Are your antennae twitching? What’s the buzz?
It’s 3 p.m. and tea time!
Hope you’re wearing a fancy day dress and bonnet, maybe have a favorite parasol to twirl while you’re queuing up with all the other tony arthropods. Get ready to wrap your lips around trays and trays of delectable sweets!
In The Tiny Baker, a whimsically delicious new picture book by Hayley Barrett and Alison Jay (Barefoot Books, 2020), we are treated to a lyrical and visual feast that’s cuter than a bug’s ear.
The baker in question appears to be a honeybee, whose tearoom is always crawling with business.
Her customers line up in rows.
Antennae wave well-bred hellos.
They’re always elegantly dressed,
Silk gowns or trousers neatly pressed.
They wait to try her lemon tarts,
Her sugar-sprinkled cookie hearts,
To sample her pecan pralines
And nibble lacy florentines.
Just before she opens her doors, the bee baker makes sure her “pantry is pristine,” while her “spotty squad” of ladybug pastry chefs busily mix, whisk, and stir.
Then she’s happy to welcome and seat a group of elegant ants, mentioning her “sublime éclairs” while pouring them pink lemonade or freshly made rose-hip iced tea.
But “in the kitchen trouble brews”: a fragrant breeze brings urgent news, prompting the ladybug assistants to suddenly swarm off — every last one of them! Disaster!
When the baker returns to the kitchen, she is simply aghast.
The oven’s smoking. Kettle glows.
The soufflé batter overflows.
Dark chocolate drips from ceiling fans
And drizzles onto pots and pans.
The ice cream maker explodes!
What a mess! She’s “bewildered, flummoxed, in distress.”
Upon hearing the commotion, the ants instantly rush to the rescue. Handy, industrious, generous ants make quick work of cleaning, washing, clearing, mending. In no time at all, things are spit spot once again.
The tiny baker cannot believe her eyes. She’s overwhelmed by the gesture as her gracious clientele reminds her that though they love her treats, she’s the real reason they come every day. She then offers them a tray of her mixed éclairs in gratitude. 🙂
Told in fetching rhyming couplets, this endearing tale of kindness, friendship, community, and lending a hand when times get tough will resonate with young readers who enjoy fanciful, diminutive creatures and feasting with their eyes.
Alison Jay’s oil and crackling varnish paintings are a joy to behold, adorable in their detail as they extend the narrative with period flair and cinematic touches.
Love the Victorian dress: how often do you see ants dressed in waistcoats and top hats? Or an army of ladybugs in white toques? Jay has populated the scenes with a diverse array of bugs; in addition to ants, bees, and ladybugs, there are crickets, snails, dragonflies, caterpillars, butterflies, moths, beetles and flies happily coexisting. Too cute!
Of course what I love most are her pretty pastries: frosted layer cakes on pedestals and plates, trays of filled cookies, fruit tarts, and iced slices. What about the cream horns, heart biscuits, sponges and pralines? Readers will drool at the decorative swirls, toppings, flavorful pastels, and variety of shapes. Beautiful edibles are indeed works of art. Total yum!
My favorite spread is the one showing customers dining in the cafe, sitting at their round tables (each with tiered plates of goodies), sipping their tea from china cups and chatting, while a friendly cricket entertains them on his violin. Also engaging is the double page spread of the ants at work, in long lines holding their mops, brooms, and buckets, doing the washing up and setting the furniture right. So much for eager, observant readers to pore over, they’ll be positively bug-eyed with glee.
The story ends with the tiny baker lying in her sponge cake bed (with jellyroll pillow), counting good friends instead of sheep. The headboards are made of rich biscuits and pirouette wafers, and her blanket is pink and cream checked fondant. Glorious!
Does this book have my name written all over it? Why yes, yes it does.
Brava, Hayley and Alison! Let’s eat!
THE TINY BAKER
written by Hayley Barrett
illustrated by Alison Jay
published by Barefoot Books, September 2020
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
**Starred Review from Booklist**
The beautiful and talented Robyn Hood Black is hosting the Roundup at Life on the Deckle Edge. Hop, skip, and leap over there to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared around the blogosphere this week. As always, stay safe, be well, wear your mask, and enjoy the weekend!
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**Interior spreads text copyright © 2020 Hayley Barrett, illustrations © 2020 Alison Jay, published by Barefoot Books. All rights reserved.
***Copyright © 2020 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.