we have a winner!

Hello, Bonjour, Hello!

Maira Maira Maira!

Sorry for the slight delay in announcing the winner of our giveaway for a signed copy of Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything. But we had good reason.

When last we called upon the erudite, ever-reliable mathematical genius Monsieur Random Integer Generator, he was feasting on veal piccata in Milan. As you can imagine, it is not easy tracking down this raconteur connoisseur globe-trotting flaneur restaurateur. Wherever he goes, people want him to pick his nose numbers and winners.

He’s always in demand. Yes, he’s that good.

And for you, dear readers, we would never settle for anything less.

So we sent him a special telegram requesting his services.

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♥ spreading a little maira love ♥

Remember back in February when I reviewed Maira Kalman’s latest picture book, Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything?

Just around then, Maira was scheduled to appear at Monticello and at Politics and Prose in Washington, D.C., and I was all set to travel three hours to Charlottesville just to see her. I’ve adored her work since the early 90’s, and it’s safe to say she’s one of my top three favorite picture book creators ever. Whether she’s chronicling the life of a President or contemplating cake, she speaks to our common humanity like no one else.

But. Her events were cancelled due to inclement weather (bad polar vortex, bad). And then when I had to rush off to Hawai’i at the end of March, I assumed if she was rescheduled I would probably miss her. Oh well.

But then.

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maira kalman’s thomas jefferson: life, liberty and the pursuit of everything (and oh yes, apple pudding)

Happy President’s Day!

Can’t think of a better way to celebrate the holiday than by singing the praises of Maira Kalman’s brand new picture book biography about Thomas Jefferson.

I pretty much adore everything Maira does, and I’ve been fascinated by our red-haired, violin-playing, wine-guzzling, pea-loving, Renaissance Man foodie President ever since I first visited Monticello years ago.

In Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything (Paulsen/Penguin, 2014), Ms. Kalman has accomplished the seemingly impossible, capturing the genius, complexity, contributions, contradictions, and affecting humanness of our third President in just 40 glorious pages.

Her disarming conversational narrative, peppered with just the kind of offbeat detail kids love, is fueled by a contaigious enthusiasm for her subject. She begins:

Thomas Jefferson had red hair and some freckles (about 20 I think), he grew to be very tall and oh yes, he was the third President of the United States . . .

What was he interested in?


I mean it.


She mentions Jefferson’s love of books, music, flora and fauna, and that he could speak seven languages. She spotlights the ingenious design of his beloved Monticello,”a Museum of his Mind” with its famed vegetable garden, citing Jefferson’s advocacy of a mostly vegetarian diet. Though he lived a good life, “full of work and love,” it was tinged with sadness: his wife Martha died young and four of their six children didn’t live to adulthood.

She details Jefferson’s role as a Founding Father and author of the Declaration of Independence, brilliantly humanizing other illustrious figures like Franklin, Adams and Washington via singular details: Ben’s crazy great hat, John’s fiery temper, George’s false teeth. Then it’s all about Jefferson’s presidency (Louisiana Purchase, Lewis & Clark Expedition), before sensitively introducing the topic of slavery.

The man who said of slavery
was the owner of about 150 slaves.


She tells it straight and true, and does not shy away from mentioning that Jefferson likely had children with Sally Hemings, and what a sad thing it was when people felt the need to hide their background by passing for white. Her despair over these painful issues and puzzlement over Jefferson’s hypocrisy are deftly conveyed in a way that respects young readers and will likely win their trust.

I love how Maira’s hand-lettering alternates with the standard font to highlight asides, personal thoughts and select facts. These words just brim with personality, keeping things from sounding too textbook-y, ultimately strengthening the intimate bond between author and reader.

Illuminated and expanded by vibrant and whimsical gouache paintings rendered in striking jewel-tones, Kalman’s account of Jefferson as President, scholar, statesman, architect, scientist, botanist, connoisseur, author, inventor, and plantation owner is recommended for readers of all ages who appreciate spirited storytelling and creative nonfiction infused with wit, wisdom, and the excitement of discovery.

Who better to tell about the man who was interested in “everything” than a writer and artist who herself is endlessly curious and so brilliant at curating the idiosyncratic ‘everythings’ she encounters in her own life?


If you want to understand this country and its people and what it means to be OPTIMISTIC and COMPLEX and Tragic and Wrong and Courageous, You Need to go to Monticello.

Walk around the house and the gardens.
The linden trees might be in bloom, filling the air with their delicious perfume.
Maybe you will lie down under a tree
and fall asleep thinking about
LIFE, Liberty and the Pursuit of EVERYTHING.

Five Big Soup Spoons for this one!

*   *   *

♥ Call Me Ms. Pudding ♥

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tasting first peas to the table by susan grigsby and nicole tadgell


Peas, please!

Surely they’re the most social of all vegetables — you rarely see or eat just one and they’re happiest out of their shells — canoodling in congenial groups, basking in their perfect orbed greenness, even more resplendent adorned with a buttery sheen.

Thomas Jefferson was certainly onto them. The English or Garden Pea is considered his favorite vegetable, judging by the sheer quantity of pea plantings and number of harvests at Monticello, as well as the amount of garden space regularly allotted to it.

(Click for Mary Randolph’s Fresh Peas with Mint recipe)

Every Spring, Jefferson and his neighbors had a “First Peas to the Table” contest, a race to see whose peas would be ready first. The winner would host a dinner party, proudly serving his peas to the other contestants. Apparently, Jefferson rarely won, but like his eager friends, fully appreciated the greater prize — honoring a beloved tradition where all could celebrate the joys of gardening and the power of the pea to bring people together.

Since I’ve always been interested in Jefferson’s gardening and gourmandizing, I was happy to see First Peas to the Table by Susan Grigsby and Nicole Tadgell (Albert Whitman, 2012), a lovely story where school children plant a kitchen garden like Jefferson’s and have a pea growing contest of their own.


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friday feast: the president’s stuck in the bathtub by susan katz and robert neubecker


Recently I’ve become quite the Presidential buff.

As much as I would love to impress you with an exhaustive list of critically acclaimed history books I’ve memorized while polishing the White House silver, I may as well confess my newfound obsession is all about discovering the “penchants and peccadilloes of the presidents.”

Feed me odd, quirky, funny, charming or cringe-worthy “factini” for breakfast and I’m a happy camper. (The term,”factini,” was cleverly coined by Mary Lee after posting her review at A Year of Reading.)

My appetite for fascinating factini knows no bounds. I grew up thinking our Presidents were boring white men in breeches who never smiled. Now, thanks to Susan Katz’s brand new poetry collection, I’ve discovered the naked truth: one of them (John Quincy Adams) didn’t wear breeches (or anything else) while swimming in the Potomac, several of them gave such long or confusing blabby speeches they probably didn’t have time to smile (Clinton, Harrison, Harding), and it couldn’t possibly have been the least bit boring to get stuck in a bathtub (Taft).

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