[book review] No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood by Calvin Trillin and Roz Chast

Do you have a bossy older sibling? Wish you could eat ice cream for breakfast instead of oatmeal? Why ride the bus to school when a helicopter would be so much better?

Ah yes, life’s little injustices! If you can’t change them, may as well laugh about them.

In No Fair! No Fair! And Other Jolly Poems of Childhood (Orchard Books, 2016), eminent New Yorker contributors Calvin Trillin and Roz Chast serve up big helpings of funny with their poems and pictures about various and sundry everyday things that can drive kids nuts. No matter our age, we’ve all been there. Ever have a wardrobe crisis in the morning?


Oh, this is such a silly rule —
That people must wear pants to school.
A better rule, a wise man said,
is wear your underpants instead.

This little morning complaint is just the beginning. There are complaints about school and for the evening, too. As the title states, no fair! no fair!

Many of the 23 rib-ticklers in this collection were inspired by real-life experiences from Trillin’s children, grandchildren, and his own childhood. Young readers will giggle in recognition at the ploys used to convince one’s parents to get a pet, the earnest desire to send back a new baby brother, and horror of all horrors — sitting next to a scoocher sister who won’t stay on her side of the backseat. Grrrrrr.

She’s over the line,
she’s over the line.
She occupies space
That’s rightfully mine.

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Celebrating Susan Branch’s Latest Books with Tasty Words, Pics, and Potato Chip Cookies

“Never let anyone tell you magic doesn’t exist or that fairies aren’t real. It isn’t cynicism that will change the world. Do your best to believe in yourself, and even if you don’t, keep trying to and never give up. If all else fails, use your imagination and pretend.” ~ Susan Branch (Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams)

Though I’ve been a Susan Branch fan for decades, until I read her 3-part illustrated memoir I knew only a little about her personal life or how she started painting, writing, and publishing.

It was love at first sight when I discovered her greeting cards, calendars and illustrated cookbooks back in the late 80’s — I just couldn’t get enough of her beautiful handwritten recipes and inspirational quotes, the cozy, quaint watercolors of old fashioned baskets, bowls, and quilts, those scrumptious fruits, veggies, cakes and pies. Oh, the checkered floors! The Laura Ashley hats and exquisite floral borders! That iconic vintage stove! I wanted to inhabit the world of her homemade books; they were charming, unique, and most important, personal.

You may remember how much I adored A Fine Romance: Falling in Love with the English Countryside (review here). It convinced me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Susan was even more of a kindred spirit with her love of Beatrix Potter, the Yorkshire Dales, afternoon tea, the Cotswolds, Emma Bridgewater, and the Queen!

But it wasn’t until I read the prequels to A Fine RomanceThe Fairy Tale Girl and Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams  (both based on her diaries) — that I gained a true appreciation for how this self-taught artist built her career from scratch, how the first seeds were actually planted in childhood, and how she’s been able to effectively elevate the various facets of homemaking (cooking, sewing, gardening, interior decorating) to a fine art.


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[catTEA review] The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots by Beatrix Potter and Quentin Blake

Beatrix Potter contingent queues up to take a first peek!

Holy catnip!

It’s a big day for Beatrix Potter fans: The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots is officially out in the world (UK release September 1, U.S. release September 6)!

Kitty with and without her dust jacket.

Ever since we first heard tell of this book back in January, all of us here in the Alphabet Soup kitchen have been counting down the days, hours, and minutes to this much anticipated event.

After all, it’s not every day that a long lost manuscript written over 100 years ago by such a beloved author is rediscovered and brought to life with brand new illustrations by celebrated illustrator Quentin Blake.

Potter wrote The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots in 1914, but had not finished illustrating it. Two years ago, editor and publisher Jo Hanks stumbled upon a reference to Kitty’s story in a letter from Beatrix to her publisher in an out-of-print collection of her writings. In the Warne archive at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Hanks found three Kitty-in-Boots manuscripts — two handwritten in children’s school notebooks and one typeset in dummy form — along with a colored sketch of Kitty and a pencil rough of foxy arch-villain Mr. Tod.

Supposedly Potter’s only finished illustration for the book, intended as the frontispiece. Courtesy Frederick Warne & Co./V&A.

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Laura Shovan’s Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary + Poetry Friday Roundup

Please help yourself to some matzo with cream cheese and strawberry jam.





Today we’d like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Laura Shovan on the official release of her first middle grade verse novel on April 12! Hooray for Laura!!

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (Wendy Lamb Books, 2016) is a captivating story told entirely through a series of poems written by one fifth grade class over the course of a year. We meet 18 diverse, distinctive, quirky, totally believable kids navigating the changes that come with friendships old and new, first crushes, and other relatable challenges such as divorce and stepfamilies, death and illness of family members, being the new kid, homelessness, assimilation and identity.

Though each has his/her own hopes, dreams, and concerns, these students form a special bond over one big change that affects them all: their beloved school is facing closure at the end of the year. Inspired by their teacher’s political activism in the 60’s, they are determined to make their voices heard to help save Emerson.

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[review + recipe + giveaway] Will’s Words by Jane Sutcliffe and John Shelley

Back in my salad days, I crushed on Will Shakespeare. In high school I swooned over Romeo, in college I hissed at Iago’s villainous schemes, and as a starry-eyed rookie teacher did my best to convince my students that when it came to reading and studying the Bard of Avon, their labours of love were never lost.

I wish there had been a book like Will’s Words (Charlesbridge, 2016) to share with them then. The naysayers who struggled with and questioned the practical value of Shakespeare’s seemingly antiquated language could have seen (much to their amazement), how Will’s words weren’t so archaic or esoteric after all. In fact, many phrases have since become household words, regularly popping up in modern everyday speech. I like to think Will Shakespeare has made poets of us all.🙂

Author Jane Sutcliffe begins by confessing to the reader that she fully intended to write a book, in her own words, about the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare’s wordsmithing and storytelling genius in penning “the most brilliant and moving plays ever written.” But aye, there’s the rub: no matter how hard she tried, Shakespeare’s words kept bumping into hers — they were simply everywhere and impossible to ignore. So she did the next best thing: wrote a marvelous book cleverly incorporating Will’s colorful turns of phrase in her narrative. As an added treat — since when it comes to Will’s words it’s impossible to have too much of a good thing — she explains what his phrases mean and cites the plays in which they appear.

(click to enlarge)

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