[review and recipe] a little women christmas by heather vogel frederick and bagram ibatoulline

Most of us remember when we first read Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, and how it profoundly changed and affected us. It’s just that kind of book.

I was in sixth grade and read it for Mrs. Whang’s English class. We were all a little afraid of Mrs. Whang — she was notorious for being unfailingly strict and rarely smiled. No matter the assignment, only the best would do. For Little Women, we were divided into groups of four and asked to act out our favorite scene(s).

We decided on the first chapter and I was to play Jo. We dressed up in long skirts and shawls and I remember bounding onto the “stage” in my best tomboy fashion and blurting out, “Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents.” So began a lifelong love for all of Alcott’s books and a fierce yearning for the quintessential New England Christmas — a dreamlike fantasy of snow-blanketed landscapes and cozy fires, something about as foreign as you can imagine when you live in the land of palm trees and eternal summers.

Heather Vogel Frederick’s new picture book adaptation of the Christmas episode from Little Women is a lovely way to meet the March sisters for the first time and bask in cherished holiday scenes brimming with the spirit of giving and gratitude. Frederick interweaves key elements from Alcott’s novel as she distills the essence of this holiday story (Beth’s frail health, Father away at war, Jo and Laurie’s friendship, Jo cutting and selling her hair, making do with what they have).

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i love me some babyberry pie by heather vogel frederick and amy schwartz

If I had to choose just one picture book that epitomizes the theme of “Comfort and Joy,” it would be Babyberry Pie by Heather Vogel Frederick and Amy Schwartz (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).

We’ve already established that babies are the ultimate bundles of joy, and that pie is the friendliest and most satisfying of comfort foods. Combine the two in a cozy story featuring mama, papa, and an impish baby, and you’ll wanna hug and kiss yourself all over, it’s just so deliciously adorable.

The making of a babyberry pie is actually a playful bedtime ritual:

When the moon goes dancing
Across the starry sky,
It’s time to bring the baby in
For babyberry pie!

First you pluck a baby
From the babyberry tree —
One who’s sweet,
A cuddly treat —
And bring him home to me.

The parents first pop the wee one into the tub, where he’s given a nice scrub and rub-a-dub-dub, which sets him to laughing amongst the toys and bubbles. But watch that little tyke — when his mom tries to towel him off, he makes a run for it, and has a messy encounter with a freshly baked pie cooling on the windowsill. That “little giggleberry, wiggleberry one” is finally caught, and it’s back into the tub for another scrub. Then he’s powdered from head to toe — “sugar” on his belly button, nose, fingertips and toes, and finally tucked into his warm “piecrust” (pillows and quilts) with a kiss goodnight. So sweet!

 

Heather’s rhyming text is pitch perfect in its musicality, as it bounces along with a sprinkling of wordplay and giggle-inducing terms of endearment (“sillyberry,” “messyberry”). Amy’s pen-and-ink and gouache illos, with their clean lines, round cuddly shapes, and tiny homespun patterns, amplify the love and joy. The predominantly lavender, blue, and purple palette reinforces the berry pie theme, making this charming visual feast even tastier. Babyberry Pie is a breath of fresh air and sheer delight; you can almost smell that freshly powdered baby with his smooth soft skin, hear his unrestrained giggling, and swear you’ve never seen a cuter pie.

 

In a summer 2010 blog post, Heather mentions how she got the idea for this book. One of her favorite things to do in July is visit her favorite berry farm to pick loganberries, boysenberries, raspberries and marionberries, among others:

Writers fool around with words in their heads a lot (if you ever notice a vacant expression on our faces, that’s what we’re doing), and that day I got to noodling around with the word “boysenberry” while my hands were busy picking.  Wouldn’t it be funny if there were girlsenberries? I thought.  Which of course led to, And wouldn’t it be funny if you could pick babyberries? That was it, I was off and running, and voila! Babyberry Pie was born.

This good time, goodnight recipe was born to be read aloud and will surely inspire many more babyberry pies as a fun, loving prelude to dreamland. Highly recommended! *claps hands*

BABYBERRY PIE
by Heather Vogel Frederick
illustrated by Amy Schwartz
published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 2010
Full color picture book for ages 4-8, 32 pp.
Cool themes: Bedtime, families, babies, humor.

 In 2010, Heather ran a special series on her blog, “Pie of the Month Club,” to celebrate the publication of her two pie-related books — Babyberry Pie and Pies & Prejudice, the 4th installment in her popular Mother-Daughter Book Club Series. She interviewed eleven friends and colleagues, featured their new books, and asked them to share a favorite pie recipe. Ooh-la-la! Think Cynthia Leitich Smith, Lisa Schroeder, and Toni Buzzeo, among others, and such deliciousness as Rhubarb Custard, Melt-in-Your Mouth Apple, Blueberry, Southern Pecan, and Apricot pies! Well worth a taste, if you haven’t already sampled. ☺

Naturally, Heather interviewed Amy, who talked about illustrating Babyberry Pie, and she shared her mother’s recipe for Strawberry Chiffon Pie. Yum!

 


Have some boysenberry pie before you go!

*Spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2010 Heather Vogel Frederick, illustrations © 2010 Amy Schwartz, published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

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