melissa sweet’s balloons over broadway (a review, a little chat, and a special giveaway!)

“Every little movement has a meaning of its own.” ~ Tony Sarg

When Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet was little, her grandmother took her to New York City to see the holiday windows at Macy’s, and like millions of us, she watched the Thanksgiving parade every year on television. She could never have imagined that one day she’d be writing and illustrating a book about the man who first created the window marionettes and giant helium-filled parade balloons that have taken center stage in American holiday tradition for the last 80+ years.

If ever there was a perfect biographer for Master Puppeteer Tony Sarg, it’s Melissa Sweet. A true kindred spirit, she shares Sarg’s keen interest in toys (collecting, designing and constructing them). And like Sarg, she’s a children’s book artist who’s always enjoyed tinkering and figuring out how things work. There’s that love for full immersion in process and experimentation, fueled by a playful childlike sensibility.

In Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), Sweet describes how Sarg’s fascination with making things move began in childhood. He was a “marionette man” by the age of six, when he designed a pulley system so he could feed the chickens early each morning without leaving his bed.

Continue reading

something to hoot about

Three Big Hoots and a Woo Hoo Hoo!!

I was thrilled to learn recently that the Scholastic 2011 Kids Are Authors Grand Prize for Nonfiction was awarded to a team of first and second graders at Lane Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia!

Yes, that’s right! The Perfect Place for an Elf Owl was chosen from thousands of entries from all over the U.S. and U.S. International Schools, and is now available for purchase through Scholastic book fairs.

Co-coordinators Libya and Nicole (back row)

Writer friend and teacher Nicole Groeneweg and art teacher Libya Doman served as Project Coordinators for this very talented group of 24 students, who, in addition to having their book published by Scholastic, received framed certificates, medals, and copies of the book. The school also received $5000 in Scholastic products which will be used in a nonfiction reading program called “Everyday Literacy.”

Continue reading

lunch box love (part two)

What’s in Cornelius’s lunchbox this time?

Last week, Cornelius was somewhat disappointed to find a ham and cheese sandwich in his lunchbox. Same old, same old. Funny, he’d never complained about rubber food before ☺.

Maybe it wasn’t the food itself, but his curiosity about how it got there. In How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?: The Story of Food by Chris Butterworth and Lucia Gaggiotti (Candlewick, 2011), we learn the interesting backstories of typical lunch ingredients (bread, cheese, apples, clementines, apple juice, carrots, tomatoes, and the chocolate in chocolate chip cookies). Most of us take our food for granted as it magically appears on supermarket shelves. Unless children have grown up on a farm or visited an orchard or cheese factory, they might not realize that quite a few people have had a hand in producing some of the things we eat every day.

Bread begins with the farmer who grows and harvests the wheat. Then there’s the miller who grinds it into flour, and the baker who mixes and kneads the flour before baking those warm, crusty loaves. With lively and engaging text, Butterworth breaks down the production of each food into sequential steps. We see how cow’s milk is turned into cheese at the dairy, how greenhouse tomatoes are planted, sorted, packed and distributed, how harvested apples are mashed into juice at the factory.

Cheery illustrations provide fascinating details (trucks, machines, animals, workers, production lines, farms, fields, orchards) which help to clarify tasks. There’s also a chart of the four basic food groups with advice on the importance of drinking adequate water, eating a variety of fruits and veggies, and getting enough exercise.

This is a good introduction that will foster appreciation for the vital role of each element in the production chain, getting kids to think about the importance of both human and natural resources. Extra points for the cute endpapers and highly appealing title page spread showing a culturally diverse group of kids with cool lunchboxes in a nice variety of shapes, colors and styles. Oh, and I love the mustached bread baker who has a decidedly French attitude! Oui,oui!

written by Chris Butterworth
illustrated by Lucia Gaggiotti
published by Candlewick Press, January 2011
Picture book with nice rounded corners and 32 thick pages for ages 4-8


For Lunch Box Love (Part One), click here.

**Chocolate Chip Cookies by Back to the Cutting Board/flickr


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

lunch box love (part one)

What’s in Cornelius’s lunch box?

For many kids, the best time of the school day is opening their lunch boxes to see what delicious treats are inside.

Will they find their favorite PB&J, baked chicken drumsticks, or a special bento? I can remember having only one lunch box as a child — it was a red and black plaid tin, and I might have taken it to school fewer than six times. I was enamored with the prospect of soup in the thermos, a baloney sandwich, Fritos, and a Hostess cupcake. But after facing a smashed or soggy sandwich once or twice (my mom insisted on including an apple), I went back to cafeteria food.

These days, I’m envious of kids who take their lunches in insulated totes and bags, or whose food is lovingly packed in divided plastic containers (there’s a whole new world of lunch box fashion going on). Sandwiches remain a traditional favorite, but in this day and age of smoothies, wraps, and rice balls, all it takes is thinking outside the box just a little to make lunch more varied, interesting and fun.


For some great ideas, check out MY LUNCH BOX, a cool selection of 50 recipes created by Hilary Shevlin Karmilowicz. They’re packed in a spiffy recipe box illustrated by Rebecca Bradley, and feature Mains, Sides and Treats. Mix and match recipes from each category for a healthy, balanced mid-day meal, or pick any one of them to supplement things you usually pack.



If you want to stick with sandwiches, consider reinventing them — what about a Cheesy Pleasy Pocket, Chillin’ Chicken Caesar Wrap, or a Banutty (peanut butter between two slices of homemade banana bread)? Choose a quick quesadilla, make sure your dogs are dapper, fill up on frittata after hamming around. Not into sandwiches? Go for soup or salad: Chicken Noodle in a snap, Chow-Down Chicken Chili, Pizza Pasta Salad. My favorite? Alphabet Soup (Ms. Karmilowicz is a wise woman). And for those days when you’re short on time or energy, there are some no-recipe suggestions, which require only two or three ingredients and a few minutes to pull together.


What about the sides? Choose from veggie dips to muffins to pinwheels to more salads to eggs to fruity cheese kabobs. Then top everything off with a healthy treat: yogurt fondue, granola bars, smoothies, and carrot cupcakes, to name a few. As with the Mains, you’ll find no-recipe ideas for Treats and Sides.

Each cheerfully illustrated recipe card will inspire budding foodies to experiment in the kitchen (steps requiring adult supervision are clearly marked). Extra recipe cards, colorful stickers and tips for keeping foods hot or cold round out the collection. Great for encouraging parent-child participation, likely to make lunch the most anticipated meal of the day. There’s something to be said for appealing presentation, lots to be said for family bonding and the satisfaction of mastering new skills. Kids seem to especially love something they’ve made themselves — what better way to engage, excite and nourish!

MY LUNCH BOX: 50 Recipes for Kids to Take to School
by Hilary Shevlin Karmilowicz
illustrated by Rebecca Bradley
published by Chronicle Books, 2009
Recommended for ages 9-12, 146 pp.


Ham and Cheese again?

♥ In Lunch Box Love, Part Two, kids learn about where their food comes from. Tune in next Monday!

♥ Related post: My Darling, My Bento



Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

a little adventure with sarah emma edmonds


It’s always fun and exciting when something you’ve read sparks your imagination and makes you want to learn more.  

That’s what happened when I read Carrie Jones’s new picture book biography about Civil War nurse and spy Sarah Emma Edmonds. When I studied American history in Hawai’i eons ago, I learned a lot of names and dates that I couldn’t really relate to. I certainly never dreamed that one day I’d live near a real battlefield site, meet people who like to don period garb to participate in battle re-enactments, and be steeped in heady historical richness that would actually mean something. 

I had heard of female Confederate spies, but knew very little about the ones spying for the Union army. Sarah Emma Edmonds Was a Great Pretender (Carolrhoda Books, 2011) is a provocative introduction to the feisty Canadian teenager who fled her home country, assumed the identity of a man (calling herself Frank Thompson), and then served in the Second Michigan Infantry, first as a field nurse and then as a spy under the command of Major General George B. McClellan. 

Sarah Edmonds in female and male garb.

Jones’s tightly woven narrative emphasizes Edmonds’s skill as a master of disguise. An adventurer at heart, Edmonds was motivated by a deep sense of patriotism to her adopted country because she was able to forge a new life, far away from her abusive father who hated that she was a girl and who tried to force her into an arranged marriage.

Steely, brave, clever and highly adaptable to whatever circumstances came her way, Edmonds assumed various guises, as an African American male slave, an Irish peddler woman, and a black laundress. She infiltrated enemy lines many times and returned with valuable information for the Union army. When she contracted malaria, she chose to recuperate in a private hospital in Illinois to avoid blowing her cover. After learning that she was listed as a deserter, she reclaimed her identity as a woman and returned to nursing, with no one the wiser.


Further reading revealed that much, if not most, of Sarah’s exploits took place on Virginia soil. She participated in both the First and Second Battles of Bull Run, The Peninsula Campaign, Vicksburg, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Williamsburg and Yorktown in her various capacities as field nurse, postmaster and spy. When I read that she nursed wounded soldiers at an army hospital in the Old Stone Church in Centreville, I had to see the place for myself. I’ve lived in Virginia for 30 years and might never have heard about the church (only 10 minutes away) if I hadn’t read Carrie’s book. 

Old Stone Church circa 1860’s (Library of Congress photo).

The Old Stone Church was first built by Methodists in 1854, and used as a hospital by both the Union and Confederate troops. It was destroyed by soldiers during the war, but rebuilt with original materials in 1870. The Union army marched from Centreville to meet Confederate forces in the First Battle of Manassas/Bull Run (1861), and later took the same route, right past the church, as they retreated from the Manassas battlefield.  

Today, the Old Stone Church is the Anglican Church of the Ascension.

I tried to imagine the fort situated behind the church to the south, where nearby camps housed 40,000 Confederate soldiers in log huts during the winter of 1861-1862. I didn’t want to think about the wounded men in that hospital of long ago, but I was glad to be able to see where Sarah, as Frank, once nursed them. 

Sarah’s is a thoroughly captivating story, and Carrie has made it accessible to older picture book readers with an easy, conversational style. The book begins with Sarah’s childhood in Canada, where she was already “pretending” to be a boy to please her father, and ends with Sarah as a female nurse. We see how Sarah was able to transform a troubled beginning into a life of courageous service using her cunning, resourcefulness and inner strength. The text also incorporates quotes from Sarah’s memoir and includes an Author’s Note and bibliography. Paired with Mark Oldroyd’s powerful and evocative acrylic paintings (stunning character portraits!), this book (which earned a PW *starred review*), will likely spark interest in espionage and girl heroes and perhaps spawn some new Civil War buffs. Just in time for the 150th Commemoration of the Civil War and a wonderful read for Women’s History Month.

Thanks, Carrie, for writing this cool book and getting me to the church on time ☺. I love when history comes alive, don’t you?

written by Carrie Jones
illustrated by Mark Oldroyd
published by Carolrhoda Books, April 2011
PB Biography for ages 7-11, 32 pp.
Cool themes: Civil War, spies and espionage, nursing, feminism, gender discrimination, courage.

♥ Carrie Jones official website and blog.

♥ Learn more about Sarah Emma Edmonds here. Scroll down to read her riveting first-hand account of the Battle at Bull Run.

♥ See also Nurse, Soldier, Spy: The Story of Sarah Edmonds, a Civil War Hero by Marissa Moss and John Hendrix (Abrams, 2011).

*Spread posted by permission, text copyright © 2011 Carrie Jones, illustrations © 2011 Mark Oldroyd, published by Carolrhoda Books. All rights reserved.


Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.