[Author Chat + Giveaway] Mara Rockliff on Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution

All art ©2015 Vincent X. Kirsh

There’s nothing more delicious than learning something new about a well-loved food.

When I think of gingerbread, I think of Emily Dickinson lowering basketfuls to the neighborhood children, Laura Ingalls Wilder setting out a pan to cool at Rocky Ridge Farm, or Emily Brontë baking a family parkin. I’d read about gingerbread’s long and interesting history, marveling that Queen Elizabeth I was essentially responsible for the gingerbread boy cookies we now bake every holiday season. But I never imagined a gingerbread baker could be an unsung hero in Revolutionary history.

Officially hitting shelves today, Mara Rockliff’s Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution (HMH, 2015), introduces young readers to Christopher Ludwick, a German-born American patriot living in Philadelphia, who as Baker General of the Continental Army, fed General George Washington’s troops and even snuck off on a secret mission.

Deemed too old and fat at 56 to enlist as a soldier, Ludwick was nevertheless determined to champion the cause of liberty, independence and freedom with his culinary skills. His gingerbread was the best around, but he was also known for his generosity and philanthropic work, especially on behalf of poor children. His motto was, “No empty bellies here, not in my America!” This tantalizing bit of little-known history is brought to life with Vincent X. Kirsch’s whimsical cut-paper illustrations resembling iced gingerbread cookies, and is a wonderful example of finding creative ways to utilize one’s talents. What a great reminder that one person can make a big difference, and that heroes can sometimes be found in unexpected places.

Lucky for us, Mara is here today to tell us about catching her first whiff of Ludwick’s spicy gingerbread, researching his colorful life, and making his story accessible to picture book readers.  Of course I also asked her to share a favorite recipe, so ready your rolling pins. 🙂

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just peachy: easy as pie by cari best and melissa sweet


Thought it might be nice to spread a little sunshine today. I know Spring has barely begun, but already I’m craving late summer peaches. There’s nothing like a just ripe peach — blushing and golden, sweet and juicy, a perfect orb bursting with the sunny goodness of lazy summer days.


Now, I truly love peach pie. I’d walk a mile for a piece of warm peach pie, double or lattice crust, flaky and buttery, all melty and velvety in my mouth. And, as some of you may know, I love Melissa Sweet’s art. She’s one of my top ten favorite children’s book illustrators of all time. What happens when you combine two things you love so much? Well, I can barely stand it — the joy, the swooning, the admiration, the dreamy reverie of it all, the sweet resonance of my senses fully sated.


In three words: EASY AS PIE, a.k.a., a picture book written by Cari Best and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, all about baking a peach pie.


I will try to contain my gushing long enough to tell you a little about it, but no guarantees. Like the profoundly perceptive, self-proclaimed picture book nerd Julie Danielson of 7-Imp, I am fond of utilizing superlatives when it comes to good stuff. There’s no sense in trying to be restrained or even reasonable when it comes to picture book love, because it’s a genre that by its very definition (if there ever was one) emotes emotes emotes all the wonder, fun, beauty, joy, surprise, fears, disappointments, curiosity, and all-knowingness of childhood.  

So, budding chef Jacob is making his very first pie after watching Chef Monty on his favorite TV show. Throughout the process, he’s mindful of Chef Monty’s Baking Rules, which include things like, "A happy baker bakes a happy pie," and "If something unexpected happens, fix it as best as you can." What I love is how palpable Jacob’s love of cooking is, and how single mindedly he presses on despite his sister distracting him and the family trying to rush him so they can go out to dinner.

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He makes a few mistakes along the way, as is expected, but manages to surprise his family with a totally delicious end product. Lots of verve in the language, I like that. Great story about problem solving with lessons applicable to everyday life, and Jacob’s own baking rules may be the best ones of all: "It’s no fun eating a fresh pie all by yourself," and "A happy pie eater makes a baker happy!"

Jacob, with his rosy cheeks, chef’s hat and baking shoes, is definitely my kind of baker. Melissa has filled her pencil, watercolor and collage illustrations with details that tickle me blue, red and green: Jacob’s adorable facial expressions (a little tongue sticking out for extra concentration), lotsa checks and plaids and a polka dot pillow!, fetching book titles (Muffin Mania, The ABC of Baking, C is for Crumble), and of course those dang expressive illustrated words taken from the text (poke! push! big! bigger! toot! toot!). There’s nothing that pleases me more than letters with personality. And I love the "P" on Jacob’s pie. "P is for Pie and P is for Peach, and, of course, P is for Parents!"

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Of course you will crave peach pie like the dickens after reading this. And yes, a recipe for Happy Peach Pie is included. Kids will clamor for some time in the kitchen, and will love most of all the idea of eating dessert before dinner. Yes, a very good thing indeed. ☺

I won’t torture you any further. Dig in:


by Cari Best
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, March 2010
Full color Picture Book for ages 4-8, 40 pp.
nom nom nom nom nom and nom

♥ Hungry for a few more pie books? Click here.

*Spreads posted by permission. Text copyright © 2010 Cari Best, illustrations © 2010 Melissa Sweet, published by FSG. All rights reserved.

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

pat, roll, crimp: picture book bakers

I’ve been patting a few cakes all month long, and having a jolly good time visiting and reading about some of the people who create breads, cookies, cupcakes, pies, and many other favorite treats. More, more, more, I say! Bring on the flour and the dough and the rolling pins. Bring on the batter bowls, pastry tubes, sprinkles and pink icing!

The oven may be hot, but there’s nothing like the warmth emanating from the heart of a baker. In kids’ books, traditionally bakers are portrayed as rotund, benevolent souls. This is true for most of the picture books featured in this post, but I was happy to discover they are also characterized by other admirable qualities: a heroic baker who’s an ingenious nonconformist, one who pours her love into a special bread and sets off a chain of contentment, another who displays kindness and compassion to a stray animal, one who learns to see things from a different point of view, and yet another who learns the lesson of generosity and “invents” the baker’s dozen.

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