This week most of us will be gathering with family and friends for some serious feasting. We’ll travel from points near and far, bringing homemade dishes, stories to tell, and lots of good cheer.
As we take our places around the table, we can express gratitude for our many blessings, strengthen bonds, forge new connections, and enthusiastically lick our chops. 🙂
We’re especially delighted to welcome Minnesota author Melanie Heuiser Hill to Alphabet Soup today, as her debut picture book celebrates all the joyful deliciousness that comes with sharing a good meal with loved ones.
Around the Table That Grandad Built (Candlewick, 2019) is Melanie’s delectable take on the classic cumulative tale, “This is the House That Jack Built.” A young girl first describes how her family sets the table with items that have special significance: “sunflowers picked by my cousins,” “napkins sewn by Mom,” “glasses from Mom and Dad’s wedding,” “forks and spoons and knives — gifts from Dad’s grandma long ago.”
And then (my favorite part!) she describes the mouthwatering menu:
This is the squash that took over our garden.
These are the potatoes and peppers we roasted.
And these are the beans, overflowing the bowl!
Yum! And there’s more — foods to reflect the diversity of her family, including “toasty tamales” and “samosas, spicy and hot.” This is all topped off with Gran’s homemade bread, Dad’s huckleberry jam, their traditional rice pudding, and lots of P-I-E-S!! 🙂
Jaime Kim’s exuberant mixed media illustrations, rendered in warm and cheery autumnal colors, burst with all the busyness and excitement of pitching in for a special feast.
Each step of the way, as Grandad’s handcrafted table is lovingly adorned by little hands laying on all the objects, ending with plates “red, orange, and yellow,” we can feel the wide-eyed, open-mouthed anticipation building.
By the time we see the finished table in all its glory, we share in the characters’ satisfaction of a job well done, where each has played a significant role. Build a table, build a meal, build a family.
Though this book is perfect for the holiday season, it speaks to any festive gathering of family and friends, where togetherness and convivialty reign supreme. Hungry munchkins will enjoy this lively read aloud as they identify and count objects, recognize colors, observe facial expressions, and pick out interesting details in all the pictures.
Now, let’s find out more from Melanie — can you smell her homemade bread baking in the oven? Mmmmm. 🙂
♥ ABOUT THE BOOK THAT MELANIE WROTE ♥
What first inspired you to write this story, and why did you decide to frame it like the classic cumulative tale, “The House That Jack Built”?
One day I was looking at my bookshelf of picture books and noticed there were quite a few cumulative tales. These books are so fun to read with kids—I always try to do the last repetitions in one gaspy breath. Always a crowd pleaser! And so I thought I’d try my hand at writing one.
As I remember it, setting the table was the first cumulative task or theme I thought of, and so I just started playing with the form. I knew right away I’d want to “break” the pattern at some point in the story and setting the table for dinner provides a space for that. Once the table is set, the next task is to put all the food on it and gather all the eaters together—a perfect place to break the form and accelerate the pace of gladness and bounty.
Setting the table and gathering people together around it is one of my favorite things, so the words of that favorite thing were fun to play with.
What were the best and most challenging parts of this project?
Writing picture books is a playful thing for me, maybe because I don’t put the working manuscript onto the computer for a long while—I work with pen(cil) and notebook instead. It’s playing with words and images and memories—much less tangled than novel writing. I can lose myself in it. I can work on it for a few minutes at a time. And I can throw everything out and start again without any weeping or gnashing of teeth.
I think the challenge of any picture book is to get each and every word just exactly as right as possible. There aren’t very many words in a picture book, so they each have to carry their own weight!
Please tell us about the special family table your dad built.
In 2009, my parents’ property was hit by a tornado. Fortunately, they and their house were okay, but the lot they live on was a mess of downed trees and destruction. Several of the trees that went down were mature ones, and my folks wanted to make something out of the destruction.
They had the big oak and a couple of cherry trees “planked” and my dad—Grandad, to his grandchildren—made a 20+ foot long table and benches from those planks. The under-supports were made from the scraps of the demolished swing set that was blown across the road.
Something beautiful out of so much destruction sits on their lot today, beckoning family and friends to come sit and eat and visit. Though I didn’t include the origin story of this particular table in the story of Around The Table That Grandad Built, the spirit of it is certainly a part of the book.
What do you remember most about holiday tables from your childhood? Did you like setting the table when you were little?
At my grandparents,’ there was a formality at holidays. Or at least it seemed so to my child-self. They had an enormous dining room table and the table was often set with fancier things than were used in the kitchen. Manners were expected. It took a long time to pass everything around. I was the first grandchild and for many years my brother and I were the only kids at that adult table. When a bunch of other cousins came along, the “kid table” was instituted, but I was old enough by then that I still mostly sat at the adult table.
I don’t remember setting that table, but I did set the table at home sometimes. I liked setting the dining room table when there was china and silver and cloth napkins etc.—but I didn’t like it when I was asked to set the table for supper in the kitchen as a chore!
When did you first discover your love of setting tables? Are there any particular objects (esp. those with sentimental value) that you often include in your table decor?
I can remember “getting a thrill” as a child when I saw a prettily set table. I think I didn’t experience that thrill in the actual setting of a beautiful table until I was a mother.
I learned early on that candles can reset what is sometimes a difficult time of day when children are small. Everyone is hungry and crabby and dinner isn’t yet on the table…and then we light a candle or two…and wash hands…and gather and give thanks…and then there are good things to eat…and “the witching hour,” as we often called that late afternoon time, comes to an end.
We always use cloth napkins—I have a thing for cloth napkins— generally have candles, and usually have a table runner or centerpiece of some sort on the table. I love changing these things up and do so at least weekly, and especially seasonally. Favorites include the woven table runner we use during the season of Advent (gorgeous blues with a shock of hot pink and lime green), my silver star votive candle holders, and the rocks from Minnesota’s north shore that my daughter has painted mandalas on.
I love all the diverse homemade foods mentioned in the story. What is your go-to dish for family holiday gatherings?
I’m a bread baker and I often bring fresh bread, because people are super impressed when you make homemade bread. (It’s so easy!) I’m a little bit famous in some circles (especially teenage circles) for my cookies, and so I often take those to informal potlucks. The other thing I like to bring is pie—I love pie, and I love making it, too. There’s something about it that is so satisfying to me.
If asked to bring a main dish of some sort, I usually bring a hearty salad. I’m pretty good at salad, too. But I’m not famous for it, like I am with the cookies….
Just as important as delicious food is stimulating table conversation. If you could invite six notable authors (living or not) to Thanksgiving dinner, who would they be? What would you ask them?
Arthur Ransome, Louisa May Alcott, Ann Patchett, Jason Reynolds, E. B. White, and Beverly Cleary. That’s one dinner party list anyway…. I would ask them to tell me about their favorite books and authors…what they’re currently working on (if alive), or what book they wish they’d gotten written—sort of “the book that got away”—if they’re no longer living or working. I suspect this group wouldn’t need any more questions to keep the conversation going….
Let’s talk pies (I especially love that part of the story)! Your favorite to make or eat. Filling or crust? Interesting anecdote. Best one you’ve ever eaten.
I like fruit pies best—berry, apple, pear with cardamom, strawberry rubarb…. Mmmhhhm! I’m a firm believer in a homemade butter crust. I know all the arguments for lard, but I just can’t….
A few years ago I set about to teach myself to make a decent pie crust. I bought a copy of Rose Levy Berenbaum’s The Pie and Pastry Bible, which reads almost like a chemistry book, and I set about experimenting. I mostly use her butter crust recipe, though I’ve learned I don’t have to be quite as exact as she is to have it turn out well. The real secret is having a food processor—makes quick and excellent work of pie crust. Plus, you can make scones in a flash with a food processor. It’s a bulky piece of kitchen equipment I’m very happy to store.
I once went to a wedding where about 25 different homemade pies were offered as the wedding dessert—the bride came from a family who deeply values homemade pie. I could’ve eaten a piece from every single one—it was pie heaven!
How did you feel when you first saw Jaime Kim’s illustrations? Are there any particular spreads or details that stand out for you?
This is my first picture book, and I think it is a magical process to hand over one’s little manuscript to an artist and see what she does…. In my head, as I was writing this book, I kept seeing people walking through my kitchen door, each holding a different dish to share. What boring illustrations these would be—page after page of people walking through the same doorway!
But Jaime saw things differently with her artistic eye and she included such wonderful viewpoints—from above, from the back of the cabinet, at a kid’s eye level with the tabletop, etc. I was just thrilled! It was so fun to watch it come together—I received character sketches and then black and white spreads, and then eventually color spreads. I was delighted every step of the way!
What’s next for you?
I generally have a few picture books in the rotation and work on them on and off, here and there. I’m finishing up a novel draft right now and that is taking precedent.
Could you please share a favorite family recipe and provide a little backstory about it?
My Mom has always made bread. The last many years—and since I’ve been making bread—she makes this recipe as a daily workhorse sort of bread. It’s adapted slightly from the Tassjara Bread Book, a very interesting book. I make this once a week—it’s so easy, flexible, and yummy! You can make it more or less whole-wheaty, you can let it rise whatever amount of time, it accepts additions like spices or raisins etc. I make it in my kitchen aid mixer and only kneed it by hand if I feel like it.
Mom's Whole Wheat Bread
- 3 cups lukewarm water (110 degrees for 15 minutes is optimal — if you don’t have a thermometer, just do the wrist test like you do for baby bottles.)
- 1-1/2 tablespoons dry yeast or two yeast packets
- 1/4 cup sweetener (honey, molasses, maple syrup, brown sugar . . . )
- 1 cup dry milk (optional — I usually don’t include)
- 4 cups whole wheat flour
- 4 teaspoons salt
- 1/3 cup oil, butter, or margarine
- 3-4 cups whole wheat flour or white bread flour
- MIX the lukewarm water, dry yeast, sweetener, dry milk and 4 cups whole wheat flour. Let sponge for 15 to 45 minutes (much longer and the sponge ferments too much).
- ADD AFTER SPONGING the salt, oil, and 3-4 cups whole wheat or white flour.
- Let rise 50-60 minutes until doubled in size.
- Punch down. Let rise 40-50 minutes.
- Shape into two loaves and put loaves in greased pans.
- Let rise 20-25 minutes (or until bread reaches the top of the pans).
- Slash tops of bread, then brush with an egg wash, if desired.
- Bake in a 350°F oven for 1 hour, or until golden brown.
- Remove from pans right away and let cool.
~ from Melanie Heuiser Hill, author of Around the Table That Grandad Built, as posted at Jama’s Alphabet Soup.
Thanks for visiting and sharing the recipe, Melanie!
And Happy Thanksgiving Weekend to all!
AROUND THE TABLE THAT GRANDAD BUILT
written by Melanie Heuiser Hill
illustrated by Jaime Kim
published by Candlewick Press, September 2019
Picture Book for ages 3-7, 32 pp.
*Parents Choice Recommended Title
Bridget is hosting this week’s Roundup at Wee Words for Wee Ones. She greets us all the way from Switzerland, where she’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving on Saturday. Be sure to check out all the poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week! Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend.
This author chat is also being linked to Beth Fish Reads 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 text copyright © 2019 Melanie Heuiser Hill, illustrations © 2019 Jaime Kim, published by Candlewick Press. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2019 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.