sing a song of soup, or, may peace soup be with you

Mixed media soup collage by Melissa Sweet

Since January is National Soup Month, thought we’d celebrate with a bit of art, a heartening song and a bowl of homemade soup. ūüôā

Pictured above is one of my prize possessions — an original Melissa Sweet watercolor I won in a Small Graces auction back in 2010. It all started in 2009 when Newbery Honor author/illustrator Grace Lin donated 11 original paintings to benefit the Foundation for Children’s Books (now Wondermore). In 2010, twelve different illustrators donated their work, and each month a new painting was auctioned off.

Guess what was featured in January? Melissa Sweet’s¬†SOUP painting had my name written all over it and I was thrilled when I won. This piece continues to feed my soul every single day. ūüôā

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melissa sweet’s balloons over broadway (a review, a little chat, and a special giveaway!)

“Every little movement has a meaning of its own.” ~ Tony Sarg

When Caldecott Honoree Melissa Sweet was little, her grandmother took her to New York City to see the holiday windows at Macy’s, and like millions of us, she watched the Thanksgiving parade every year on television. She could never have imagined that one day she’d be writing and illustrating a book about the man who first created the window marionettes and giant helium-filled parade balloons that have taken center stage in American holiday tradition for the last 80+ years.

If ever there was a perfect biographer for Master Puppeteer Tony Sarg, it’s Melissa Sweet. A true kindred spirit, she shares Sarg’s keen interest in toys (collecting, designing and constructing them). And like Sarg, she’s a children’s book artist who’s always enjoyed tinkering and figuring out how things work. There’s that love for full immersion in process and experimentation, fueled by a playful childlike sensibility.

In Balloons Over Broadway: The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011), Sweet describes how Sarg’s fascination with making things move began in childhood. He was a “marionette man” by the age of six, when he designed a pulley system so he could feed the chickens early each morning without leaving his bed.

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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.

(click to enlarge)

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!"

(click to enlarge)


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. ‚ėļ

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.

dogs dogs dogs

Holy Dog Breath!

The alphabet soup kitchen has been hijacked by dogs!

They’re everywhere,¬†everywhere!¬†Lapping up¬†tequila and expensive mineral water, leaping through hoops, barking, whimpering, panting, jumping on the furniture, and licking all my stamps! Some want me to¬†read Shiloh to them over and over again, while others are demanding doggie massages. And I’m running out of biscuits and chew bones!

All because Thursday is National Dog Day, and some of these clever critters got whiff of my plan to post pics of them with their children’s author companions.¬†Ever since I¬†put out the call, there’s been a steady stream of these tail wagging, tale telling, marvelous mutts ringing my doorbell.

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a balm for the soul: Day is Done by Peter Yarrow and Melissa Sweet


Just as I sat down to write this post, I spotted deer outside my window:

They were snuffling patches of dead leaves, hoping to find a treat or two under the snow. Seeing them always makes me¬†feel calm and reassured. Despite all the chaos in¬†the world, they’re still here, reminding us of what is¬†important.¬†Good timing, because I’d been admiring the deer (as well as other¬†woodland animals)¬†in Peter Yarrow’s new picture book, Day is Done,¬†which features the lyrics to his iconic folk song. The lovely marriage of his words and Melissa Sweet’s pictures calms,¬†comforts,¬†and celebrates the kinship of all living things.

Day is Done is quite handsome as picture books go, a big hug of a book.¬†Sweet’s lush watercolor and mixed media illustrations of animal families settling down for the night are gorgeous and evocative. Of course Melissa had me at the cover, with the mama bear hugging her cub.

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