[review + giveaway] Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by Laura Veirs and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh

Freight train, freight train run so fast
Freight train, freight train run so fast
Please don’t tell what train I’m on
They won’t know what route I’ve gone.

So begins one of the most famous folk songs of the twentieth century. Here in America, many of us grew up hearing it on the radio or at music festivals, or maybe even in the classroom.

Though I was familiar with the popular renditions of “Freight Train” by Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, and Joan Baez, I never really knew who wrote the song, nor had I heard of African American folk musician, singer and songwriter Elizabeth Cotten before reading this fabulous new picture book.

In Libba: The Magnificent Musical Life of Elizabeth Cotten by singer-songwriter Laura Veirs and debut illustrator Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (Chronicle Books, 2018), we see how Libba ultimately accomplished “what she was born to do” despite the many ups and downs in her life.

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[review + recipe] Pass the Pandowdy, Please by Abigail Ewing Zelz and Eric Zelz

“Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” ~ Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

Imagine attending a sumptuous banquet where the invited guests are fascinating historical figures from around the world.

Seated to your left, the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma II feasts on “tortillas, corn, roast duck, rabbit, turkey, and fruit,” before swigging a dozen gold cups of frothy, spicy chocolate. Ahhh!

To your right, Christopher Columbus tentatively samples an avocado, a few guavas, some peanuts and pumpkin. He’s already devoured all the pineapples in sight. “Got any spices?” he asks.

Up at the head table, the ravishing Cleopatra nibbles on a few apricots and figs before fixing her make-up. Pharaohs must always look their best, after all. Her homemade lipstick made from crushed beetles and ants always does the trick. That, and a few pickles.

In Pass the Pandowdy, Please: Chewing on History with Famous Folks and Their Fabulous Foods (Tilbury House, 2016), author Abigail Ewing Zelz and illustrator Eric Zelz shine the spotlight on 16 cool movers and shakers through the ever tempting lens of food. As Abigail notes in her introduction, “food reflects culture, climate, time period, wealth, and beliefs.” No better way to get to know someone, I always say.

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friday feast: a taste of Issa’s haiku and a favorite childhood treat

 

Ohayoo gozaimasu! Good Morning!

Please help yourself to a nice warm cup of Genmaicha (green tea with brown rice) and a piece of chi chi dango mochi. I remember many a time when my mother made a pot of Genmaicha after a good meal — a soothing way to cleanse the palate and set the stage for some lively ‘talk story.’

A couple of weeks ago, I searched Lee and Low’s website for books I hadn’t yet read and found the perfect picture book to share for Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month. Cool Melons — Turn to Frogs!: The Life and Poems of Issa by Matthew Gollub and Kazuko G. Stone was first published in 1998, so many of you are probably already familiar with it. How did I miss it? I’m so glad I finally read it, as now it’s one of my favorite haiku picture books ever.

Issa wrote this haiku when he was just six years old.

I love how every aspect of this book embodies the essence of haiku — its complex simplicity, beauty, elegance, and ability to open the eyes, refresh the mind, and inspire contemplation.

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Chatting with Author Erin Hagar about Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures

I’m doubly excited to welcome Baltimore-based author Erin Hagar to Alphabet Soup: her very first published children’s book hits shelves today, and it’s about one of my favorite people, Julia Child!

Though there have been several good picture books about Julia published in recent years,  solidly researched middle grade biographies about her are few and far between. Not only is Julia Child: An Extraordinary Life in Words and Pictures (DuoPress, 2015) a lively, engaging read, it contains six beautiful full-page watercolor illustration sequences by Joanna Gorham interspersed between chapters.

Erin traces Julia’s life from her childhood as a fun-loving prankster in Pasadena to her death in 2004 as a much beloved cookbook author, teacher, and television celebrity. We read about how Julia met and fell in love with Paul Child while working overseas for the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), how when they moved to France Julia discovers her life’s passion and attends Le Cordon Bleu, how she started a cooking school and collaborated on Mastering the Art of French Cooking with Simone Beck Fischbacher and Louisette Bertholle, and finally, how she launched her television career on WGBH Boston.

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[Review and Author Chat]: Monica Kulling on Spic-and-Span!: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen

Toronto-based author Monica Kulling is here today to talk about Spic-and-Span!: Lillian Gilbreth’s Wonder Kitchen (Tundra Books, 2014), the sixth title in her award winning Great Idea series which features marvelous inventors.

I must admit my prior knowledge of Lillian’s life was limited to Myrna Loy’s portrayal of her in the 1950 movie, “Cheaper by the Dozen.” Though I assumed she must have been an extraordinarily energetic and supportive person to be married to fellow efficiency expert Frank Gilbreth and co-parent a rambunctious passel of kids, I did not know the extent of her brilliant accomplishments as an industrial engineer, psychologist, professor, inventor and author in her own right, especially following Frank’s death from a heart attack at the age of 55.

The Gilbreth family

In Spic-and-Span!, we first see how Frank and Lillian worked together in the early 1900’s to “show factory workers how to get the most done in the least amount of time.” Using a motion picture camera to film tasks, they were able to spot unnecessary movements, helping workers find the “one best way to do every job.” Of course they also implemented the Gilbreth system in their own household, streamlining everyday activities like brushing teeth, making beds, etc.

Art ©2014 David Parkins

But once Frank died in 1924, Lillian was faced with the monumental challenge of raising 11 children on her own and finding work at a time when factories wouldn’t hire a female industrial engineer, even one with over 20 years of experience. Eventually she was hired by Macy’s to improve its cash room operations, and later by the Brooklyn Borough Gas Company to improve kitchen design.

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