You’ve Got Great Taste!

As Thanksgiving nears and the weather turns colder, we want to highlight what brings us togetherwhat better combination than food and books? Please enjoy this delectable selection of food-inspired reads, many of which include recipes to share!

amy-wu-and-the-perfect-bao-e1574279420905.jpg

Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao
Written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua
Published by Aladdin
Available now
Ages 4-8
Amy Wu loves bao, a filled dumpling with fluffy dough. But for Amy, even though her entire family makes excellent bao—she cannot. The picture book is an energetic run-through of a family coming together and preparing a treasured food. Charlene Chua’s images leap off the page—so much energy! Kat Zhang writes of a kiddo with an affinity for food and a resilient spirit. Zhang also includes pronunciation help for those unfamiliar with how to pronounce the word “bao” plus a recipe for them. Very delicious.

bilal-cooks-daal.jpgBilal Cooks Daal
Written by Aisha Saeed and illustrated by Anoosha Syed
Published by Salaam Reads/Simon & Schuster
Available now
Ages 4-8
This is a charming picture book introducing the South Asian dish daal to Bilal’s friends—and perhaps the reader. Illustrator Anoosha Syed depicts the children’s wide-eyed facial expressions—and her depiction of the pantry is excellent, featuring the traditional names for the types of lentils used in the daal. A very sweet and familiar portion of the picture book comes when Bilal’s two friends, speaking to themselves, confide to each other that daal looks and smells funny—it’s not familiar to them! Bilal overhears and worries. Aisha Saeed’s choice to include this moment is important and telling and helpful for any youngster to hear that those feelings are normal. In the end, though, the daal is delicious. Author Aisha Saeed included a contextual note about daal in South Asian, specifically Pakistani, cuisine—and includes a recipe for Chana Daal.

CookingWithBear.jpgCooking with Bear: A Story and Recipes from the Forest
Written by Deborah Hodge and illustrated by Lisa Cinar
Published by Groundwood Books/ House of Anansi Press
Available now
Ages 4-7
Cooking with Bear is a combination picture book and cookbook populated with Lisa Cinar’s water-color illustrations. The pictures are accessible and curious, much like Bear’s woodland friends who want nothing more than to learn how to cook as Bear does. Deborah Hodge’s cookbook implicitly encourages eating whole, natural foods that are available seasonally. The recipes – a few include nuts and dairy – are nourishing and are a lovely opportunity for child-and-adult cooking. Many recipes call for food processors, chopping or dicing with knives, as well as simmering and sautéing on a stovetop. This cooperative cookbook is a lovely way to introduce children to eating seasonally.

FryBread.jpgFry Bread: A Native American Family Story
Written by Kevin Noble Maillard and Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal
Published by Roaring Book Press
Available now
Ages 3-6

Fry bread is community, history, and love. The work by Kevin Noble Maillard, with warm illustrations by Juana Martinez-Neal, tackles the history of indigenous people in what is now the United States. Fry bread is distilled to its emotional essence—art, time, place. The story invites the reader to learn about the history, both through its lyrical telling and through the author’s note at the book’s end; the note contains often-ignored, vital information about the history of Native Americans. Finally, Fry Bread concludes with an eponymous recipe that readers will be eager to try.

GrandpaCacao.jpgGrandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family
Written and illustrated by Elizabeth Zunon
Published by Bloomsbury
Available now
Ages 3-6
On a little girl’s birthday, a father and daughter bake a cake together, and he tells her the story of Grandpa Cacao, a farmer on the Ivory Coast. Zunon juxtaposes past with present, connecting the child to Grandpa Cacao despite their geographic distances.  After the cake is baked, there is a surprise at the door that truly connects the two. Zunon describes the difficult, community work of harvesting cacao, and her note on the current cacao trade is a thoughtful inclusion.  Also included is a Chocolate Celebration Cake Recipe.

WhatYouEat.jpegWhat You Eat: Pictures and Answers for the Curious Mind
Written and illustrated by Valorie Fisher
Published by Orchard Books/Scholastic
Available now
Ages 4-7
Creative photography with a mathematical twist details the complexity of what’s in everyday foods (vanilla ice cream, dill pickle, honey, apple, corn, peanut butter and jelly, pizza). Accessible language and photography diagram how basic food comes to fruition. The conclusion of the book uses MyPlate language and features a breakdown of the vitamins and minerals present in many foods. The back of the book also features a “words to know” vocabulary section. This nonfiction picture book is a nice investigation into how we get the foods we know so well.

LittleLunch.jpegLittle Lunch: Triple Treats
Written by Danny Katz and illustrated by Mitch Vane
Published by Candlewick
Available now
Ages 6-9
The latest from the Little Lunch series is a trio of snack-sized tales with jaunty illustrations. Oversized emotions and situation comedy rule these vignettes set during a typical elementary school day. Little Lunch: Triple Treats is an excellent entry into early chapter books, with simple storylines but plenty of action to keep momentum going. The book series is also the inspiration for a mockumentary-style television program now on Netflix.

PieintheSky.hpeg.jpgPie in the Sky
Written by Remy Lai
Published by Henry Holt
Available now
Ages 8-11
Jingwen is 12-year-old stuck in grief following his father’s death and a move to Australia, far away from his grandparents’ bakery. Isolated and lonely in a classroom where he doesn’t speak the language, Jingwen turns his attention to baking cakes, something he and his father did together. Now Jingwen does this alone—or almost alone, he includes his little brother while his mother works nights (it’s their secret). But Jingwen’s confectionery-focused mind ignores two big facts: 1) he’s not allowed to use the oven or stove unsupervised and 2) he has no money for fancy ingredients. What ensues is a bittersweet tale of a kid who’s hungry for something to assuage his sadness—and doesn’t always go in the best way to get it.

HungryHearts.jpgHungry Hearts: 13 Tales of Food & Love
Edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung Richmond
Published by Simon Pulse
Available now
Ages 12+
These thirteen interconnected stories tell about what happens on Hungry Heart Row, a street chock full of the best restaurants you can imagine. Familiar themes with some occasional supernatural elements populate this tremendous collection. The stories feature a mix of rom-com (a teenage love columnist decides to take her own advice in “The Grand Ishq Adventure” by Sandhya Menon), family and community lore (Charlie’s and his grandmother’s ghost-seeing burden in “The Slender One” by Caroline Tung Richmond), and true terror (Rebecca Roanhorse’s eerie tale “The Missing Ingredient” about a mother, daughter, and a middling restaurant). Whatever you do, don’t read this #OwnVoices anthology hungry—your mouth will soon be watering.

 

Small & Mighty: A Review of Front Desk by Kelly Yang

front deskFront Desk by Kelly Yang
Scholastic/Arthur A. Levine Books
May, 2018

Mia and her parents, recent immigrants from China, are managing a California motel in the early 1990s. It’s a family affair, as ten-year-old Mia finds herself responsible for checking in motel guests while her parents tend to the rooms and motel maintenance – though it sometimes feels like it’s Mia against the world. After a rough start including washing machine mishaps, bad grades, and arguments with her mother (who wants Mia to stick to math, something she considers Mia to be a “native” in), Mia hits her stride when she realizes the power of using her ever-improving English to help others, especially the motel guests she considers family.

Adventurous subplots and dynamic secondary characters add to the appeal of this compelling middle grade novel. Mia believes in herself and wants what is best for her friends and family, and though her quick thinking sometimes gets her in trouble, at the end of the day she is a force for good in her community. This book is fun, yet thoughtful, and shows that there’s no age requirement for taking action against injustice.

Commonalities, Not Competition: Newbery 2014

It gets to be this time of the year in the children’s publishing world and my anxiety starts to bubble to the surface of my being. Blogs are buzzing with reviews of novels, analysis of illustrations, and comparison of genres. Librarians ask each other, “What are your favorites this year?” Patrons ask, “So who do you think is going to win?” And while I love love love the ALSC awards, I want to take a step back and reflect upon what a few of these buzzing books have in common, rather than the spirit of competition that my air bubble is currently filled with. This perfectly fits with The Butler Center’s mission to encourage imagination and wonder through literature.

I generated the following list of books randomly from several sources. This is simply for observation’s sake, so if a book isn’t included, there is no intention or reason behind it (and I have had a chance to READ THESE!) Let’s check out some of the books:

  • Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan
  • One Came Home by Amy Timberlake
  • The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata
  • Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
  • The Center of Everything by Linda Urban
  •  A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff
  • Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

Okay, so let’s the get obvious ones out of the way– most of these authors are women and they are all fiction choices. But this says more about me as a reader than about the Newbery contenders this year.

But let’s look at what’s underneath. When I take a close look, this is what I see:

1) They all ask important questions. Why are we here? How do I discover my own voice? What is the best way to make decisions? Where do I fit in? Can I change my own destiny, or is it just up to luck? Whether it is Georgie who is trying to navigate her own world amidst feelings of loss and coming-of-age discoveries or Flora going on adventures with a magic squirrel, these characters search, seek, and only sometimes find the answer. In other words, they make us think.

2) They are filled with important relationships. I think we know that humans instinctually want to connect with others, but each of these books explores friendship and family relationships with distinguished and dynamic depth. Cady searches for her long-lost parent. Willow loses everything she has and then finds family in a patchwork quilt of interesting human beings. The ghost of Jacob Grimm protects young Jacob Johnson Johnson, forming a kind of intimate bond between male characters. This level of authenticity is, in my opinion, rare in middle grade/YA novels.

3) They leave us with more questions, rather than answers. These books don’t tell us the way to live. There is no black and white, right or wrong. They explore questions along the way, but they leave the answers up to the reader. And isn’t that what great books are all about? Some of the best books I’ve read, I’ve finished the last page and thought, “Hmmm,” or “….huh….?” But then I think. I talk to other readers. I wait for it to sink in. And all of these books have sunk in because they don’t “fix” or “solve” anything. They explore, ignite, and wonder.

What Newbery buzz books are you excited about this year? What do they have in common with each other? How do the books inform each other when you compare them in the aggregate rather than in direct competition with each other?

A Tangle of Knots, by Lisa Graff

9780399255175

I pick up a book for a number of reasons—good reviews, a fabulous cover, or because a friend or colleague gives a recommendation. Rarely does a book’s title encourage me to dive in. Even though A Tangle of Knots has all of the aforementioned things, its title is what really struck me.

Tangles and knots both suggest tension, complexity, and stress. I don’t know about anyone else out there, but the world has seemed to be a tangle of knots lately. I’m not sure when the tangle of knots began for me—maybe 9/11 was the first time I truly  comprehended catastrophe. Since then, and very recently, it feels like they just keep coming– the shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Newtown, Connecticut. The Boston Marathon bombings. The tornado. The daily violence here in Chicago.

That’s just the United States. If I start thinking about the terrorism in Mogadishu or the violence in Syria, the knots get thicker and the tangles more snarly.

So what does this difficult stuff have to do with a middle grade novel? Well, I picked up this book in the middle of one of those really tangly, knotty weeks. I had read first-person accounts from the families affected by the Newtown, CT shootings at my doctor’s appointment. The Boston Marathon bombings happened. Then the tornado came. Yet, as I read Graff’s novel, a number of things changed for me. First of all, I let myself sink into the world of the novel and was distracted from my sensitivity for little while. Graff’s eloquent, imaginative story weaving and her sophisticated, third-person writer’s voice made it impossible not to be encapsulated by the book. Secondly, I laughed, probably for the first time that week. Lastly, the book was a window and a mirror.  I thought about the book’s tangle of knots, my own tangle of knots, and the world’s tangle of knots, and I accepted them all.

This acceptance probably has to do with the fact that the book is all about cake, and there is no way I can be in a bad mood when I am reading about cake. The protagonist, Cady, is an orphan searching for her place in the world. She has her own special Talent—she can meet someone and instantly know his or her favorite cake. I love Cady. The novel is rich with a puzzle of characters, but what I love about Cady is that she has lost almost everything, and she is not bitter. By the end of the book, I realized that Cady’s magic had nothing to do with her cake making—it is all about her heart. Add in a whimsical family, an old woman who has lost her ability to speak, a boy who has a Talent for spitting, a thief, several real cake recipes, and some blue suitcases–we’ve got a winner.

As I turned the last page, I stopped thinking about the horrific parts of past tragedies and turned toward the small miracles. The police workers on 9/11. The Boston marathoners who crossed the finish line and ran to the local hospitals to give blood. The interview with the woman who had lost her dog in the rubble of Oklahoma’s tornado (see attached video). I know people talk about the small stuff, but it truly is everywhere. And it’s written all over Graff’s novel. A ferret. Peanut butter cake.  A missing dinosaur bone.

And then I thought: tangles and knots. Yes, both suggest tension. But put in a different light, they suggest stability, support, strength. We tie knots when we want something to stay together. When my hair tangles, it comes together in clumps, and each individual hair is indistinguishable. Maybe sometimes we need to be individuals, to be untangled and free. But other times, especially hard times, we need to tie knots with each other, and learn to lean on each other for support and strength. Cady does.

Graff writes, “Cady was one of the biggest-hearted people Marigold had ever met—she tried harder than anybody else to make others happy…If Marigold had learned anything that week, it was that trying hard and being a good person didn’t always mean that good things would happen to you.”

We all know that bad things happen. But that fact doesn’t make Cady lose her sensitive heart or her willingness to stay positive, so it won’t make me lose mine, either.

I think my favorite cake would be a chocolate one; almost brownie-like, with a really rich, dense texture and chocolate frosting, warmed up with ice cream on the side.

What’s your favorite?

Jeb

JebI adopted a dog over spring break. Jeb is an indeterminate hound, sweet, affable, and a little bit goofy. He arrived in Chicago from an informal pipeline that extends down to Oklahoma, rescuing dogs from uncertain futures. We don’t know much about Jeb. He had no people to turn him in. He has no real history. It seems as though he has lived his life on the streets; things like the indoors are something of a mystery to him. Doors are a curiosity, regular meals are a revelation, and he had no idea what to make of stairs. He didn’t know if or when I was coming back. All of these things he had to figure out on his own. I couldn’t tell him. It was all left to trust, to consistency, to promise.

And he is starting to understand.

I mention this because it reminds me of our first experiences with books and with libraries, especially when we are children. It is nice to hear pretty words about access and service and commitment. It is nice to be told that the books and stories belong to us. But whatever you tell me about who you are and who I am to you, I will know the truth of these things through my experiences. If children are to trust that we will not judge their reading choices, we must celebrate those choices. If teens are to believe that their ideas have a place in our business, we must integrate those ideas. All library users will know the library through their contact with it, but young people, above all, will take those understandings to heart.

Just like Jeb.