butter
4 cups confectioner’s sugar
1/4 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla

Cream butter; gradually add about half the sugar, blending well. Beat in 2 T milk and vanilla. Gradually blend in remaining sugar. Add enough milk to make of spreading consistency.

Divide up the icing, pour all the delicious white stuff into little bowls and add food coloring. The torquoise and white (stars) have always been my favorite.

Just for fun, here’s the page from the cookbook containing Rebecca’s recipe. The best poems and recipes undergo many revisions and adjustments till they are “just right.” The smudges, stains and little notes are the best part: proof positive how much these cookies were loved (how many batches so far, I wonder?). What I especially like is how freely Rebecca adds more butter, sugar and vanilla, even as she’s doubling or tripling the recipe (it’s like an extra hug at the end of the day). This page truly tells the story of many wonderful Christmases. ♥


Award-winning author, poet and passionate word collector Rebecca Kai Dotlich has published picture books, concept books, easy readers and many highly acclaimed poetry collections, including Lemonade Sun and Other Summer Poems, In the Spin of Things: Poetry of Motion, and Castles: Old Stone Poems (with J. Patrick Lewis), all published by Wordsong/Boyds Mills Press. Her poetry has been included in dozens of textbooks and magazines (Highlights, Click, Ladybug), as well as in anthologies selected by Jack Prelutsky, Paul Janeczko and Lee Bennett Hopkins. Bella and Bean (Simon & Schuster, 2009), her most recent picture book, was named a Bank Street College of Education Best Book of the Year and received a Golden Kite Honor Award for Picture Book Writing. Honors for other books include Junior Library Guild Selection, Gold Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award, and IRA Children’s Choice Award.

Rebecca is also highly esteemed and beloved as a teacher — she gives poetry workshops for aspiring poets of all ages, and often speaks at national conferences, schools, and libraries. Though she admits to liking spaghetti, pie, stale Peeps, the Beatles and Sharpie pens in all colors, we are guessing she derives the most lasting nourishment from the sugar cookies she bakes for her family every year. Read more about Rebecca at her official website.

♥ One of Rebecca’s poems is included in the new e-anthology, PoetryTagTime (Kindle Edition, 2011), compiled by Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

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