Good Morning. Please take a seat and put on your fanciest bib, because today we’re having Pie for Breakfast!
We’re so pleased to welcome Virginia author, illustrator and graphic designer Cynthia Cliff to talk about her debut children’s book — a beautifully illustrated picture book-cookbook featuring 13 scrumptious recipes for kids to make with their families.
Young Hazel, who loves to bake with her father, organizes a bake sale to raise money for the school library. She asks her friends to bake delectable treats to sell at the school’s fair, and they come through with international delights such as Pumpkin Empanadas, Basbousa Cake, Apple Custard Muffins, Mini Pineapple Truffles, and Nankhatai Cookies. YUM!
Her friends and their families are a wonderfully diverse, multigenerational group working in their home kitchens, shopping at the grocers or farmers’ market, and harvesting produce from their own gardens.
The recipes accommodate different skill levels and special diets (gluten-free and vegan), with directions laid out in easy-to-follow steps.
Cynthia’s charming illustrations are warm and folksy, brimming with details providing clues about the characters’ personalities and family dynamics. The final double page spread showing everyone at the bake sale gloriously celebrates the book’s overarching themes of food, friendship, diversity, and community.
What a delectable reminder of how food connects and unites us — whether we grow it, shop for it, cook it, share it or eat it together.
Enjoy our chat — lucky us, Cynthia is also sharing a favorite recipe. 🙂
How did this project come about? Had you always wanted to write a baking book for children?
This story behind how I was offered this book project is a hard to believe but true story. An editor at Prestel (an imprint of Penguin Random House) saw a blog I once had called “Pie for Breakfast.” My daughter and I would bake pies together, then make art based on our baking, and write about and share the recipe (the blog is not up any longer). This editor reached out to me and asked me if I would like to work on a baking book for children based on the blog. I have always wanted to work on children’s books, and I do enjoy baking for my family, so this was a perfect blend of the two for me.
Which came first, the characters or the recipes? Were the 13 recipes included in the book old family favorites, or did you develop them from scratch specifically for this book?
The recipes came first. They are a blend of family and friend’s recipes, and recipes that I researched and adjusted for children. We knew that we wanted a diverse group of dessert types, levels of difficulty, and treats from around the world. I developed a very long list of possible recipes which the publisher previewed. Once the final list was narrowed down, I developed possible recipe and character pairings for the publisher. I wanted to also incorporate diversity of characters and families. After that list was approved, I started sketching up the characters and scenes. It was a long process, but I made it manageable by working on one step at a time.
What did you enjoy most about working on Pie for Breakfast? What aspect was the most challenging?
I loved developing the characters and their worlds. That was the very best part. I also enjoyed the baking, but it was a lot of work. Each recipe was tested and tweaked so it would be easy enough for children to tackle. Writing the simple, easy to follow recipe steps was challenging.
Please provide an interesting or surprising tasty tidbit for each of these three recipes:
Pumpkin Empanadas—This is a variation of the hand pies that I made for my children. We’d make them with a favorite jam, fig spread, or apple butter. If you buy pre-made pastry, very young children can very easily tackle this dessert on their own and they really love the tiny pies, perfect for tiny hands.
Nankhatai Cookies—I had never made this exact recipe before, but it is very much like a shortbread cookie in flavor and texture, and I’ve made a lot of shortbread! I had wanted to include a cookie of some kind and one that children would shape with their hands. I think children will enjoy shaping the dough, it’s a bit like playing with clay and all children love doing that.
Strawberry Mochi—This is the most challenging recipe in the book, and I think it would require the most help from a parent. What I love about making mochi is it provides a little window into foods that are very different from what many in America might typically make. My daughter is a mochi connoisseur and she was a big help in developing a recipe that was simple enough for the book.
Did you bake with your family when you were growing up? Please share a fond baking memory from your childhood.
As an eight-year-old I was allowed to bake on my own. I made pies and cookies, and sometimes a cake. I also made a lot of mistakes. Like the time I thought it was silly to put salt in the cookie recipe I was mixing, so I left it out. The cookies were flat and tasted terrible! My mother let me learn by making mistakes. She also taught me that baking was both a way to be creative, and a way to show your love for others.
Describe how you made the art using any of the recipes as an example.
I make sketches on paper of the characters first, just playing and letting my imagination take the lead. Once I was happy with a character scribble, I’d start working in Procreate on my iPad, (I work both traditionally and digitally and a combination of the two). I wanted each character to have their own personality and inhabit a little world. So, each recipe is just a snapshot of that character’s life. I added details, animals and fun backgrounds that would give children a little treasure hunt in each image.
For instance, for the Vegan Chocolate Cake recipe you’ll see the messy little sister, a little dog hidden in a corner, a dad in the background walking with a plate of cake, and even a little Dutch cocoa girl in a painting on the wall. In the Mini Pineapple Trifles illustration, you’ll see twins whose hair looks a bit like a cross between a pineapple and the basket lamps right above their heads. I had a tremendous amount of fun making the art. There is a lot of joy packed into each illustration and I hope that children can see that.
Please share three tips for those who are interested in writing and publishing a children’s cookbook.
I’ll answer these from a writer/illustrator point of view since that is my background as opposed to being a baker/chef.
• You need a portfolio and writing samples that demonstrate your abilities in creating material for children. This portfolio can be on a website and/or in your social media accounts. For the writing, in my case, I had a blog that demonstrated my writing ability.
• It is usually best to have an agent. In my case, I did, even though the publisher did not find me through an agent, the agent was very helpful in working on the contract. If you have an agent, they will market your work to publishers, and this is so valuable.
• Join your local SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators). They are an invaluable resource in all kinds of ways. I joined my chapter in 2018. I had zero knowledge, but a lot of passion for the field and I would not have this book if not for all that I learned from SCBWI.
Favorite childhood treats(s):
Wild raspberry pie.
Something you eat every day:
An apple. You know what they say?
Something you wish you could eat every day:
Dessert you make that everyone loves:
The Vegan Chocolate Cake recipe in my book. It is one of the best chocolate cakes I make, and it does not last very long in my house.
I don’t really have one favorite. I have so many! I’m also always game to try new recipes that I see here and there. I do have well-worn copies of various Silver Palate Cookbooks by Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso that I bought when I was in college. I also have a dog-eared copy of the Moosewood Cookbook by Mollie Katzen.
Favorite illustrated cookbooks:
I have two cookbooks by Leslie Forbes, A Taste of Tuscany, and A Taste of Provence. These books are more like travel sketchbooks that detail her trips through these two regions. The books are gorgeously illustrated with colored pencil drawings of people, landscapes, food, and ingredients. They are real treasures.
Children’s authors and/or illustrators who have inspired or influenced you:
I have so many! And they are always changing, are all different from each other and I love them all in different ways. Here are just a few (some of which are also authors)—Beatrice Alemagna, Felicita Sala, Sophie Blackall, Emily Sutton, Carson Ellis, Isabelle Arsenault…
Anything else you’d like us to know about Pie for Breakfast?
I have to say that the book was a delight to make, and I so enjoyed the whole process, every single tiny bit including tasting all the things I made! Food is so full of meaning and memories. It’s beautiful and nurturing and is the universal connector. I have many powerful memories that involve the growing of food, foraging for food, learning to cook and bake, and all the special cakes that my mother would make for our family. I hope that when children look at this book they’ll be inspired to bake, and that their parents will bake with them, creating their own memoires that will last them a lifetime.
What are you working on now? Do you have a dream project?
I’m working on my second authored and illustrated book with Prestel which features lots of outdoor scenes. But that’s all I can say! My dream project—I have so many! I’d love to illustrate biographical books for children, cookbooks for adults, some of my own children’s stories (I have a few I’m working on), a calendar and food packaging. I could keep going…who has just one dream project?
Since this book is called Pie for Breakfast, could you please share your favorite pie recipe with a little backstory about it? 🙂
There are two recipes that come to mind. Both have to do with the wild berries that I foraged for as a child. One is wild raspberry pie and the other is the blackberry crumb cake recipe that is in my book.
I don’t really have a recipe for the raspberry pie, but it was the first pie I ever made. My brothers and I would pick the wild berries. We’d spend hours gathering them, usually early in the morning to avoid the heat. Then my mother or I would make a pie which included a homemade crust made with butter. We’d add a tiny bit of flour and some sugar to the berries, but not much of either. The berries were so sweet and full of flavor that they didn’t need any seasoning. It was the very best pie, and we’d eat it warm with vanilla ice cream. It is still one of my very favorite things to eat.
The blackberry crumb cake in the book is my mother’s recipe. We would usually use the blackberries we’d gather in a cake because we rarely could find enough of this type of berry for a pie. My mother called this a “blackberry buckle” which is a southern name for this recipe. The term “buckle” refers to the buckled appearance of the top of the cake. You could switch out almost any juicy fruit for the berries. I’ve made it with peaches, plums, cherries, and strawberries. It is always delicious and a perfect breakfast cake.
Thanks for joining us today, Cynthia!! 🙂 🙂 🙂
PIE FOR BREAKFAST: A Baking Book for Children
written and illustrated by Cynthia Cliff
published by Prestel Junior, April 2021
Illustrated picture book/cookbook for ages 5-9, 40 pp.
🥧 SPECIAL BOOK GIVEAWAY 🍰
Media Masters Publicity is generously providing a copy of Pie for Breakfast for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader. To enter, please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, October 5, 2021. You may also enter by sending an email with PIE in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to residents of the U.S., Canada and the UK only, please. Good Luck!
*Interior spreads posted by permission, text and illustrations copyright © 2021 Cynthia Cliff, published by Prestel Junior. All rights reserved.
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