[lipsmacking review] The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller and Vincent X. Kirsch

Let’s talk doughnuts. Which do you fancy– cake or raised? Powdered, cinnamon sugar, glazed, chocolate dipped, or frosted?

Though in the past I’ve dallied with lemon-filled, jelly, maple glazed, vanilla iced with sprinkles, and even (gasp!) gotten a bit risqué with a warm cruller or two, my true loyalty lies with the plain glazed ring doughnut, the fresher and softer the better. I live for that moment when you take that first luscious bite and the glaze cracks a bit, sometimes sticking to the edges of your mouth. Mmmmmm!

Tastiest endpapers ever!

Now, tell me. For all the times you’ve eaten a ring-shaped doughnut, have you ever wondered who invented the hole? Thanks to The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller and Vincent X. Kirsch, we surprisingly learn that a teenager with a knack for creative problem solving was actually responsible, and that his “aha” moment took place on the high seas!

His name was Hanson Crockett Gregory, a native of Rockport, Maine. He went to sea as a cabin boy aboard the schooner Isaac Achorn when he was just 13. He quickly rose in the ranks on various vessels as a cook’s assistant and ship rigger before captaining a cargo schooner and speedy clipper. Queen Isabella II of Spain even awarded him a medal for heroism for the daring rescue of seven sailors.

But even daring rescues can’t compete with doughnuts when it comes to securing a place in culinary history. At age 16, Hanson was busy working as a cook’s assistant aboard the Ivanhoe. One day in June 1847, he and the cook were preparing breakfast for the crew, the same breakfast they served every morning: coffee and fried cakes. Hanson formed the balls of sweetened dough while the cook dropped them into a cauldron of hot lard.

When the cakes were fried, Hanson dumped them out on the dining table. They were sweet and crisp — at least around the edges. Their raw centers, heavy with grease, made them drop like cannonballs in the stomach. Sailors called them SINKERS.

Raw centers? Heavy with grease? Not very appetizing. Hanson thought to use the round lid of a tin pepper can to cut holes into the center of each sinker before frying them. The cook thought he was crazy, but the sailors loved the cakes — for once, they were brown, sweet, and evenly cooked! Hooray!

Hanson shared his invention with his mother, who whipped up large batches to sell in a friend’s shop and on the docks to hungry sailors. Everyone loved those “holey cakes” and Hanson’s invention rapidly spread around the world.

Kids will thoroughly enjoy this toothsome tale, which will of course make them want to devour some doughnuts immediately. Miller’s captivating narrative and Kirsch’s charming and inventive cartoony illustrations will whisk them away on this tasty mid 19th century seafaring adventure.

Kirsch’s clever use of the round motif — creating doughnut “holes” by cutting out the centers of his zesty watercolors and placing them on facing pages — amplifies the theme and makes every page turn a delight. From the ship’s portholes to the lifesavers to the curlicues of the waves to the wide open circular mouths and googly eyes of the hungry sailors, we are invited to feast our eyes and bask in pure doughnutty joy.

But there’s more. Miller also relates a couple of alternate legends that grew up around the hole business. One involves Captain Gregory impaling a sinker on one of the steering wheel spokes during a storm, and the other cites Captain Gregory’s attempt to prevent sailors from drowning after eating heavy sinkers for breakfast (if they were swept overboard they’d sink like stones). Yes, sailors do love their riveting yarns!

Like sweet icing on a cake doughnut, Miller also mentions an actual 1916 interview with Captain Gregory that appeared in the Patriot Ledger. He was amused by all the fuss over his doughnut doings and joked that he had invented “the first hole ever seen by mortal eyes.”  An Author’s Note, Timeline and Bibliography top off this delectable read (best to stock up on doughnuts beforehand). Pretty certain you’ll fall for it book, line and sinker. 🙂




The Alphabet Soup kitchen helpers were of course drooling throughout the entire book. How does one remain calm when reading lines like, “The aroma of browning sugar rose as the cook dropped in the first blobs of dough”?

Mr Cornelius and Hoppy Vanderhare, in particular, couldn’t wait to fry up a batch of mini doughnuts for their hungry little friends. The minis were tricky to handle with paws, but they managed a box full of powdered, chocolate dipped, chocolate dipped with sprinkles, and cocoa. Small in size, big on flavor!

As soon as word got out that doughnuts were on the menu, they were joined by two French sailors who were thrilled about the new book. Seems they met Hanson Gregory when he stopped in Marseilles back in 1851. He shared a batch of his mother’s doughnuts with them and they’ve loved him ever since (when it comes to furry creatures, donut believe everything they say).



A ring of discerning doughnut lovers then decided to hold a round table summit. The hole group claimed they knew Hanson Gregory too (boy, did that guy get around)!

“A ring is round and has no end, a sugary donut’s my true friend.”
“I met Captain Gregory in California.”
“I once detained Captain Gregory for eating too many crullers.”
“Captain Gregory married us aboard his trading ship.”
“Hanson actually got the hole idea from me.”
“A doughnut a day keeps the doctor at play.”

It is now your civic duty to eat at least one doughnut this week. Since Friday is actually National Doughnut Day, you have the perfect excuse. In honor of this charming book, no need to share. Go ahead and eat the hole thing. 😀




written by Pat Miller
illustrated by Vincent X. Kirsch
published by HMH, May 2016
Picture Book Biography for ages 6-9, 40 pp.
*Junior Library Guild Selection*

♥ Check out Pat Miller’s behind-the-scenes timeline for the book at Rate Your Story.

♥ Read how Pat got the inspiration for the story in her GROG interview.



“I don’t think Hanson is ticklish.”




wkendcookingiconThis post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food related posts. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!



*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2016 Pat Miller, illustrations © 2016 Vincent X. Kirsch, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

50 thoughts on “[lipsmacking review] The Hole Story of the Doughnut by Pat Miller and Vincent X. Kirsch

  1. I love this hole post- from the lip smacking description of you eating a glazed doughnut to the kitchen helpers’ feasting! The book sounds wonderful and interesting, and explains why doughnuts are so good in Maine!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Doughnuts are especially good in Maine? I need to go back and eat some then. 🙂

      This is one of those books that is delicious but dangerous. We ate a lot of doughnuts this weekend.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. OMG, I want a doughnut now. Possibly several. Like you, glazed raised are my favorites, but I probably wouldn’t turn down a doughnut in any form, unless it had coconut on it. Why, oh why, do they have to be so bad for you??

    Also, I’m thinking my school librarian totally needs this book. Looks fantastic – and I learned something new! (Although I also remember, from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Farmer Boy,” that Almanzo’s mother didn’t like the “newfangled” doughnuts with the hole in the middle, because they didn’t flip themselves over. She made doughnut twists, which apparently did; she didn’t have time to waste flipping silly round doughnuts.)

    *avoids running off to the nearest store for doughnuts by the thinnest margin of self-restraint*

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, a dangerous book. It’s totally unfair that doughnuts aren’t the healthiest — but a once in awhile treat is fine (we’ve now had our quota for the next 6 months at least). Thanks for reminding me about Farmer Boy (one of my all-time fave foodie children’s books). I also need to reread Homer Price now. 🙂


  3. I’ve already had my favorite donuts here at the beach, Jama. They are holey delightful! I try to stay away, but this book looks wonderful. Wonderful that there is an actual story of the first donuts, by a creative youngster! I love your tiny donuts, so cute! Happy eating! My favorite is chocolate iced, can’t resist.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So *that’s* what you’ve been up to — doughnut bingeing!! Aha!

      Mr Cornelius is happy you like the tiny donuts. He had fun wielding those tweezers. Chocolate iced, YES!


    1. By the way, at the state fair I work at each Labor Day weekend, there’s a donut vendor who – if you ask politely – will spread a shmear of chocolate icing on top of their glazed donut! HEAVEN.


    2. Mmmmm, somehow hot donuts at state fairs and the like taste even better! You may start fulfilling your civic duty immediately. No need to wait until Friday. In fact, be a really good citizen and have a donut today, another tomorrow and three on Friday! 🙂


  4. Those are the tiniest doughnuts, EVER that the bears have! Where does one even get something that small? *she asks, imagining she could just tip the whole box back and eat them in one bite…

    This book would be SO MUCH FUN for a classroom visit – and followed up with a box of doughnuts or read while waiting for them to bake (if you’re making the non-fried kind) would be so fun.


    1. The tiny donuts are actually Cheerios dipped in powdered sugar, cocoa and melted chocolate. 🙂 The smaller your hands, the easier they are to handle. The tweezers helped.


  5. Looks like a great book, Jama! Super post, all the way around. I spent a lot of my childhood in a doughnut shop (Carol Lee Donuts, Blacksburg, VA). Good times!


  6. You had fun with this, Jama, didn’t you? I LOVED this book! The illustrations were fun and whimsical and I the recurring donut motif throughout was very cleve! Alas though, I am not a donut fan–I can’t tolerate the things. Even with Captain Gregory’s missing middles, they remain sinkers in my stomach 😉


  7. Such a great post. Thank you so much for sharing. Even though I am not fond of donuts, I think you have a great blog! Warm greetings from Montreal, Canada. 🙂


  8. If you are ever in Maine you MUST go to Frosty’s doughnuts in Brunswick (and also Freeport, Bath, and Gardiner now). Soooo light. A bite is like a bite of heaven. Also the Holey Donut in Portland makes potato doughnuts. More dense but delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. What a fun book and story and perfect for National Doughnut Day! (Don’t tell Captain Gregory but when I do splurge on a doughnut, or similar style treat, it usually is a fresh malasada or occasionally a maple bar or apple fritter–none of which have his doughnut hole invention.) 😉

    As usual, I loved all of your photos with their fun doughnut party scenes.


  10. Sooo sweet, I love your furry critters and their treats! I had lunch with a friend yesterday and “Dunkin’ Donuts” were on the dessert menu. Couldn’t resist. They were doughnut holes, and came with three sauces to dunk in: mango-chili, chocolate-mac nut and cream cheese. I told her I hadn’t made doughnuts since I was a teen, and if you ask my brothers about my cooking, that is the only thing they remember.


    1. Impressed that you made doughnuts when you were a teenager — I’ve never attempted to make them. Something about hot sizzling oil scares me.

      I do like the DD munchkins, but have never dipped them into anything before. Cool idea!


  11. This book looks great, Jama. My daughter and I recently flew home from Rochester, NY, with a box of doughnuts (from Donuts Delite). She commented that doughnuts are like dogs: when you have them, EVERYONE wants to talk to you — airport security (“Ma’am, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to confiscate those”), the gate attendant (“Oh, for me?”), and so on. It was a fun trip. And no, we didn’t share any. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Doughnuts = the universal language :). I need to carry some doughnuts around with me all the time to see what happens. Does Donuts Delite have a particular specialty?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think it’s mainly known for an enormous selection (banana cream, fritters, lots of jelly fillings, all kinds of stuff). It closed for a few years but was rescued/reopened by a pizzeria.


  12. What a cute story! And one that is totally believable! I’m a huge fan of the plain glazed or chocolate frosted with sprinkles. I don’t need to be thinking about donuts, I’m on a diet! haha


  13. This is so perfect! I was away at the shore all weekend and guess what we had for breakfast?! DOUGHNUTS!


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