[review + author chat] Margo Sorenson on Little Calabash

Aloha, Friends! If you’re in the mood for a little taste of sunny Hawaii, you’ve come to the right place: Margo Sorenson is back to talk about her latest picture book, Little Calabash (Island Heritage, 2020).

This sweet and satisfying story, illustrated in vibrant, fruity colors by Anneth Lagamo, will delight young readers who enjoy anthropomorphic characters, lively wordplay, and kicking back in the kitchen. 🙂

It’s Keoki’s birthday, and his mom is busy making some delicious treats for his party: haupia pudding, starfruit cookies, and mango cupcakes with guava frosting. As she stirs, mixes, grates, rolls, and pours, she uses a number of different kitchen utensils and calabashes.

But not Little Calabash. He wants to help too, but so far he’s been left out. Is he too small to be of use? Does this mean he isn’t special like the other calabashes?

Some are not so sympathetic.

“Stop your whining,” said the goblet.

You need to chill out,” the refrigerator said, frostily.

“Quit trying to stir up trouble,” said the wooden spoon.

Little Calabash felt a tear form.

Yet others are supportive and encouraging, like the coffee pot, who whispers, “Perk up, kid. You are special. Keep believing in yourself. You’ll see.”

Little Calabash keeps his hopes up, determined to be used for the party. He’s stuck in the back of the shelf, behind the bigger calabashes. Keoki’s mom won’t use him if she can’t find him, right? So he gradually wiggles his way to the front of the cupboard shelf, inch by inch, paying no attention to naysayers like the frying pan, toaster, and teaspoon, who says, “You just don’t measure up.”

Will Little Calabash’s initiative finally pay off? How does Little Calabash make Keoki feel like a big kid on his birthday?

While Margo shows off her skills as an enthusiastic punster, Anneth fills the kitchen with cheeky, emotive culinary characters who sparkle with personality. Kids will never look at kitchen paraphernalia the same way ever again, not after they’ve heard the cocoa mug, mixer, and colander have their say.

Everything has a face, and the various expressions make each piece distinctive. Kids will love poring over the illustrations to check out every tiny detail. Who wouldn’t be tickled by laughing eggs and chopsticks, adorable marshmallows, and an entire platter of smiley fruit? The can opener appears to be quite friendly, while the colander is decidedly aloof. Even the little cork in the olive oil bottle is grinning, while the other calabashes, in all their winsome brownness, come off as warm and lovable.

Kids will root for Little Calabash as they’re reminded that everyone counts, no matter their size. They’ll enjoy pointing out all the different pieces of kitchen equipment and will likely have a good chuckle over the punny dialogue. They can also find out more about the island treats mentioned in the story in the lip-smacking glossary.

Now, let’s hear what Margo has to say about writing the book. We thank her for sharing lots of personal photos and a favorite recipe from Hawaii. And yes, she has her very own calabash!

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love me some biscuits

“Poetry is the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.” ~ Carl Sandburg

Hello Friends and Hello 2021!

Nice to be back, and I must say, you’re even cuter than you were last year. How is that even possible? Maybe it was all those cookies you ate over the holidays. 😀

I was so happy to toss out 2020 and turn the page on a brand new Susan Branch calendar. Marking the days, weeks, and months with her charming art, quotes, photos, and recipes is how I like to roll. I think of her as a good luck charm; her optimism and positive energy really keep me going.

If January is any indication, we’re all in for a BIG year. Huge challenges, yes, but I’m hopeful that with our new President, Vice President, Democratic Congress and our collective faith in the power of BLUE — we’ll be able to heal, restore, build, and move forward for the good of all.

2021 will be one heck of a feast, and I’m anxious to dig in, so please pass the biscuits!

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via JaneCBaker
IN RHAPSODIC PRAISE OF BISCUITS
by Joan Leotta

Biscuits transubstantiate from
buttermilk or Lily brand flour and
Clabber Girl baking powder
into a heavenly delight.
So, it is only right that they
are the first item passed
after prandial prayer.
Plucking one from the basket
passed to me,
my fingers tingle as they brush
the lightly crisped top.
Slowly, I separate the still warm
bread of perfection
into two perfect halves,
tamping down the steam 
with a pat of real butter
and a swirl of honey.
I lift one section to mouth
and savor the
sweetness of the topping,
aided and abetted by the salty,
creamy butter amid the
biscuit crumbs.
Edible perfection.

~ from a broadside sponsored by Poetry in Plain Sight (Winston Salem, December 2019)

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holiday grab bag: Susan Branch’s Home for Christmas, Cranberry Tea Cake, a poem, and a wee blog break

“What one loves in childhood stays in the heart forever.” ~ Mary Jo Putney

Ho Ho Ho and Merry Merry!

How are you faring this holiday season? If you’re like me, you’re probably craving generous helpings of comfort, reassurance, and nostalgia to temper the reality of what has been the craziest, scariest, most distressing, heartbreaking, and unpredictable year ever.

As if she knew exactly what we needed, dear Susan Branch recently published Home for Christmas (Spring Street Publishing, 2020), a keepsake book that speaks to the very essence of the holiday: love, family, joy, cherished traditions and good food.

In a nutshell: good things come in small packages. There is so much more to this little book than meets the eye.

Yes, it contains Susan’s amiable handwritten text (does she ever get writer’s cramp?), a bevy of carefully chosen quotes, and of course, her charming watercolor illustrations.

She relates, in earnest and intricate detail, what her childhood Christmases were like, pointedly channeling her 9-year-old self in 1956.

Though I also loved her wonderful memoir trilogy, I found this book especially touching because her pure child’s heart fills every page.

Aside from being with family, when we say we want to be “home for Christmas,” perhaps what we truly mean is we wish we could be kids again, experiencing Christmas when it was magical, over-the-top exciting, and full of wonder. Before our adult selves equated the holiday with too much busyness, stress, reluctant obligations, and the whole bah-humbug thing, there was a time, when, with every ounce of our being, we believed.

Susan was inspired, in part, by Dorothy Thompson’s Once on Christmas (1938), which she had read to her nieces (photo by Susan Branch).

Just in case you’ve forgotten, Susan’s here to remind you — of the anticipation that steadily built to a fever pitch from right after Thanksgiving until the big day finally arrived.

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[guest post + recipe] Margo Sorenson on Calvin Gets the Last Word

 

Haven’t we all wanted to have the last word at one time or another? Of course, we have! 😊 But, if you’re like me, that golden last word—the game-changer, the elegant riposte, the witty put-down, the conversation-stopper—bursts into my brain about an hour after I could have used it. Naturally.

 

 

In my newest picture book, CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD (Tilbury House, October 2020), Calvin is constantly searching for the perfect word to describe his rascally, annoying brother. Yes, that’s the same brother who waits to tell a joke at the dinner table till Calvin has his mouth full of broccoli. You guessed it—Calvin sprays broccoli all over the table!

 

All illustrations © 2020 Mike Deas

 

Who wouldn’t want to find the right word for a bratty brother like that? When I first thought of writing this story, I was toying around with the idea of a kid who is enthralled by words and wants to use them perfectly in all kinds of situations. Naturally, as a lifelong reader, retired English teacher, and author, words have always been important for me. Well, *true confession, here*—when I was in junior high, however, I secretly wanted to be voted “Best Actress” of the ninth grade in the yearbook. Nope. I was voted “Walking Dictionary.” Sadly, there’s probably nothing more I need to explain to you. 😊

 

 

As I thought about Calvin, it came to me that if he was always looking for the right word, his dictionary would certainly become tattered and worn out. Then—it hit me. Calvin’s poor, beleaguered dictionary would be the narrator, and so that’s how he became to be exactly that. He helps Calvin out with all sorts of words, but it’s Calvin himself who discovers just the right word for his brother—and his dictionary is overjoyed. I hope young readers will be surprised and tickled, too.

 

 

Because we know kids are multi-dimensional, Calvin is not only a word nerd, but a kid who stands up to bullies, who passes notes in class, and who loves baseball. Being a huge baseball fan myself (go, Angels!), I was delighted to see how the talented illustrator Mike Deas wove the baseball thread throughout his whimsical illustrations, using a baseball, bat, and glove on Calvin’s bedroom floor from the beginning page all the way to the end of the book. I’m sure kids will have fun exploring all of Mike’s other humorous details in the pictures. Look for the baby’s and the cat’s and the ever-present dad’s expressions. My editors cooked up the clever idea for the end pages, which set the perfect tone for the book. It’s been a team effort. I hope you are always able to find just the right word whenever you need it!

 

 

In honor of the broccoli that hapless Calvin sprays on the dinner table, I thought it would be fun to share a recipe for a Broccoli-Cheese Casserole, so you can all make it for dinner.

Caveat: ask all your guests and family members promise NOT to tell a joke when anyone’s mouth is full. The clean-up won’t be fun!

 

photo via Cookies & Cups

Broccoli-Cheese Casserole

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: average
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 2 boxes frozen chopped broccoli
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 1-1/2 cup grated sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 package Pepperidge Farm dressing crumbs
  • 2/3 stick butter

Directions

Drain cooked broccoli. Combine soup, eggs, mayonnaise, onion, salt and pepper to taste. Add 1/2 cup grated cheese. Place in buttered 8″ x 8″ casserole. Leave at least 1 inch of room on top. Sprinkle 1 cup grated cheese on top. Melt butter and mix in dressing. Sprinkle on top. Bake 45 minutes at 350 degrees F.

~ from Margo Sorenson, author of Calvin Gets the Last Word (Tilbury House, 2020)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author of thirty-one traditionally-published books for young readers, Margo Sorenson has won recognition and awards for her books, including ALA nominations and finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in YA Fiction. To learn more about Margo’s kids’ books, visit Margo at www.margosorenson.com.

Follow her on Twitter: @ipapaverison, on Instagram: margosorensonwriter, or on Facebook: Italia Writes.

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CALVIN GETS THE LAST WORD
written by Margo Sorenson
illustrated by Mike Deas
published by Tilbury House, October 6, 2020
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.

Flap copy: Calvin’s dictionary is proud to go wherever Calvin goes—the breakfast table, school, baseball practice, and home again—helping Calvin search for the perfect word to describe his super-annoying older brother. After looking all day, Calvin finally finds the word he’s looking for at bedtime. And when he does, the dictionary is as surprised and delighted as you will be.

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*Spreads from Calvin Gets the Last Word, text copyright © 2020 Margo Sorenson, illustrations © 2020 Mike Deas, published by Tilbury House. All rights reserved.

**Copyright © 2020 Margo Sorenson for Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

[chat + giveaway] Ashley Wolff on Only the Cat Saw

 

Miao! We are so pleased and honored to welcome award winning Vermont author, illustrator and teacher Ashley Wolff to Alphabet Soup today.

We’re big fans of her adorable Baby Bear books, classics such as Compost Stew: An A to Z Recipe for Earth (Mary McKenna Siddals), Baby Beluga (Raffi), and of course, the wildly popular Miss Bindergarten series, written by Joseph Slate.

In all, she’s published close to 70 titles (as either author/illustrator or illustrator), showcasing her lifelong love of nature and animals, and her mastery of a variety of styles and mediums, including acrylic gouache, linoleum block print + watercolor, and collage.

Her most recent self-illustrated picture book, Only the Cat Saw (Beach Lane Books, 2020), is a refreshed edition of a perennial favorite (first published by Dodd, Mead back in 1985) with all new art for a new generation. In this gentle, calming story, a multiracial family of four go about their daily routine from sunset to sunrise, while their marmalade tabby observes the wonders and beauty of the natural world.

 

 

As they’re busy with supper, only the cat notices the colorful sunset outside the window. During bath time, the cat has wandered out by the barn to play with fireflies, and while the older child, Tessa, reads with her flashlight under the covers, the cat witnesses the drama of an owl hunting a mouse. Oh, the wonderful things people miss when they’re preoccupied!

Spare text + single page spreads tracking the family’s indoor activities alternate with double page wordless spreads showing what the cat is up to. With each block of text, the repetitive tag line, “So only the cat saw . . . ” signals a suspenseful page turn that rewards the reader with beautiful scenes rendered in rich colors and lush textures, immersing him/her in the cat’s world of tall grasses, sleepy farm animals, lightning and rain, even a shooting star.

 

 

I love what Ashley has done with scale, perspective, and composition to play up the cat’s point of view, and her lighting effects, from gorgeous sunset and sunrise, to lamplight, flashlight, fireflies, moon and stars underscore the simple joys of life indoors and out. Such a lovely reminder to take time to appreciate what we too often take for granted.

In addition to being cozy and heartwarming, this story is  reassuringly relatable with its depiction of breast feeding, sitting on the potty, and having both parents share equally in household tasks. Kudos to Ashley for initially including these somewhat unusual details in the earlier book from 35 years ago, clear evidence of her feminist, forward thinking! 🙂

 

 

We thank Ashley for dropping by to tell us what it was like to re-illustrate one of her earliest picture books, and for sharing a favorite recipe and so many cool photos. Enjoy!

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