Didn’t someone once say you can’t have your cake and eat it too?
Well, anyone who reads Midori Basho’s Timothy and Sarah: The Homemade Cake Contest (Museyon, 2015) will certainly be able to do both. First published in Japan six years ago, The Homemade Cake Contest is the first title from Basho’s popular 13-book Timothy and Sarah series to be translated into English, and it’s quite scrumptious.
In this charming story, mouse twins Timothy and Sarah are excited about helping Miss Flora and their mother raise funds to restore an old house in the forest. It was once a wonderful café where guests could have tea and chat while their children played outside. If only they could repair the building and reopen the café! Then young and old alike could enjoy it together!
Having a cake-baking contest seems like the perfect way to raise money for needed supplies and materials. After Mother and Miss Flora spread the word about the contest all over town, Timothy and Sarah get to work on their cakes. With a little batter-making help from Mother and Father, the twins happily add their personal touches: a walnut cake for Timothy (his favorite kind of nuts) and a strawberry cake for Sarah (what she most loves to eat). Mother whips up a chocolate cake with powdered sugar stenciled angels, while Father makes the contest medals.
Then it’s time to join the other townspeople at the park to see all the beautiful, fun, and amazing entries. Wow! Tables and tables of cakes in the big tent — “a rose cake, an acorn cake, a steam engine cake, and a little bird cake.” So many good ones! How will the judges pick just one? Just as they’re about to announce the winner, Rick rushes in with a last minute entry. His gorgeous candy house trumps all and takes the prize.
Now everyone buys pieces of the cakes they like, some eating them right there in the park, while others take theirs home. Luckily an elderly gentleman buys Rick’s candy house because it’s too difficult to cut into pieces. It’ll be a special gift for his sick wife because it looks just like the house they used to live in.
After selling the cakes’ recipes in addition to cookies and bread, they’re able to raise enough money, and everyone pitches in to repair the old house, which they decide to model after Rick’s candy house. With a little landscaping, the project is successfully completed and the town gathers for a big housewarming party.
Aside from the adorable illustrations of many mice making and eating many cakes, this heartwarming story offers a wealth of teachable moments related to cooperation, good sportsmanship, healthy competition, mastering new skills, teamwork, and community service. Kids will love studying all the details in the pictures and will be anxious to try making and/or decorating their own cakes. This veritable banquet of creativity extols the rewards of pitching in for the good of the whole and valuing the unique contributions of the individual.
Since this is a work in translation, I should mention that the text runs a little long and could have been streamlined in places. The fact that one person entered a pie in the contest and that Rick’s “cake” was made entirely of candy gave me pause. But the story has an appealing premise with a satisfying ending, and it would be a rare child who wouldn’t delight in and drool over all the elaborately decorated cakes. I also like the emphasis on restoring the café as a place especially for the elderly to gather with young children. The very old and the very young do have a special bond, as Joseph Campbell states in The Mask of God:
The old in many societies spend a considerable part of their time playing with and taking care of the youngsters, while the parents delve and spin: so that the old are returned to the sphere of eternal things not only within but without. And we may take it also, I should think, that the considerable mutual attraction of the very young and the very old may derive something from their common, secret knowledge that it is they, and not the busy generation between, who are concerned with a poetic play that is eternal and truly wise.”
From young to old, and old to young — a human being’s full circle journey. What seemed especially “Japanese” to me was this reverence and respect for the elderly, something that is inherent in Asian culture but is sometimes lacking in Western society, where old people become invisible and are often cast aside. In The Homemade Cake Contest, the elderly are a vital part of the community, and I think it’s important for children to see that. This sweet story with its old fashioned flavor is interesting on several levels. Enjoy it with a cup of warm tea. 🙂
TIMOTHY AND SARAH: THE HOMEMADE CAKE CONTEST
written and illustrated by Midori Basho
translated by Mariko Shii Gharbi
published in the United States by Museyon, Inc., April 2015
Picture Book for ages 5-7, 32 pp.
*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, copyright © 2010 Midori Basho, published by Museyon, Inc. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.