Then grab a seat at the table and put on a BIG bib. You’re just in time to sample a few literary treats from Follow the Recipe: Poems About Imagination, Celebration & Cake, a truly delectable, joyous “worldwide grand buffet” served up by Marilyn Singer and Marjorie Priceman.
First, I must mention that I’d been drooling over this book ever since I first heard about it in the latter part of 2019, because I’m a longtime fan of both Marilyn’s and Marjorie’s work. Marilyn’s talent and versatility are boundless; not only is she muy prolific, she’s an author and poet who continues to delight us with her inimitable ingenuity.
And safe to say, Marjorie’s, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World (1994), shifted my understanding of what picture books could be, launching my ongoing quest to devour every food-related title I can get my paws on. I was equally thrilled when she later came out with How to Make a Cherry Pie and See the U.S.A. (2013), once again demonstrating her knack for presenting facts in an especially palatable and entertaining way.
From the moment you open Follow the Recipe, you begin feasting with your eyes. Marjorie’s homey, retro-flavored gouache and block print collages with their zesty colors, whimsical details, bits of ephemera, and exuberant scripts set the stage for Marilyn’s satisfying smorgasbord of plucky words, snappy phrases, inventive rhymes and rollicking rhythms.
There are twenty six recipe poems in all — poems that play with food metaphors, liberally redefining traditional recipe format and content to include friendly advice about concrete activities (cooking, measuring, reading, writing) as well as riffs on abstract concepts and ideas (magic, courage, originality, understanding).
Through a variety of poetic forms (free verse, haiku, villanelle, triolet, and Marilyn’s signature reverso), these “recipes” are also valuable life lessons celebrating community and the virtues of charity, compassion, and gratitude.
The opening poem whets the appetite with whimsical words and a savory pot of soup tended by birds:
recipe for a good recipe
What’s in a good recipe?
Something right for me and you.
Steps to follow, A to Z.
What’s in a good recipe
for falling in love, for making a stew,
for balance or for harmony?
What’s in a good recipe?
Something right for me and you.
Turn the page, and not unlike a standard cookbook, poems offer valuable tips for getting started: successful “cooking” requires a positive attitude (“Things taste best when you are cheerful./Never cook when you are mad.”), lots of patience, a sense of balance, and a willingness to be fearless about trying new foods (“great adventures may begin/when you’re boldly chewing.”).
Equally important is being flexible, remaining open to improvising (“sweet potato pizza? An excellent surprise!”), and embracing endurance (“Keep stirring the pot.”).
Schoolish types will enjoy wrapping their lips around “recipe for social studies,” “recipe for reading,” and “recipe for science.” Who wouldn’t love a sampler platter of food history (“There’s a tale worth telling in every dish . . . the Chinese gave us noodles, the Japanese raw fish”), or celebrating a love of reading by thinking of books in foodie terms:
A book can be cheesy.
A book can be please-y.
Something to eat carefully
or devour in big bites
during the days
or deep dark nights.
The final line of “recipe for reading” says it all:
Whichever you choose, a book always feeds.
“recipe for science” compares the kitchen to a laboratory, reminding us that cooking is indeed its own science with chemical reactions, molecular changes and experimentation. You combine a certain set of ingredients to make something new. What better way to demonstrate this magical process than with a reverso? Same ingredients turned on their head — presto-change-o! So much fun!
These lively, upbeat poems are a joy to read aloud. Young readers will have a lot of fun chanting “recipe for balance” with its fast pace and parallel structure, and rolling around toothsome terms from “recipe for measurement” (“Smidgen, pinch, dash,/drop, jigger, gill”) in their mouths. Yum!
One of my favorite poems is “recipe for memories,” because I’ve always loved how we associate certain foods with special times in our lives.
The sound of corn popping — movies with Dad.
The buzz of the mixer when Grandma bakes pies.
The soup that Mom serves the day you’re feeling bad.
The birthday surprise of your grandpa’s French fries.
Food does indeed have “the power to help you remember.” Just as music is the soundtrack of our lives, food is life’s menu of good times, with pleasures extending well beyond the consumption of each dish.
Marjorie’s ebullient art makes each and every poem a scrumptious meal. Overall, she sets a festive tone with a reimagined version of an heirloom cookbook/scrapbook (recipe cards tucked within its pages, smudges marking frequently used recipes, scribblings in the margins).
Children and animals cavort through the pages, cooking and eating with happy abandon, while hand drawn and collaged letters take on a life of their own (cursive onomatopoeia resting on pea plant tendrils! B-A-L-A-N-C-E precariously teetering on a scale! “Endurance” swirling around in a big kettle!).
“recipe for love” gets my vote for most beautiful double page spread, with its collaged Love postage stamps and love letter scraps framing Marilyn’s foodie terms of endearment. I love you sugarplum, peach, apple of my eye! 🙂
Pictures that are dynamic, winsome, energetic, charming, surprising. And did I mention the lovely floral and fruit stamps, the big blue ribbon pie, cake slice endpapers, and the planet earth teapot?
Finally, here are two poems for your feasting pleasure, touting qualities we all need to cultivate, especially during tough times. Love these gentle reminders of our interconnectedness and the importance of kind gestures large and small.
recipe for courage
There’s always a chance to be brave,
to choose a bold way to behave:
Tasting your very first bagel with lox.
Returning a bullied kid’s mango juice box.
Delivering rice and beans to feed
hundreds of people badly in need
at home or in a foreign land.
To take a risk, to take a stand,
with something light or something grave,
there’s always a chance to be brave.
recipe for understanding
share histories —
dense, chewy tales that take
time to rise. Crisp sketches as light
share histories —
loaves baked so long ago
or served up fresh from the oven
chapati or lavash . . .
Pass it around the table. Share
Score your mouthwatering copy of Follow the Recipe soon, set it to simmer in your imagination, then savor each poem and picture (with lipsmacking gusto) for as long as you’re in the mood to celebrate good food, good times, and life’s infinitely delicious banquet.
FOLLOW THE RECIPE: Poems About Imagination, Celebration & Cake
written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by Marjorie Priceman
published by Dial BFYR, March 2020
Poetry Picture Book for ages 4-8, 48 pp.
♥️ Marilyn talks about the book at Irene Latham’s Live Your Poem.
♥️ Don’t miss this podcast interview with Marilyn and Gabriela Pereira
Kiesha Shepard is hosting the Roundup at Whispers from the Ridge. Drift on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. Stay safe, be well, and have a good weekend!
*Interior spreads text copyright © 2020 Marilyn Singer, illustrations © 2020 Marjorie Priceman, published by Dial BFYR. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.