melissa iwai and denis markell dish on hush, little monster

Melissa, Jamie, and Denis

Don’t you just love it when one good thing leads to another?

I’ve been a big Melissa Iwai fan for awhile now. How could I not love someone who illustrates a book about a quest for pancakes and then follows up with a self-illustrated title about soup? In addition to her writing, drawing and painting chops, this girl can cook! Just check out The Hungry Artist, where Melissa regularly creates tasty, healthy magic in the kitchen (please adopt me). ūüôā

If you’ve seen Melissa’s delightful Soup Day (Henry Holt, 2010), you know it was inspired by the time she spent cooking with her son Jamie. Apparently, we can also thank Jamie for her latest book, Hush, Little Monster (Little, Simon, 2012), which was written by her husband Denis Markell. Because Jamie had trouble sleeping when he was a wee babe, Denis, an award-winning Broadway musical and comedy writer, sang “Hush, Little Baby” to him over and over every. single. night.

Possibly going insane getting really tired of mockingbirds, diamond rings and looking glasses, one night Denis thought about doing a monsterish riff on this traditional lullaby.

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melissa iwai’s snowy day vegetable soup

“Little is nobler than presiding over a kettle of homemade soup.” ~ Marty Martindale, food writer and bon vivant

As you can see if you peek behind Chef Paddington through the dining room window, we recently had some proper snow, something that always happens in these parts during the third week of January.

I couldn’t have ordered more perfect weather for making the vegetable soup that’s included in Melissa Iwai’s charming picture book,¬†Soup Day, a recipe I’d been wanting to try ever since I reviewed the book last year. Of course one doesn’t have to wait for snow to make soup, but in this case it deepened my connection to this sweet story of a mother and daughter in the kitchen.

The recipe is designed with simplicity, common ingredients, and child participation in mind. As the story suggests, asking hungry munchkins to help select colorful veggies at the grocers and later allowing them (with an adult’s guiding hand) to slice the soft ingredients like mushroom and zucchini, enables them to master new skills and develop a sense of pride. Melissa admits this is how she got her son Jamie to eat mushrooms!

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winter balm: soup day by melissa iwai

Why, hello. You’re just in time. We saved a place for you at the table.

Here we are in the depths of winter, when snow, sleet, ice, and slush are the order of the day. As we try to brave the elements, stave off cabin fever, and satisfy our color-starved cravings for something to nourish our bodies and warm our hearts, we realize the immense power and magic of SOUP!

Yes, we love soup. We want soup. We need soup NOW!

Well then, put on your bibs.

In Melissa Iwai’s Soup Day (Henry Holt, 2010) — clearly a story with my name written all over it — a little girl describes step-by-step¬†how she and her mother¬†make¬†a hearty batch of soup together.

One snowy day, they set out for the Green Market, where they select the freshest vegetables with the brightest colors — celery, onions, carrots, potatoes, zucchini, mushrooms and parsley. At home, the girl helps to wash the veggies while her mom chops everything into different shapes — squares, circles, cubes, and confetti. Everything is sauteed in oil (sizzle!), and then stock is poured into the pot (sssssss!).

While the soup simmers gently on the stove, the girl and her mother pass the time playing games and reading. “Before long, our home smells like yummy soup.” Mmmmmmmmm.¬†The mother adds some spices, and then the little girl gets to select what kind of pasta to include (from 9 different varieties). Guess what she picks?¬†Alphabets!¬†(I love this girl!) Once her father gets home, they all sit down and enjoy every drop of their soup together.

I¬†love the charming simplicity of this story, and the subtle way little teaching moments are incorporated into the narrative. Hungry munchkins will be eager to help with soup-making from start to finish. The grocery store affords untold opportunities for recognizing colors, counting items and ingredients, and learning to make wise choices. Watching an adult¬†slice veggies into various shapes is fun, too, and if old enough, a child can try cutting soft veggies like zucchini and mushrooms with a plastic knife. Of course there’s also the fun of identifying the different types of pasta (fettuccine! farfalle! rotini!).

The satisfaction and pride of eating something one has helped to prepare, as well as¬†quality¬†time spent together, are equally important seasonings for this nutritious,¬†heartwarming soup.¬†Iwai’s bright, cheerful acrylic and¬†multi-textured collage illos clarify the process and capture all the warmth and¬†coziness of this special soup day, where mother and daughter bond, new skills are learned, and good memories are forged.

This gentle story, perfect for preschoolers,¬†is Melissa’s first self-illustrated title, and was¬†inspired by her own¬†experiences cooking with her son Jamie.¬†It’s received glowing reviews, including a starred review from Kirkus, which praises Soup Day as “Ordinariness made extraordinary.” When the winter blues set in, or any time you need an extra dose of comfort and joy, reach for this uplifting, feel-good book. A recipe for Snowy Day Vegetable Soup (which I’m going to try very soon)¬†is included. S – L – U – R – P ‚ėļ!

Here’s a video of Melissa making it.

SOUP DAY by Melissa Iwai
published by Henry Holt, September 2010
Fiction for ages 4-6, 32 pp.
Cool themes: Family, sharing, cooking, togetherness, mastering new skills, counting, colors, shapes, nutrition, vegetables.

‚ô• Be sure to visit Melissa’s official blog for more spreads and¬†to learn about her other books.¬†You’ll also find activity sheets, crafts, and more soup recipes! You can also learn about her process when illustrating a picture book.

‚ô• Don’t miss Melissa’s delicious blog, The Hungry Artist, where she shares easy, health-conscious recipes you can make with your children. Melissa is a self-taught chef, who won Cooking Light’s Ultimate Reader Recipe Grand Prize in 2010!

‚ô• Click here for Melissa’s guest post at Cynsations.

‚ô• A few blog reviews: Brimful Curiosities, Great Kid Books, Booking Mama.

‚ô• Quick!¬†For a chance¬†to win a copy of Soup Day, there’s still time to enter this contest at Val’s Kitchen (deadline:¬†Sunday, February 6).

*Spreads from Soup Day published by permission, copyright © 2010 Melissa Iwai, published by Henry Holt. All rights reserved.

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