Chatting with Author B.J. Lee about There Was an Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth (+ a recipe and giveaway!)

Talk about Bayou Bliss!

Today we have the distinct honor of welcoming children’s author and poet B.J. Lee to Alphabet Soup to celebrate the official release of her debut picture book, There Was An Old Gator Who Swallowed a Moth, illustrated by David Opie (Pelican Publishing, 2019)!!

B.J.’s a former librarian whose poems have appeared in oodles of periodicals and anthologies, including Highlights for Children, Spider Magazine, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, One Minute Till Bedtime, The Best of Today’s Little Ditty, Dear Tomato, and the National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry.

Yes, this girl’s been busy scribbling away in her Florida hideaway, and her first picture book is rollicking good fun. She’s taken the classic “There Was An Old Lady” cumulative nursery rhyme and given it a Floridian spin — a cool way to introduce kids to some of the critters who hang out in her part of the country.

Seems B.J.’s Gator swallows a moth — who knows why — and it makes him cough. Only one thing to do: swallow a crab to grab the moth. But the crab “skittered and scuttled and gave him a jab.” What to do? Swallow an eel to nab that crab!

As you can imagine, this was just beginning of Gator’s problems. He keeps swallowing more creatures, bigger and bigger each time (have you seen the stomach on that guy?) until he actually gulps an entire lagoon! Hoo Boy!

You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens to this guzzling gator and all those bewildered animals in his belly. Kids will love turning the pages to see what animal’s next (ray! pelican! panther! manatee! shark!). Of course this story is a riot to read aloud with its catchy rhymes, repetition, bouncy rhythm and amphibious alliteration (cough, cough). And David Opie has amplified the hilarity with his emotive, dynamic illustrations.

Just had to ask B.J. all about her publishing journey, tinkering with the text, and yes, she’s sharing a recipe (did someone say PIE?)!



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wrap your lips around this: “Perfect for Any Occasion” by Alberto Ríos

“Pie, in a word, is my passion. Since as far back as I can remember, watching my mom and dad make their apple pies together every fall as a young boy, I have simply loved pie. I can’t really explain why. If one loves poetry, or growing orchids, or walking along the beach at sunset, the why isn’t all that important. To me, pie is poetry that makes the world a better place.” ~ Ken Haedrich (Pie: 300 Tried-and-True Recipes for Delicious Homemade Pie)

“Eat Pie” by Julie Paschkis (click to purchase archival print)


Imagine what it must be like to have everyone squeal with delight upon seeing you.

You look soooooo good, they all say, you’re exactly what we wanted! You remind us of Grandma and all that is right with the world.

So you bask in the glory, maximize your flake. Living a life of applause is the only way to go.


“Apple Pie and Tea” by Tom Nachreiner


by Alberto Ríos


Pies have a reputation.
And it’s immediate — no talk of potential

Regarding a pie. It’s good
Or it isn’t, but mostly it is — sweet, very sweet

Right then, right there, blue and red.
It can’t go to junior college,

Work hard for the grades,
Work two jobs on the side.

It can’t slowly build a reputation
And a growing client base.

A pie gets one chance
And knows it, wearing as makeup

Those sparkling granules of sugar,
As a collar those diamond cutouts

Bespeaking Fair Day, felicity, contentment.
I tell you everything is great, says a pie.

Great, and fun, and fine.
And you smell nice, too, someone says.

A full pound of round sound, all ahh, all good.
Pies live a life of applause.



But then there are the other pies.
The leftover pies. The ones

Nobody chooses at Thanksgiving.
Mincemeat? What the hell is that? people ask,

Pointing instead at a double helping of Mr.
“I-can-do-no-wrong” pecan pie.

But the unchosen pies have a long history, too.
They have plenty of good stories, places they’ve been —

They were once fun, too —
But nobody wants to listen to them anymore.

Oh sure, everybody used to love lard,
But things have changed, brother — things have changed.

That’s never the end of the story, of course.
Some pies make a break for it —

Live underground for a while,
Doing what they can, talking fast,

Trying to be sweet pizzas, if they’re lucky.
But no good comes of it. Nobody is fooled.

A pie is a pie for one great day. Last week,
It was Jell-O. Tomorrow, it’ll be cake.

~ from The Dangerous Shirt (Copper Canyon Press), copyright © 2009 Alberto Ríos. All rights reserved.

“Sixteen Pies” by Wayne Thiebaud (1965)



Are you swooning over “A full pound of round sound, all ahh, all good”? 🙂

Must say, haven’t seen rhyme used to such tantalizing effect in a long time . . .

This poem made me an instant Alberto Ríos fan. Nothing more delightful than celebrating pie while contemplating larger truths tucked beneath the crust, such as — seize the day, easy come-easy go, aging and invisibility, the inevitability of change.

I’ve been thinking about the leftover pies, the unchosen ones. “Leftover pie” is not really part of the Alphabet Soup vocabulary — “disappearing pie” is more like it. 😀

The poet also implies that there are some pies that have fallen out of favor — once chosen and enjoyed, but somehow no longer appreciated. I suppose there are some vintage pies we don’t see as often anymore — remember lemon chiffon, grasshopper, vinegar, or chess pie?

And I don’t really mind mince pie because it makes me think of British Christmases. 🙂

BUT. The thing about pie is that the more “old fashioned” it is, the more we love it. Sure, there are some cute ‘n sassy hand pies making the rounds these days, but nothing comes close to a homemade deep dish apple pie, or other perennial faves like pumpkin, blueberry, peach, chocolate cream, and lemon meringue.

Because pies, are, you know, FOREVER.

What’s your favorite pie? Do you have a fond pie memory to share?


Alberto Ríos is the author of 11 collections of poetry, including Whispering to Fool the Wind (1982), which won the Walt Whitman Award; The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (2002), which was nominated for a National Book Award; and, most recently, A Small Story About the Sky (2015). He has also written three collections of short stories and one memoir. Ríos’s work has been included in over 300 journals and over 250 anthologies, and he was featured in the documentary Birthwrite: Growing up Hispanic. His awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the Walt Whitman Award, six Pushcart Prizes, the PEN Open Book Award, and the Latino Literary Hall of Fame Award. In 2014, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. Currently the first state poet laureate of Arizona, Ríos is also the Regents Professor of English and the Katharine C. Turner Endowed Chair in English at Arizona State University in Tempe.


The lovely, lithe, literary and eminently likable Linda Baie is hosting the Roundup at TeacherDance. Tiptoe on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend. 🙂


“The sandy beach reminded Harold of picnics. And the thought of picnics made him hungry. So he laid out a nice simple picnic lunch.

There was nothing but pie. But there were all nine kinds of pie that Harold liked best.

When Harold finished his picnic there was quite a lot left. He hated to see so much delicious pie go to waste.

So Harold left a very hungry moose and a deserving porcupine to finish it up.”

~ Crockett Johnson (Harold and the Purple Crayon)

mmmmm, pie – the best part of Thanksgiving!


Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

Winnie-the-Pooh and The Royal Birthday by Jane Riordan and Mark Burgess (+ Honey Chocolate Pie)

Mr. Cornelius practicing the royal wave.

Hello Hello!

What’s the best way to honor two beloved British icons with 90th birthdays this year?

Feature them both in a beary good story, of course. 🙂

All art © 2016 Mark Burgess.

Mr Cornelius is convinced 2016 is extra special and that 90 is a magic number. On January 13, much to the delight of the 50-something resident Paddingtons, Michael Bond turned 90. On April 21, HRH Queen Elizabeth turned 90 (with her official birthday celebration taking place just over a week ago), and this coming October marks the 90th anniversary of Winnie-the-Pooh’s first book.

Goodness. This is like a golden trifecta for us anglophiles who are mad for Brits, books and bears! Just so happens that Her Majesty loved the Pooh books when she was little, and the year she was born, Mr. Milne dedicated his Teddy Bear and Other Songs (1926) to her.

What does this Palace Guard have stashed under his hat?

Earlier this year, Mr Bond was asked to write an address for the National Service of Thanksgiving for the Queen’s 90th Birthday. His “Reflection on the Passing of Years” was read aloud at the service by Sir David Attenborough (and yes, he turned 90, too, on May 8). This piece, a special gift for the Queen, described the experience of life for those born in 1926. Is there any better gift than the gift of words?

So we could say that in effect Paddington has “met” the Queen, but until this new story Pooh had not.

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friday feast: a taste of kate lebo’s pie school cookbook (+ apple pie recipe)

“The best way to make pie is to learn how to trust yourself and follow your nose — and the rest of your senses. That’s a poet’s advice too.” ~ Kate Lebo

Some of you may remember when Seattle pie poet Kate Lebo visited Alphabet Soup back in January to talk about A Commonplace Book of Pie (Chin Music Press, 2014) — a delightfully quirky collection of prose poems, recipes, baking tips and ephemera. *licks lips*

In essence a fantasy zodiac that upends our assumptions about what poetry is and can be, her pie poems invited us to look at ourselves, face our fears, and articulate our desires.

Now we can delve even further into our tantalizing pie obsessions with Kate’s brand new cookbook, Pie School: Lessons in Fruit, Flour, and Butter (Sasquatch Books, 2014), a between-the-covers sampling of her popular Pie School pastry academy classes. Oh, what a beauty it is!

Sure, there are many good pie cookbooks out there with tasty recipes and advice about how to fashion the perfectly tender flaky crust. But how many of these contain chapter intros and recipe header notes that read like prose poems? How many that serve up pie making process, social history, personal anecdotes, gorgeous photos, vintage chic, sass and class with such verve and heart?

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eight more upper crust pie picture books

Illustration by Alice and Martin Provensen (1940’s)

The heavenly aroma of my fresh apple pie in the oven — slices of Granny Smiths bub bub bubbling in their buttery sweet cinnamon-y syrup — reminded me that I haven’t served up a good old fashioned pie picture book roundup in a long time.

Since Fall and especially November are all about pie, why not indulge?


The fillings of these lovingly baked picture books are laced with some irresistibly delicious zero-calorie ingredients: rollicking good fun, tender moments between parent and child, wild dreaminess, an itch to satisfy, surprise and wonder, friendship and community, suspense — proof positive that making and eating pie are cherished social events capable of bringing out the best in all of us.

Whether monstrous or teeny-tiny, the bakers and eaters in these stories know a good thing when they see, smell, feel, hear and taste it.

Mmmmm, pie. Did you save your fork?

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1. Richard Scarry’s The Great Pie Robbery (Sterling, 2014).

scarryMeet super-sleuths Sam Cat and Dudley Pig: they’re after the bad guys who stole yummy pies from Ma Dog’s bakery! But when the robbers run into a restaurant where ALL the diners have cherry pie-covered faces, how will Sam and Dudley catch their thieves? With a squinch and a crash and a great big cruuuunch, the bumbling detectives cook up deliciously comic fun!

The cherry pie stained animal snouts alone are worth the price of admission in this zany crooky caper. Kids will love poring over the vintage Scarry fetchingly detailed ink drawings. There’s a monkey wearing three wristwatches for crying out loud! Love that everyone has his own pie, no messing about with wimpy pieces. Uh-huh.

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2. Pie’s in the Oven by Betty G. Birney and Holly Meade (Houghton Mifflin, 1996).

birneyA young boy revels in the cheerful atmosphere among family and friends at Grandma’s house while she bakes apple pies. This celebration of food, with its enormous cast of colorful characters and lively read-aloud text, is full of child appeal. Because so many people arrive to eat Grandma’s pie, the plate is empty before the little boy gets any, but Grandma has a surprise in the oven.

A quintessential pie-is-meant-to-be-shared story complete with huggable pie-baking grandma, happy talky friends and neighbors, and the aroma of warm apple pie wafting through every page. Meade’s appealing paper collages underscore the warm and welcoming tone of the story, while Birney’s text, a rhythmic counterpoint of simple narration and the boy’s inner thoughts, captures his infectious anticipation and pie’s inherent power to summon and satisfy.

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3. Ugly Pie by Lisa Wheeler and Heather Solomon (Harcourt, 2010).

uglyOl’ Bear wakes one morning with a hankering for Ugly Pie, so he goes on a search from neighbor to neighbor. All he finds are pies that please the eye and . . . ingredients? Wait a second. Maybe it’s time for Ol’ Bear to start cookin’ up something ugly himself! Ol’ Bear shares that Ugly Pie with his generous neighbors–and he shares his secret recipe, too, in the back of this book.


A fun, folksy read aloud with its bouncy rhythm, lilting refrain, and Ol’ Bear’s down-home rural dialect. Meandering through the countryside with a bevy of woodland creatures following him, the rather rotund protagonist passes up homemade pumpkin, rhubarb and honey pies and mixes up some ugly-lookin’ ingredients to make his own deeeelicious pie. The wee critters helping Ol’ Bear mix and roll dough are too adorable (tiny squirrel paws patting pie dough!) A givin’ love fest, right friendly.

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4. Thelonius Monster’s Sky-High Fly Pie by Judy Sierra and Edward Koren (Alfred A. Knopf, 2006).

Judy Sierra’s funny read-aloud romp presents a monster that children will love as he makes a goo-filled crust, lures hundreds and thousands of succulent flies into it, and invites his “disgusting-ist” friends and relations to a gala fly-pie party. “How it glistens! And listen—it hums!” shout the ravenous monsters. But just as his guests are about to dig in—the pie flies off. “Bye, bye, fly pie.”


This “revolting rhyme” oozes kid appeal from every crack in its crust and is disgustingly delicious in every way. Just thinking about “a crust of astonishing SIZE” dripping with molasses and sugar and honey and glue makes my compound eyes twitchity twitch with excitement. Never has “hundreds and thousands of succulent flies” stuck to goo playing orchestral instruments appeared so grossly appetizing. Can you smell the sewer and manure? A pie made of flies that flies? Too brilliant. And Koren’s hairy monsters wielding giant forks are absolutely charming. Do I even have to mention how much I love the changing font sizes which effectively ramp up the fun and drama to the story’s triumphant conclusion? 🙂

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5. Sweet Dream Pie by Audrey Wood and Mark Teague (Scholastic, 1998).

woodImagine a pie made of chocolate, gumdrops, licorice — and every sweet ingredient you love. Bestselling author Audrey Wood teams up with popular illustrator Mark Teague to concoct a tale about a pie so irresistible it can’t be forgotten — and the sweet dreams that result. Here is an entertaining story for bedtime or anytime — that children and adults will share again and again. Pa Brindle helps Ma bake her irresistible sweet dream pie, and the whole neighborhood is affected.


This tall tale of a pie story has all the fixins of a dream come true — having your neighbor bake a giant pie filled with every confection you’ve ever loved and then being able to gorge yourself on as many pieces as you like. You don’t even mind how pie preparation affects everyone in the neighborhood — a chocolate tornado and clouds of powdered sugar whirling down the street, the sweltering heat wave triggered by the oven. But instead of sweet dreams, your dreams are so wild they have to be swept away by Ma Brindle. There’s wonder and suspense in the baking, but the journey from sated to deflated ultimately makes for a strange story. To the ending I say, Huh?

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6. Pecan Pie Baby by Jacqueline Woodson and Sophie Blackall (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010).

All anyone wants to talk about with Mama is the new “ding-dang baby” that’s on the way, and Gia is getting sick of it! If her new sibling is already such a big deal, what’s going to happen to Gia’s nice, cozy life with Mama once the baby is born?

pecanYou just wanna scoop this tender heartwarming story right up in your arms and hug hug it. Hello, this is Jacqueline Woodson, who is brilliant at capturing the little girl’s worry, concerns and jealousy  about the new baby on the way, as well as her mother’s reassuring presence, patience, and unwavering love. Having the girl refer to her new sibling as the “ding-dang baby” gives her character an immediate, believable voice. Her emphatic use of this moniker encapsulizes her frustration, jealousy and underlying fear of change.


Of course I love Woodson’s use of pecan pie — a shared delight between mother and child to cement their special bond, and eventually this sweet comfort food, as it is shared among the “three” of them, helps smooth the transition. Sophie Blackall’s beautifully warm and expressive illustrations perfectly complement this masterfully executed story.

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7. James Bear’s Pie by Jim Latimer and Betsy Franco-Feeny (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1992).

Tired of eating grass and alfalfa, James Bear–with the help of his friends Skunk and Aloysius Crow–bakes a pie so big that he almost gets lost inside it.

jamesComic exaggeration seems to be a favorite device in tasty pie stories, and though this oldie but goodie is long by today’s picture book standards (especially for the littlest munchkins), it’s worth a look. I like the earnest friendship established between James Bear and Skunk early on, the gentle bumbling nature of JB, and the fact that a creature much smaller than he is (Crow) ultimately rescues him. There is a refreshing innocence about these animals — it is with good intentions that Crow suggests James make a “bread-crust pie” since he doesn’t have a pie cookbook on hand.

Bear using thirty-six cakes of yeast instead of six cakes accounts for the uncontrolled expanding of the dough, which engulfs him after he’s gorged himself on at least 11 pieces of pie. Kids will love the giant ever growing pie and imagining what it would be like to be trapped inside among piles of soybeans and raisins. We can all relate to being tired of the same-old, same-old, and it’s reassuring to know that our friends will help us out should we venture a change. I like Franco-Feeny’s charming illustrations, which remind me of Jan Brett without the decorative borders. A cozy read aloud perfect for a Fall day.

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8. Tiny Pie by Mark Bailey, Michael Oatman and Edward Hemingway (Running Press Kids, 2013).

tinyLittle Ellie the elephant is the only kid at a grown-up party. No one is paying any attention to poor Ellie, and she can’t reach the food! Why must everything be for big people? Then to Ellie’s surprise, she discovers a little chef mouse inside a hole in the wall, and he’s filming a cooking show! Ellie can see that his sharp senses are key ingredients for a successful tiny pie. Will this be the perfect snack that’s just her size? As an added treat, Alice Waters has contributed a delicious tiny apple pie recipe perfect for little hands (and big appetites)!

An endlessly charming, too adorable for words tale that speaks to a child’s craving for empowerment: ” . . . if you’re big enough to eat dessert, then you can make it too.”

Just as the giant monster pies in the other stories proved irresistible, the tiny pies in this story, prepared by a wise mouse chef for his enthusiastic whiskered audience-turned-party guests are a most delicious way to show kids that “Whether you are big, small, short, or tall, you will always find the perfect dish.”


I love elephants to begin with and seeing the nattily dressed mice partying in the kitchen with their tiny pies was a big win-win for me. Hemingway’s retro backdrop adds loads of visual appeal, while Bailey and Oatman’s endearing narrative with its question-answer format and appeal to the five senses is a heart stealer. Alice Waters’s Tiny Pie Recipe in the back is for turnovers rather than double crust pies as shown in the story, and seems too complicated for young bakers to attempt without lots of grown-up help. Still, the fact that the mouse party seemed like a lot more fun than the adult party should satisfy and delight tiny pie lovers everywhere. Bonus: fabuloso party illustration hidden beneath the dust jacket. Part of the proceeds from the sale of this book goes to the Edible Schoolyard Project. 🙂

All for pie and pie for all!

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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.