celebrating colin’s birthday with 2 treats from The Secret Garden Cookbook (+ a giveaway)

♥️ Special thanks to Marian from the Netherlands for inspiring me to write this post. 🙂

“You can have as much earth as you want,” he said. “You remind me of someone else who loved the earth and things that grow. When you see a bit of earth you want,” with something like a smile, “take it, child, and make it come alive.”  ~  Archibald Craven (Frances Hodgson Burnett’s, The Secret Garden)

 

 

Guess who’s turning 60 on September 10?

Hint: he knows how to rock a waistcoat and cravat, is fluent in Italian, plays the guitar to relax, likes to tease fellow actor Gary Oldman about the size of his *ahem* manhood, almost voiced Paddington Bear in the movies, looks good WET (dry, and in-between), and even if you cook blue soup, he likes you just as you are.

Yes, it’s Colin, aka my secret husband (SO secret, even he doesn’t know about it). Fine specimen of a human being, don’t you think? Doesn’t look a day over 39. 🙂

 

Colin Firth as Archibald Craven in The Secret Garden (2020).

 

Unless you look at him playing Archibald Craven in the new Secret Garden movie. Have you seen it yet? They were all set for a big UK cinema premiere back in April, followed by the U.S. in August. But of course the pandemic changed everything, so instead, the movie went straight to video on demand beginning August 7, and will now open in UK cinemas October 23.

 

 

Colin, Colin, Colin, you’ve never looked so wretched, weary, or downtrodden. But Archibald is, of course, consumed with grief over the loss of his wife, making him inaccessible to his son and unable to properly care for his newly orphaned niece Mary Lennox, who comes to stay at Misselthwaite Manor.

 

Mrs Medlock (Julie Walters), Mary Lennox (Dixie Egerickx), Colin Craven (Edan Hayhurst), Dickon (Amir Wilson) Archibald Craven (Colin Firth)

 

This new 2020 version (don’t worry, I promise not to be too spoilerish), is the fourth produced for the big screen, and Colin was attracted to the role because of the lavish garden scenes (which unlike previous films, were not confined to a single, walled-in area, but features an expansive, wide ranging terrain representing Mary’s unbounded imagination), as well as the “design concepts” of the castle, which really became a symbol for Archibald’s state of mind: dark, destructive, depressive. The creepiness of the house is highly atmospheric and underscores the tragic decline of what was once a joyful life.

Colin doesn’t get much screen time in the new movie; this makes sense since the story revolves primarily around the three young people: Mary, Colin Craven, and Dickon. The time period has been moved up to 1947, after WWII, instead of the early 1900’s as the book was originally set, and there is a new “character,” a stray dog named Jemima (later Hector, when his gender is confirmed), who helps lead Mary to the garden wall and gate key along with the robin.

 

Mary with Hector (this scraggly pup is a scene stealer!)

 

The spirit remains true to the original — the transformation of sickly, morose, isolated children into happy and healthier souls who blossom and thrive with newfound friendship, fresh air, good and nourishing food, and the magic of making things come alive.

Did you know this was the second time Colin appeared in a Secret Garden adaptation? Thirty-three years ago, when he was just 27, he played an adult Colin Craven in the 1987 Hallmark TV movie that’s told as a flashback from the POV of an adult Mary. Colin only appears at the very end, when he reunites with Mary after the war . . . and there’s romance!

 

Colin as Colin Craven in the 1987 Hallmark TV movie.

 

So it seems fated that Colin appear in these films, since there is a ‘Colin’ who has a major role in the novel, and he actually played this Colin years ago. Something else that’s cool about the 1987 version is that it was filmed at Highclere Castle. As a Downton Abbey fan, I enjoyed seeing familiar exteriors and interiors. 🙂

In addition to studio sets, the new 2020 movie was filmed at various gardens around England and North Wales, on location in Yorkshire, and at Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. Knebworth is a cool place all its own, known for hosting awesome rock concerts (Stones, Paul McCartney, Elton John, Eric Clapton), and has been a choice setting for many other films, including “Nanny McPhee” and “The King’s Speech.” I imagine Colin feels quite at home there. 🙂

 

Poor Archibald. He needs some good food to restore his spirits!

 

The Secret Garden is one of my top three all-time favorite children’s novels, so it’s really icing on the cake to see Colin, however briefly, in two of the movies. Revisiting this classic, whether between the covers or up on a screen, tends to make me hungry because hearty farm-fresh Yorkshire fare helped restore Mary and Colin to optimum health. Okay, time to eat.

*

Continue reading

[chat + recipe + giveaway] Please Look After Michael Bond Biographer Rosanne Tolin. Thank you.

 

Today we’re more than excited and pawsitively delighted to welcome More Than Marmalade author Rosanne Tolin to Alphabet Soup!

The 60-something resident Paddingtons are simply beside themselves. They’ve brushed their fur, cleaned their whiskers, and polished off at least 126 marmalade sandwiches in anticipation.

FINALLY, they keep saying — finally someone wrote a book about Michael Bond, their favorite person in the entire universe. Indeed, it is hard to believe that this is the first published biography of the iconic British author, whose first Paddington chapter book came out back in 1958.

 

 

Though More Than Marmalade: Michael Bond and the Story of Paddington Bear (Chicago Review Press, 2020), is geared for middle grade readers, it’s a beary interesting read for Paddington fans of all ages. A work of well researched creative nonfiction, the narrative is an engaging blend of facts and fictionalized scenes that highlight Bond’s life from his childhood in Reading, England, to his death at age 91 in 2017.

Bond always felt Paddington was “real,” and in this book we learn about the real historical events and personal experiences that inspired this inimitable bear character. We see how circumstance, a vivid imagination, and perseverance all came to bear at a time when Bond hadn’t actually planned to write a children’s book.

 

 

His love of trains, lifelong empathy for immigrants, script and story writing background, BBC cameraman experiences, and a fateful decision to rescue a lone bear from a department store shelf one Christmas Eve spawned a classic children’s book series that would evolve into several TV series and two feature length films, along with a slew of children’s merchandising. In 2018, the Great Western Railway named a new Intercity Express Train after Michael Bond and Paddington Bear.

Though he grew up in a nurturing, book-loving family, Bond was deeply affected by the hardships and devastation of WWII. In newsreels and at the train station, he witnessed the traumatic displacement of child evacuees from London (his parents also hosted two Jewish refugees in their home), and at age 17, he survived an air raid in his village before enlisting in the Royal Air Force and later, the British army.

 

 

 

More Than Marmalade not only chronicles Bond’s path to becoming a published author, it shows how he sustained a successful, demanding career — a journey that was fraught with rejection, a broken marriage, even a bout with depression. His grandfather’s advice about never giving up, and his enduring belief in a little stowaway bear from darkest Peru got him through thick and thin.

Why is Paddington so beloved by people of all ages all over the world? How are Bond’s messages of tolerance, kindness, and acceptance — especially of foreigners — more than timely? How does this book prove than when it comes to Michael Bond and Paddington Bear, there is so much more than meets the eye?

We know you’ll enjoy hearing what Rosanne has to say. More marmalade, please!

 

 

*

 

Rosanne with the marmalade loving bear and her dog Dexter.

Continue reading

[spicy guest post] Pippa Park’s Favorite Korean Stew by Erin Yun

So pleased to welcome NYC author Erin Yun to the blog today. Her debut middle grade novel, Pippa Park Raises Her Game (Fabled Films Press, 2020), is a contemporary reimagining of the Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.

 

 

Life is full of great expectations for Korean American Pippa Park. It seems like everyone, from her family to the other kids at school, has a plan for how her life should look. So when Pippa gets a mysterious basketball scholarship to Lakeview Private, she jumps at the chance to reinvent herself by following the “Rules of Cool.”

At Lakeview, Pippa juggles old and new friends, an unrequited crush, and the pressure to perform academically and athletically while keeping her past and her family’s laundromat a secret from her elite new classmates. But when Pippa begins to receive a string of hateful, anonymous messages via social media, her carefully built persona is threatened.

As things begin to spiral out of control, Pippa discovers the real reason she was admitted to Lakeview and wonders if she can keep her old and new lives separate, or if she should even try.

 

 

There are so many things I love about this book: timely themes (ethnic identity, social class, assimilation, friendship, family dynamics), an engaging fast-paced plot, believable characters, just-right humor and tween drama, and lots of mouthwatering food descriptions that make me long for my mom’s Korean cooking. Who could resist a delicious Chuseok feast of homemade galbi, gimbap, japchae, and sweet rice cakes?

Like her plucky heroine Pippa, Erin loves walnut cakes with red bean filling as well as kimchi-jjigae. Wish I had a bowl right now! 🙂

*

Continue reading

[review + giveaway] Caravan to the North: Misael’s Long Walk by Jorge Argueta

In October 2018, the night before a caravan of fellow citizens planned to leave San Salvador for the United States, eminent author, poet, and humanitarian Jorge Argueta spoke with many of them who had gathered at the Plaza Divino Salvador del Mundo, a large public square in the city.

As someone who had fled El Salvador over 35 years ago, Argueta understood only too well why they had chosen to risk their lives and that of their children to undertake the arduous 2,500-mile journey. He listened to their stories, offered encouragement and support, and was no doubt profoundly moved by the hope they carried in their hearts: hope for a safe haven from gang violence, hope to escape the demoralizing cycle of poverty, hope for a chance to rebuild their lives with honest work, hope for better futures for their children, hope for kindness and compassion from the strangers they would meet along the way.

Inspired by these conversations, Argueta wrote a verse novel told in the voice of Misael Ramírez, a young asylum seeker who joined the caravan with his parents and brother Martín.

Caravan to the North: Misael’s Long Walk (Groundwood Books, 2019), is a realistic, heart-wrenching account of the physical and emotional hardships families like Misael’s endured as they left El Salvador with nothing more than a jacket and a small backpack of hopes and dreams to face the unknown.

 

Continue reading

nine cool things on a tuesday

1. Flower Box, Flower Box! Celebrate all things green and abloom this summer with these lovely postcards published by Princeton Architectural Press.

Sunflowers, roses, succulents, ferns, wildflowers— this rich bouquet of postcards features one hundred botanical postcards by ten celebrated artists from around the world: Sonia Cavallini, Nour Flayhan, Carolyn Gavin, Jen Hewett, Sam Kalda, Marc Martin, Angela McKay of Ohkii Studio, Clover Robin, Wies van der Velde of SowiesoWies, and Rose Wong. A booklet about the artists highlights their creative processes, influences, and favorite plants.

I love the idea of having lots of postcards on hand — you just never know when you might feel like sending a little natural beauty through the mail to a special someone. Wouldn’t it also be fun to select several of these and frame them?  🙂

*

2. New Book Alert! Look what’s coming out a week from today: See You On a Starry Night by Lisa Schroeder (Scholastic Press, 2018)!!

Juliet has just moved to a beachside town with her newly separated mother and her moody older sister. When she meets their new neighbor, Emma, the girls form an instant bond. Emma’s big family takes Juliet in, and the girls have fun together — starting with the night they throw bottles with secret messages into the sea.

Then someone writes back to Juliet’s message. An email arrives, inviting her to join the Starry Beach Club. All she has to do is make someone else’s wish come true.

So Juliet and Emma set off to help as many other people as they can. It’s fun! But as Juliet spends more and more time away from home, enjoying her new town and Emma’s family more than her own mom and sister, she starts feeling lost. It’s been easy to find others to help. But maybe her star would shine a little brighter if she brought it closer to home.

Lisa is one of those rare, versatile authors who can write well in several different genres. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed her picture books, middle grade and YA novels. This new middle grade book sounds like the perfect summer read. Have you ever sent a secret message in a bottle?

Available for pre-order NOW!

Congratulations, Lisa!

*

Continue reading