[scrumptious review + recipe] Wintercake by Lynne Rae Perkins

 

What ingredients would you need to have a wonderful, jubilant, extra-happy, a little bit mysterious winter holiday?

Hmmm, perhaps two furry brown animals (one adorably stout, the other tall and sleek), a perky, yellow-feathered birdie, a warm hollow with a cozy fire, and CAKE!

For added flavor (why not?), add a bustling tea room with chatty critters in the middle of the woods, a basket of dried fruit, and three mistakes (that’s the mysterious part) — and you have the utterly charming new picture book, Wintercake (Greenwillow, 2019), written and illustrated by Newbery winner Lynne Rae Perkins.

You could say this one was written with my name all over it. I will say it’s one of my top three fave picture books of the year, and definitely one of my all-time favorite holiday books. After all, I do love little furry animals (I’m married to one), we do live in the woods (I dream of opening a tea room), and after eating enough cake, I could very well be described as stout. πŸ˜€

What’s that? You’re a little concerned about the ‘mysterious mistakes’? I thought as much. Don’t worry, because in this story, we see how mistakes can lead to good things — an adventure, new friends, new traditions — all cause for celebration. Let me explain . . .

 

 

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[author chat + recipe] Around the Table That Grandad Built by Melanie Heuiser Hill and Jaime Kim

 

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. πŸ™‚

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.”Β  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!! πŸ™‚

 

 

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. πŸ™‚

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[author chat + recipe + giveaway] Pick a Pumpkin by Patricia Toht and Jarvis

Hooray for October — time for gorgeous autumn leaves, hot apple cider, pumpkins and squashes galore, toffee apples, hayrides, costume parties, and Halloween!

We’re so pleased Patty Toht is back to talk about her newest picture book, Pick a Pumpkin (Candlewick, 2019),Β which like its companion book, Pick a Pine Tree (2017), is illustrated by British artist Jarvis.

Pick a Pumpkin captures all the joy, anticipation, excitement, community spirit, and rustic beauty of the season as a family happily picks and carves pumpkins before going out to trick-or-treat.

There’s nothing like visiting the pumpkin patch on a crisp fall afternoon and finding just the right globular beauty:

 

 

Pick a pumpkin
from the patch —

tall and lean
or short and fat.

Vivid orange,
ghostly white,
or speckled green
might be just right.

 

After enjoying spicy punch and toffee apples, mom and her two kids load their pumpkin stash in their truck and head home, where dad and the baby greet them. They clean and polish their pumpkins, gather the tools they need, and invite some friends over to help them carve.

 

 

We follow them through every step, from cutting the pumpkins open, to scooping out seeds and strings, to carving out eyes, noses and mouths. So many different shapes, facial expressions, and pumpkin personalities!

Then it’s time for outdoor decorations:

Cobwebs strung from post to post,
Rings of gauzy dancing ghosts.
Spiders. Tombstones.
Dangling bats.
Skeletons and witches’ hats.

Now that the scene is set, everyone dons their costumes before proudly carrying their pumpkins outside. Then it’s that magical moment when the pumpkins are lit — turning them into spooky jack-o’-lanterns!

 

 

Its red-hot eyes
will gaze
and flicker.

Its fiery grin
will blaze and snicker,
to guard your house
while you have fun.

 

With the neighborhood aglow, mummies, ghosts, witches, skeletons and vampires take to the streets for a howling good time.

 

 

Patty’s rhythmic, exuberant text is a joy to read aloud and is packed with vivid sensory details that place the reader smack dab in the middle of all the action.

Lumpy chunks. Sticky strings,
Clumpy seeds. Guts and things.
With a spoon, scrape sides neatly.
Clean the inside out completely.

And how I love Jarvis’s pencil, chalk, paint and digitally colored illustrations! Gorgeous composition and layering resplendent with fall colors and textures. You can just about hear those leaves crunching underfoot, feel the chilly autumn wind on your cheeks, hear the happy chatter of family and friends as they carve pumpkins together.

 

 

Just as he did with Pick a Pine Tree, where he included a white cat, this time there’s a winsome black cat for keen eyes to track from spread to spread. Not sure if the cat followed the family home from the pumpkin patch, or if he belonged to them in the first place, but he’s adorable as he balances on fences, plays with the blackbirds, peers out the front window, or sticks his little paw into a bowl of pumpkin “guts.”

I can easily see Pick a Pumpkin becoming a fall classic; it positively glows with fun and goodness!

Now let’s hear from Patty! πŸ™‚

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[delectable review + recipe] Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family by Elizabeth Zunon

 

Every afternoon around 1:30, I bite into a piece of organic 70% cacao dark chocolate. As it slowly melts in my mouth (oh, so velvety rich and flavorful!), my mood lifts and a certain dreamy euphoria sets in. Hello, dopamine, serotonin and antioxidants!

 

 

Not only does chocolate make me feel good, it’s good for my health, overall well being and productivity. As per my ongoing “scientific” research, most of the writers I’ve polled agree that chocolate inspires their best work — all the more reason to heartily swig steamy cups of cocoa, wrap your lips around fudgy brownies, gleefully devour truffles and bonbons, and giddily carouse with cacao at every opportunity.

Glad we agree on that! πŸ™‚

But such divine delights should never be taken for granted. In fact, the next time you reach for your favorite chocolate bar, you will probably appreciate it even more if you consider how the cocoa was sourced and harvested, with a nod to the hardworking farmers in faraway places who play such an important role in producing the scrumptious wonder that is chocolate.

 

 

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[guest post] Brother, Sister, Me and You by Mary Quattlebaum

 

So pleased to welcome award winning author Mary Quattlebaum to talk about her new National Geographic Kids picture book, Brother, Sister, Me and You (2019), which features the unique sibling bonds of eleven different types of animals (including humans). πŸ™‚

Mary is uniquely qualified in this subject as she grew up with three brothers and three sisters. Her lively, fun-to-read rhyming text is paired with color photos of adorable cubs, kits, chicks, pups, and ducklings who are having too much fun leaping, paddling, tumbling, climbing and bouncing together. We soon see how humans are much the same when it comes to interacting and playing with our siblings.

 

Sister lion leaps and pounces.
Honeybees do wiggle-bounces.
Ducklings paddle through the water.
Brother splashes sister otter.

 

So, why did Mary want to write this book? What are some of the things she liked to do with her brothers and sisters? Yes, cooking was one of them, and she’s got a couple of recipes to share. Read on!

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