[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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celebrating 40 years of brambly hedge with apple cake


Over the stream and across the field is the world of Brambly Hedge…

Are you a Brambly Hedge fan? 

If so, then you probably know that Autumn 2020 marks 40 years since British author/illustrator Jill Barklem published the first four picture books in her charming series — Spring Story, Summer Story, Autumn Story, and Winter Story.

Released simultaneously by HarperCollins, they proved immensely popular among readers of all ages despite being written primarily for young children. To date they’ve been translated into 13 languages and have sold over 7 million copies.

I was drawn to Barklem’s incredibly detailed illustrations long before I actually read the stories. This is not surprising for a longtime Beatrix Potter fan who can’t resist anthropomorphized animals dressed in smart clothes. In fact, I probably first saw Barklem’s adorable mice on pieces of Royal Doulton china. 

Once I familiarized myself with all the characters and spent ample time in their idyllic English countryside, I was totally hooked. Brambly Hedge continues to attract generations of new readers with its emphasis on traditional values and universal themes such as family, friendship, community, seasonal self-sufficiency, and sustainability.

Author/illustration Jill Barklem in her studio.

A nature lover since childhood, Jill was inspired by the countryside where she grew up, especially the ancient woodland, Epping Forest. At age 13 she suffered a detached retina, which prevented her from participating in sports, so she spent her afternoons indoors, concentrating on art and botany. Her love of drawing flowers and twigs eventually prompted her to study illustration at St. Martin’s School of Art in London.

She did not look forward to the long commute from Epping to London on the underground every day — but eventually made good use of her time by escaping into her own richly imagined world of mice who lived in the trunks and roots of trees and hedgerows.

This is how Wilfred Toadflax, Primrose Woodmouse, Poppy Eyebright, Mr and Mrs Apple, and all the others were first conceived. After graduating from St. Martin’s, Jill briefly worked for Lion Publishing, penning a few picture books and illustrating Bibles, but she didn’t feel she was doing her best work.

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[tasty review + recipe] Nacho’s Nachos by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez

When you’re hungry for just the right snack, there’s nothing more satisfying than biting into a warm, crispy, zesty nacho.

Oh, that satisfying crunch! The gooey cheese and spicy hot hello of jalapeño! Go on, close your eyes as you relish the flavor. Lick your lips, then reach for another. 🙂

Did you know that tomorrow, October 21, is the International Day of the Nacho? Or that 2020 marks 80 years since nachos were first invented? Just who was actually responsible for this eye-closing mouthful of deliciousness?

In NACHO’S NACHOS: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack by Sandra Nickel and Oliver Dominguez (Lee & Low, 2020), we learn how Ignacio Anaya, a resourceful restaurant employee from northern Mexico, fortuitously created this savory treat one fateful afternoon in 1940.

Ignacio, or, “Nacho,” for short, was essentially raised by a foster mother after he lost his parents at a young age. He was a boy with a good appetite who enjoyed his foster mother’s quesadillas, and it was she who taught him how to cook. He was a natural in the kitchen, and in his early twenties he got a restaurant job, performing many tasks such as seating guests, passing out menus, taking orders, and serving meals.

As Nacho went from table to table, people smiled. He had a special talent for making diners happy.

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[review+ giveaway] Joey: The Story of Joe Biden by Jill Biden and Amy June Bates

“America is made of ordinary people capable of extraordinary things.” ~ Certified Bidenism 🙂

 

The very first picture book biography of 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden begins with his earnest appeal:

“Give me the ball!”

We soon see how this memorable refrain aptly characterizes his competitiveness and willingness to take the lead and carry the burden — whether playing a childhood game of pick-up football or diligently working on behalf of his constituents.

JOEY: The Story of Joe Biden, by Jill Biden (with Kathleen Krull) and Amy June Bates (Paula Wiseman Books, 2020), essentially highlights Vice President Biden’s early years, showing young readers how his middle class upbringing, strong family values, daredevil spirit, fierce determination, and inborn compassion shaped his life as a leader and public servant.

 

 

Reading this book is like sitting down with a good friend who’s sharing favorite family stories about someone she knows only too well. Kids have likely seen Joe Biden on TV; they know he’s running for President, and now, thanks to Jill, they have a chance to view this larger-than-life public figure in a more personal, relatable way.

We first meet Joey as an active 8-year-old, on the move and not the least bit intimidated by a group of older boys playing football. It didn’t matter that he was smaller than all of them, he taunted them anyway. When they couldn’t catch him, “they welcomed him into their game.”

 

 

Joey had such great adventures with his best buddies, Charlie, Larry, and Tommy. Typical boys, everything was a competition. They went to the movies and reenacted their favorite scenes, romped through the neighborhood with Joey’s dogs, and visited the monkey at the candy store. But Joey was also a peacemaker who looked out for others, a natural leader who drew people together by focusing on what they had in common.

Did you know Joey could never refuse a dare? Risk taker extraordinaire, he once “climbed atop a mountain of still-burning coal,” “raced along the pipes high above a river,” and even “grabbed a heavy rope and swung over a construction site, imitating Tarzan — without a net.”

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[review + recipe] I’m Feeling Blue, Too! by Marjorie Maddox and Philip Huber

 

Look! Just what we all need: a new BLUE book!

Yep, this one’s got my name written all over it, and I simply had to share it with you today.

Safe to say, most, if not all of us — young, old, somewhere in-between — have a crazy-making case of the pandemic blues. It may come and go, but some dark shade of it always seems to linger in the back of our minds. Or maybe we just have the blahs, feel bored or uninspired (confinement can do that to you). No better time to banish the ho-hums and embrace the unique power, beauty, and wonder of blue. 🙂

In I’m Feeling Blue, Too!, a poetry picture book written by Marjorie Maddox and illustrated by Philip Huber (Resource Publications, 2020), a young boy celebrates the essence of blue, discovering its presence in the world around and within him.

A sequence of 13 poems drives the narrative, which takes place on a summer’s day from morning to night. The opening poem is a wake-up call for all:

 

Hey you,

got those summertime slumps,
down-in-the-dumps,
life-full-of-bumps,
bad-news blues?

Time to get up
and shake up
the woulda-coulda-shoulda’s.
Time to get the “can’t-do-nothin’” out of blue.

Time to zap the sad
with some kaleidoscope clues.
Come on, whistle for Blue
and get moving!

Get ready. Get set. Guess blue!

*

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