[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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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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[zesty review + recipe] Our Little Kitchen by Jillian Tamaki

Tie on your apron!
Roll up your sleeves!
Pans are out, oven is hot.
The kitchen's all ready,
where do we start?

From its very first cheery HELLO! . . . to its final glorious SLURP!, this exuberant, soul-nourishing story demonstrates the good that can come when ordinary people work together to help others.

In Our Little Kitchen (Abrams BFYR, 2020), Caldecott honoree Jillian Tamaki takes us inside a bustling community kitchen, where every Wednesday a crew of hardworking volunteers prepares a meal for their neighbors.

They’re a resourceful, ethnically diverse bunch who get the job done with their no-nonsense brand of high energy, cacophonous teamwork.

Upon arrival, young and old waste no time in assessing available ingredients: “what we’ve grown, what we’ve kept, been given, and bought!”

In the garden they find ripe tomatoes and zucchini, though “the lettuce is holey,” the carrots too small. But in the fridge, a purple-haired teen boy jubilantly discovers carrots, celery and radishes.

They know how to make the best possible use of what’s on hand, cutting the brown bits off apples to make a sweet crumble, tossing day-old bread into the oven (“Soft and warm, good as new!”), and earnestly contemplating what to do with the abundance of food bank beans: “bean salad? bean soup? bean tacos? bean stew?”

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[review] A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa

It’s market day in India. Would you like to tag along as a young girl picks out a special gift for her mother?

Just to be clear, this is no ordinary outdoor market — at least not as it’s presented in this gorgeous new picture book by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa.

The market in A Gift for Amma (Barefoot Books, 2020) is a bustling bazaar of blossoms, spices, powders, sweets, fabrics, and feathers — an eye-popping rainbow of luscious colors that rouse the senses.

Once we step into the world of this artfully crafted story, we find ourselves awash in fiery vermilion, cool terracotta and soothing indigo with an eager shopper as our guide.

She faces quite a conundrum though, since there are many wonderful things to choose from, and we can feel her energy and enthusiasm as she describes each item in terms of color:

SAFFRON orange strands in tiny scoops.
Would Amma like to season rice?

Orange marigolds swing over doors —
Swish, swish! Should I make her a garland?

With just two lines per page, Sriram’s spare, lyrical text powers an engaging narrative brimming with sensory details that make every scene come alive.

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[scrumptious review] The Tiny Baker by Hayley Barrett and Alison Jay

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!

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