Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her,
And frightened Miss Muffet away.
Well, no. Not exactly.
There’s more to this story than meets the eye.
🎻ACT ONE, or The Real Story 🎻
It seems nursery rhymers of yore mistook our dear Miss Muffet for a dainty scaredy-cat milquetoast without really considering:
- her true potential
- some spiders are undeniably cool
- the inherent power of cottage cheese.
Now, thanks to Marilyn Singer and David Litchfield, Miss Patience Muffet finally gets her props in a hilarious new picture book, Miss Muffet, or What Came After (Clarion, 2016), proving, once and for all, that where there’s a will there’s a whey. 🙂
Told in sprightly verse as a rousing musical theatre production, the book features a fetching cast that includes an off-stage narrator, a chorus of three (gardener + 2 maids), Webster the spider, and nursery characters Little Bo-Peep and Old King Cole, among others. These clever players had me from their opening lines.
Her given name was Patience.
Her schoolmates called her Pat.
In the garden on a stool
is where one day she sat.
What do we know about her?
Just this much, if you please:
She didn’t care for spiders,
but she did love cottage cheese.
Cottage cheese, cottage cheese,
she eats it every day.
Cottage, cottage, cottage cheese,
she calls it curds and whey.
In December or in June,
in a bowl, with a spoon.
Cottage cheese, cottage cheese.
Very tasty (slightly pasty),
or so we’ve heard her say!
We soon learn that much to her parents’ dismay (her mother yearns for a perfect little miss and her father wishes she’d share his passion for bugs), Pat has a mind of her own.
I do not care for ladies’ stuff:
a feathered hat,
a lacy cuff.
I do not like arranging flowers,
I haven’t any interest
in a beehive
or a hornets’ nest.
I don’t need to identify
a beetle, gnat,
Mother, Father, I’m not a riddle.
I simply want to play
I’m not brainy or demure.
I plan someday
to go on tour!
Yes, she’s a girl with pluck and big dreams!
Her mother would have none of it and hides the violin.
While sitting in the garden on her new tuffet, a betrayed and dejected Pat is startled by a tiny voice. A talking spider! Webster is clever, artsy and likes Pat’s music (he needs to steer clear of Pat’s father, though, who’s obsessed with capturing him). After Webster finds the violin, the newfound friends hit the road for a grand adventure that includes hooking up with Bo-Peep (also keen on fiddling), foiling a pair of malicious thieves (“to steal from a fiddler is what I’d call vicious!”), and even performing for the merry old King when his regular fiddlers take ill after eating bad fish.
Through it all, Webster proves his mettle; he’s so much more than “a creature slightly ghoulish” whose only thrill in life is to scare genteel little girls. It is Webster, after all, who finds Pat’s hidden violin, keeps her spirits up, thinks of a way to track down the thieves, and then scares them off by threatening to bite them:
Run, you cowards! Run, you fools!
What’s their plunder? Several jewels,
a bit of silver, a stash of candy,
and there’s the bow. Might come in handy.
Here are hard-boiled eggs and jellies,
bread and cheese to fill your bellies.
Here are pears and two meat pies,
currently attracting flies.
Later there’ll be time to chatter.
You eat the former — I’ll take the latter.
There’s nothing like a bit of food
to brighten anybody’s mood.
Small, but mighty, and he’s right about the food thing. 🙂
Ultimately it is Webster who helps the King’s servants find their third fiddler. And this spider can sing!
Best of all, two girls who defied convention realize their fondest dreams! Go, Pat and Peep!
We Fiddlers Three have gained great fame.
(And Madame M.’s
a household name.)
People melt when Webster sings.
We’re entertaining queens
My fondest wish has been surpassed.
My parents comprehend
My sister’s learning to write sonnets.
My mother’s busy modeling
My father plans to classify
our spider’s daily
“Happily ever after” is such a fine cliché!
It’s even more delightful
than a bowl of curds and whey!
Wait. What?! More delightful than a bowl of curds and whey?
Sing it, Chorus!
Cottage, cottage, cottage cheese — she calls it curds and whey.
And now, a word from our sponsor:
When it comes to musicians, the cream always rises to the top. What is the secret to their success? Patience, practice, and PAT AND PEEP’S PREMIUM COTTAGE CHEESE!
Remember, when it comes to cottage cheese, never settle for second best. Just one daily serving and you’ll perform three times better. So power your strings with pluck!
We now return to our regular programming.
🍚ACT TWO, or Chewing the Curd 🍚
Some might think it would hard to top oneself after inventing the reverso, an ingeniously challenging poetic form that gives even veteran poets pause. But we’re talking about fun loving Marilyn Singer here, a prolific, versatile writer who’s been known to cut a good rug, frequent the theatre, and continually wow us with her crazy cool verbal artistry.
I don’t know of any other picture books framing poetry in quite this way. I only know it totally works and is an absolute hoot! The stage direction and offstage narration anchor the storyline, while characters alternately versify in monologue, dialogue, and cheeky chorus. The variety of poetic forms, personas and rhythms is well orchestrated in this period dramedy, which begs for recitation, readers’ theatre, and over-the-top live performance.
I love how David Litchfield (The Bear and the Piano) amplifies the humor with his distinctive caricatures. There’s no shortage of bulbous noses, waxed mustachios, or big hair. The main characters, charmingly costumed in fairy-tale-like flouncy skirts trimmed in ribbons and lace, move through a world of country gardens, meadows, dimly lit castles and wood paneled interiors.
I’m especially partial to the chorus with their mouths open wide in song — upon first meeting them with their “cottage cheese” lyrics, I swear I could hear their voices, and I eagerly looked for them from spread to spread.
Patience can’t help but take center stage with her shock of red hair, and just right for the picture book audience is Webster’s furry blue roundness that makes him more endearing than frightening (close-ups underscore his pivotal role in the plot). Litchfield’s use of text boxes for stage direction and speech bubbles for dialogue is nicely integrated with the narrator’s lines, facilitating a seamless reading that nonetheless keeps the reader on his/her toes. Jolly good fun all around!
Who’d have thought a six line nursery rhyme could reach such dramatic heights? This book is a great way to introduce munchkins to theatre basics and to foster a love for the musicality of words. Moreover, it’s a thoroughly entertaining reminder to be brave, follow your dreams, and eat your cottage cheese. Bravo!
♥ ACT THREE, or A Leetle Après-Theatre Snack ♥
What’s that? Feeling a little peckish?
Well, I’m absolutely famished! This always happens when I laugh too much. 😀
You’ve been an exemplary audience and deserve a little snack. We will take our lead from the grand finale, when the fiddlers three perform for Old King Cole.
They arrive at the castle, a little bit flustered,
just in time for pudding and custard.
We love pudding. We love custard.
(Also Sunday roast with mustard!)
See why I love that chorus? They know good food!
Just for you, Mr Cornelius made some Tapioca Pudding (a house favorite). Did I ever mention that Len loves pudding so much, he always eats it with the tiniest spoon he can find, just to make it last longer? I don’t tell him that the spoon he’s using is actually for dolls. 🙂
In case you’re not a fan of tapioca (gasp!) or are still hungry (no surprise), we also made some Cottage Cheese Pie.
Yes, friends, it’s the perfect Miss Muffet dessert — cottage cheese marries custard! We’re certain the Chorus would heartily approve. (Sorry, no Sunday roast with mustard — Mr Cornelius is a vegetarian.) He made this little rhyme:
Cottage, cottage, cottage cheese,
Party with custard if you please!
This treat is great for those of you who *think* you don’t like cottage cheese. A little frightened of those curdy lumps? Just whizz a cup of cottage cheese in the blender or food processor for a minute or two until smooth. Add it to the rest of the custard mixture and you end up with a creamy rich pie filling. This pie is sometimes called a surprise pie because no one would ever guess there’s cottage cheese in it. I don’t know where it originated, only that the Amish, Croatians, and Russians all have their own versions.
Have a slice or two or three. Don’t be surprised if you instantly wax poetic, or run to the store to buy a violin.
MISS MUFFET'S COTTAGE CHEESE PIE
- one unbaked 9″ pie shell
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 2 rounded tablespoons of flour
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 beaten eggs
- 2 cups milk
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Blend the cottage cheese until smooth in a blender or food processor.
In a medium sized bowl, combine the cottage cheese, flour, sugar, salt, eggs and vanilla. Mix well, then stir in the milk until fully incorporated.
Pour the custard into the pie shell and sprinkle with cinnamon.
Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake for another hour, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool on a rack, then chill in the fridge for a couple of hours before serving.
You may wish to place the pie plate on a rimmed baking sheet while in the oven in case the filling overflows.
MISS MUFFET, Or What Came After
written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by David Litchfield
published by Clarion Books/HMH, September 2016
Poetry Picture Book for ages 6-9, 40 pp.
SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY!
For a chance to win a brand new copy of this book, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Wednesday, October 12, 2016. You may also enter by sending an email with “MUFFET” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Winner will be announced next Friday. Good Luck!
The lovely and talented Violet Nesdoly is hosting the Roundup this week. Take her a piece of pie and check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere today.
This post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts.
*Interior spreads and excerpts from Miss Muffet, or What Came After posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2016 Marilyn Singer, illustrations © 2016 David Litchfield, published by Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.