“INSPIRE means, Seeing what you’ve done here fills me with energy and new thoughts and the desire to now try to see what I can do!” ~ Amy Krouse Rosenthal (One Smart Cookie: Bite-Size Lessons for the School Years and Beyond)
About ten years ago, I read my first Amy Krouse Rosenthal book, her adult memoir Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life. It spoke to me because I’m an alphabet freak, and I’d never seen anyone tell her life’s story in a series of quirky alphabetized entries, a free-flowing yet carefully curated non-linear celebration of simply being alive.
I loved Amy’s penchant for cataloging ideas, recalibrating time, pruning memory. She embraced spontaneity and serendipity, indulging an irrepressible passion for making, creating and connecting. In the playground of her brilliant mind, she made the muddy, crystal clear; the cliché, passé; the ordinary, extraordinary.
After reading her memoir, I looked forward to each of her children’s picture books. Like a fairy godmother, Amy could wave her intuitive magic wand and make time-worn concepts and storylines fresh, relevant, and fun. Her joy and heart were infectious, and she had an uncanny knack for imparting advice and wisdom with a light, whimsical touch.
About twenty-five years ago, I purchased a copy of Baby Bear’s Bedtime Book, written by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Jane Dyer. As an avid teddy bear collector, I was mad for bear books and instantly fell in love with Goldie and Baby Bear. There was such warmth in Jane Dyer’s pictures, a quaint old-fashioned charm and innocence that made me feel safe and comforted.
I’ve been a Dyer fan ever since, swooning over her work in Piggins, Time for Bed, Animal Crackers, I Love You Like Crazycakes, Blue Moon Soup, the Little Brown Bear series, and more recently, Oh My Baby, Little One, The House That’s Your Home, and All We Know. Sweet, but never cloying, gentle and endearing, her human and animal characters are always rendered with such love.
I want to inhabit her cozy interiors with their wainscoted walls, polka dot curtains and checked tablecloths, and befriend the adorable dogs, cats, bunnies and sheep dressed in human clothing.
Needless to say, I was over the moon when I saw Amy and Jane’s first COOKIE book. Two of the very people I’d admired for so long in the same book! Double the goodness, double the joy! 🙂
As a diehard cookie monster, I couldn’t get enough of that freshly baked batch of life lessons, all defined in terms of making, eating, and sharing cookies (*licks lips*). I loved how the book appealed to all ages and made it easy for kids to understand abstract concepts.
Amy and Jane had hit upon a delicious recipe for success: COOKIES: Bite-Size Life Lessons (2006) became a New York Times bestseller that was followed by three more good-to-the-last-crumb titles (Jane’s daughter Brooke co-illustrated the last two books): CHRISTMAS COOKIES: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons (2008), SUGAR COOKIES: Sweet Little Lessons on Love (2009), and ONE SMART COOKIE: Bite-Size Lessons for the School Years and Beyond (2010).
Since today, April 29, is Amy’s birthday (she would have been 52), I can’t think of a better way to celebrate and honor her memory than by talking with Jane about working on the COOKIE books. I know you’ll enjoy her candid responses, memories, and personal photos.
POIGNANT means, even though Amy’s gone, we can always eat her favorite cookies and meet her in the pages of all her delicious books.
🍪 A COOKIE CHAT WITH JANE DYER 🍪
Please tell us about when you first received the manuscript for COOKIES: Bite-Size Life Lessons. At the time, was it supposed to be a stand alone book or was a 4-book series always part of the plan?
Originally, COOKIES: Bite-Size Life Lessons was a single book, not intended to be one of a series, but because of the overwhelming response it received, readers wanted more, and so did the publisher. CHRISTMAS COOKIES came next, followed by SUGAR COOKIES: Sweet Little Lessons on Love, and ONE SMART COOKIE. At the time I had contracts signed for the next five years to illustrate other books, so I enlisted the help of my daughter Brooke. I too wanted more COOKIES books! Brooke and I would pass sketches back and forth and then paintings. She often helped me for years when she was growing up and the Fedex truck was on its way for pick up.
Did you and Amy collaborate on a back-and-forth basis, or did you pretty much work on the illustrations on your own after receiving the manuscripts?
For the first book, I worked on my own, but Amy got more involved with each successive book. As with many gifted and talented people, she could be demanding, she knew her mind. While I understood and appreciated her genius, I often find that my illustrations suffer if I am just working to please someone else, and I did indeed want to please her!
What were some of your inspirations for these illustrations?
Amy’s manuscript seemed open to a variety of interpretations for illustrations. My favorite subjects are children and dressed animals co-existing in their own world. As a child, I spent much of my time dressing up my cat and dog, along with my dolls, and imagining the world they inhabited. So it was very clear to me just how I would depict the scenes in the COOKIES books.
My dog Scuppers, a Tibetan Terrier, and his best friend, who is a Boston Terrier, can be seen in several scenes, as well as my daughter’s dog at the time—a sharpei (the dog with wrinkles). I worked from many photographs of animals and children. My granddaughter posed for “expansive love” in SUGAR COOKIES along with their chow chow.
Did you and Amy ever get to meet in person? If so, could you please share a fond memory or two?
My first memory of Amy was a phone call before I started work on the first book. She was smart and funny and I liked her immediately. Another early memory is the first Christmas when I barely knew her. She sent me a box of scented colored pencils, it was so thoughtful. Years later she was doing a booksigning outside of Boston so Brooke and I went to meet her.
I was actually so nervous to meet her because she seemed so cool, that I had to stop and get Tums to settle my stomach. She was indeed cool, but warm and friendly as well. She immediately put me at ease with her wit and grace. She was pixie-like: small, spunky, and full of energy. Her abundant joy was contagious.
Looking back on the COOKIE series, what are some of the things that stand out in your mind? Do you have a favorite of the four books, and are there any particular paintings that you especially love?
While the first book is my favorite, I do love all four. I have many paintings that I like, but some that come to mind are those that I modeled after animals I knew. In the first book, “REGRET” is based on a photo of a rabbit that belonged to my neighbor Jeanne Birdsall (author of THE PENDERWICKS). In the picture, there is an empty plate of cookies, just crumbs left, and the rabbit has the top button of his pants unbuttoned. “WISE” is my dog surrounded by some of my favorite childhood books.
Looking back at our COOKIES books, I am reminded of how Amy wanted to share her joy and outlook on life with children and adults alike. We can all gain wisdom from her words. Here is just a sprinkling of what she thought important to know:
COOPERATE, PATIENT, PROUD/MODEST, RESPECT, TRUSTWORTHY, COMPASSIONATE, GREEDY/GENEROUS, PESSIMISTIC/OPTIMISTIC, POLITE, HONEST, COURAGEOUS, LOYAL. (COOKIES: Bite-Size Life Lessons)
APPRECIATIVE, CHARITABLE, RESPONSIBLE, MODERATION, RECIPROCATE, PERSEVERANCE, LONELY, GRATITUDE, GRACIOUS, JOY, SELFISH, THOUGHTFUL. (CHRISTMAS COOKIES: Bite-Size Holiday Lessons)
ENDEARMENT, CONSIDERATE, HEARTFELT, COMPASSIONATE, ADMIRE, FORGIVE, ADORE, UNREQUITED/REQUITED, SELFLESS, BLISS, CHERISH, PROTECT. (SUGAR COOKIES: Sweet Little Lessons on Love)
PROMPT, PREPARED, COMPROMISE, EMPATHY, KINDNESS, PROCRASTINATE, DILIGENT, ARROGANT/HUMBLE, PONDER, INTEGRITY, CURIOUS, INSPIRE. (ONE SMART COOKIE: Bite-Size Life Lessons for the School Years and Beyond)
Is there anything else you’d like to say about Amy or this series?
It was an honor and a gift to be asked to illustrate the COOKIES books. I love how Amy snuck in lessons to children using humor and warmth—her trademark attributes. The world lost her much too soon, but she left us with her lessons on life and love. She was indeed “one smart cookie.”
Before our first meeting, and when we had begun work on the first COOKIES book, Amy sent me a copy of her memoir written for adults, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF AN ORDINARY LIFE. On page 36, marked “A”, Amy inscribed these words, “To Jane, here’s to life, love, and cookies…alphabetically yours, Amy K.R. 1/25/05”. If you choose to read this book, you are in for a treat. Hers was no ordinary life.
To use one word from each of the COOKIES books…
I am PROUD to have worked with Amy and have so much GRATITUDE for her words and wisdom. I offer my HEARTFELT thanks to Amy Krouse Rosenthal, she will continue to INSPIRE me and countless others for many years to come. One final word comes to mind:
ADMIRE means, “I really look up to you and the way you are with your cookies. You remind me of what is good and possible in this world.” ~ AKR (SUGAR COOKIES)
Thank you so much, Jane!
💛 PEANUT BLOSSOMS FOR AMY 💛
Back in 2009, I had the honor of doing a mini-interview with Amy. She had 4 books coming out that Spring, two books with Tom Lichtenheld (Duck! Rabbit! and Yes Day!), one with Jen Corace (Little Oink), and one with Scott Magoon (Spoon). She was also in the midst of her Beckoning of Lovely film project, but she took the time to answer a few of my questions.
Of course I had to ask the Cookie Book Queen what her favorite cookie was, and she said, “Peanut butter with Hershey kiss in the middle.”
I confess this was my first time making these because Len claims he doesn’t like peanut butter cookies in general. But he and the entire Alphabet Soup kitchen staff loved these! Aren’t these cookies just like Amy — the peanut butter loving girl next door who grew up to write Plant a Kiss? There’s a little love and sweetness smack dab in the middle of each one. 🙂
Please help yourself and be sure to bake up a batch soon in Amy’s honor. 🙂
PEANUT BLOSSOM COOKIES
- 1-3/4 cups flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup butter or shortening
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 egg
- 36-48 Hershey’s Kisses®, milk chocolate, unwrapped
Heat oven to 375°F.
In a large bowl, cream butter, peanut butter and sugars well using an electric mixer. Add egg, milk and vanilla and beat until integrated.
Sift flour, salt, and baking soda together, then add to the creamed mixture. Beat on low speed until a stiff dough forms.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in granulated sugar. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake at 375 for 10 to 12 minutes or until golden brown. Immediately top each cookie with 1 Hershey’s kiss, pressing down firmly so the cookie cracks around the edge. Remove from cookie sheets and cool on a wire rack.
*This recipe makes 3 dozen larger cookies or 4 dozen smaller ones, depending upon the size of the dough balls.
~ Recipe featured at Jama’s Alphabet Soup in celebration of Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s birthday on April 29, 2017.
Today, 1500+ members of the #MoreforAKR Facebook group from all 50 states and other countries are fulfilling their pledges to beckon the lovely and do #more to emulate Amy’s longstanding commitment to love, kindness, connection, empathy, and joy.
Amy’s books will be purchased, shared, donated, and read aloud in venues large and small, and random acts of kindness will be performed in her name. Alphabet Soup will be donating a dozen of Amy’s picture books to a local elementary school:
If you’ve been inspired by Amy’s life and/or work, you, too, can create “yellow umbrella” moments for those you know or those you’d like to know. Amy was all about bringing people together, whether it was through her books, short films, talk show or social experiments. Amy was a singular light in an ever darkening world. Let’s keep her flame burning!
📒 MORE 🍰
♥ Purchase a “Make the Most of Your Time Here” 11″ x 17″ poster, created by Peter H. Reynolds (who illustrated two of Amy’s picture books, Plant a Kiss and Little Miss, Big Sis). 100% of the proceeds will benefit the AKR Yellow Umbrella Foundation, which supports ovarian cancer research and children’s literacy initiatives.
♥ You can also make a direct donation to the AKR Yellow Umbrella Foundation here.
♥ Check out Amy’s Page on TeePublic, featuring 8 Amy-related designs that can be printed on t-shirts, mugs, hoodies, etc. 100% of the proceeds will benefit Bernie’s Book Bank, which supports child literacy by collecting and distributing new or gently used books to at-risk children in the greater Chicago area.
🌼 STILL MORE 🌕
♥ A list of Amy tributes at Cynsations
♥ A moving tribute at Publishers Weekly by Maria Modugno, who was the editor for the COOKIE book series at HarperCollins.
♥ In case you missed it, read Amy’s amazing and heartbreaking NY Times essay, “You May Want to Marry My Husband.”
♥ Finally, enjoy this video about SUGAR COOKIES:
📕 SPECIAL COOKIE BOOK GIVEAWAY! 📕
Today Alphabet Soup is giving away all four Cookie books in the series. For a chance to win one of them, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) May 15, 2017. You may also enter by sending an email with “COOKIE” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com.
You may earn extra chances by tweeting, Facebooking, or blogging about this giveaway (please mention in your comment). Help spread the cookie love!
Four winners will be chosen at random and announced on May 19, 2017. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good Luck!
CHERISH means that there is nowhere in the universe I’d rather be than here in our kitchen, baking sugar cookies with you. (SUGAR COOKIES: Sweet Little Lessons on Love)
Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.