3.30.2015

A Fine Dessert by Emily Jenkins


This book is already getting a lot of love, but I have to share how much I adore it as well. First of all, you should know that I am quite the fan of the illustrator, Sophie Blackall. Second, I love food (eating and, to a lesser extent, cooking) and I'm interested in food history. So, when I read on Blackall's blog back in late-2013 that she was working on a new book about a dessert, I was immediately intrigued.

Fast forward almost a year-and-a-half, and that book has arrived in the form of Emily Jenkins's lovely A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat. As the title suggests, the book follows one dessert (blackberry fool) across time and place:
  • Lyme, England (1710): white family, mostly likely upper middle class
  • Charleston, South Carolina (1810): slave family serving a white family
  • Boston, Massachusetts (1910): middle class
  • San Diego, California (today): middle class, literally, a "Modern Family"
Despite its simplicity, it's a historical and sociological look at class, race, commerce, and technology. On the surface, it's a story of how people have been making blackberry fool since the 1700s. But, combined with the illustrations, it tells a more subtle story about the evolution of culinary tools (whisks made from twigs morph into electric hand mixers after three hundred years), social hierarchy (African-American slave families serving white families to middle class families with some disposable income), and family dynamics ("traditional" -- for lack of a better phrase -- families with two parents to a multiethnic family headed by a single dad <-- if I misinterpreted the last vignette with the father and son, please let me know).

Jenkins does not spend time specifically addressing these social and economic issues in her text, but there is wonderful back matter. Each question I had as I was reading the book (slavery and racial themes, feminism in regards to domestic work) was addressed in her author's note. It's a gentle way to bring up these topics with young readers of all ages. I think this is a great book for parents to be involved in from start to finish on so many levels.

Jenkins clearly put thought into the structure of her book. Her intention is to tell two stories, essentially: most obviously about dessert, but also the universality of the bond between parent and child and how food can strengthen that bond.

The book is all the more enhanced by Blackall's soft illustrations. The details (blackberry thorns snagging at aprons, fingers stained purple from berry juice) and the historical accuracy depicting time and place aren't in-your-face but blend naturally and beautifully into the story. Blackall also provides illustrator's notes at the end of the book, which are a must-read.

Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite picture books of 2015 and it's probably in the Top 10 or 20 of my absolute favorites of all time. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it gets some awards love in the coming year (it already has starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist, School Library Journal, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books).

In the spirit of the book, my daughter and I made the dessert together from the recipe in the book, and we shared it with our immediate family.

The recipe:
  • 2-1/2 cups fresh blackberries (or other berries work too, as well as frozen)
  • 1/2 cup sugar, divided in two
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1-1/2 cups heavy cream
1. Mash the berries with a potato masher or fork (or a food processor). With clean hands, press the crushed berries through a sieve to remove the seeds. Sprinkle the berries with 1/4 cup of the sugar and stir.

 [Just like in the book, parent and child made this batch of blackberry fool.]


[Pressing the berries through a sieve was the hardest part.]


[In the end, it was easier to use a spatula to press the berries and scrape the puree off of the underside of the sieve. I helped with this part because it took 5+ minutes of scraping and spreading the berries across the mesh.]
2. In a separate bowl, mix together the rest of the sugar, vanilla extract, and cream. Using a whisk or hand blender, whip the mixture until you have soft peaks (but not stiff).


3. Fold the berries into the whipped cream. Add more sugar if it's not sweet enough. There should be streaks of white and whatever color your berries are.


4. Refrigerate for three hours before serving.
5. And don't forget to lick the bowl!



If I had to be absolutely nit-picky, the one qualm I have is at the end, when the modern family in San Diego is enjoying the dessert outside. One of the kids is chasing a firefly and, if I'm not mistaken, fireflies are very rare west of Kansas (and those that do make Southern California its habitat aren't luminescent as adults). But that's hardly enough distraction to take away from the book.

Fun Facts:

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat
by Emily Jenkins
illustrated by Sophie Blackall
published by Schwartz & Wade Books, an imprint of Random House Children's Books
© 2015

The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge

For the last few years I've taken part in the Goodreads annual Reading Challenge. There have been some arguments for and against reading challenges, but I find it beneficial to participate. I've met (and exceeded) my goals, but I've also fallen short of my goal. In the end, though, having a challenge goal keeps me motivated, encourages me when I've fallen behind, and gives me an additional sense of satisfaction when I keep on reading. My goal for the coming year will be the same as this year's, to read a book a day (as you may have noticed, I read a lot of picture books and graphic novels, which makes this goal "easier").

Not increasing my goal this year, in some sense, defeats the purpose of a challenge. According to dictionary.com, a challenge is a "difficulty in a job or undertaking that is stimulating to one engaged in it." Reading as I always do is not a difficulty, nor is it stimulating. I recently saw a challenge on Book Riot that could help me with this: the 2015 Read Harder Challenge. My main reading interests are children's literature, fantasy, and graphic novels. I occasionally dabble in "grown up" nonfiction and mystery. It's easy to fall into a reading rut and I think it would be challenging to read outside of my comfort zone.

There are 24 tasks for this challenge, and as much as I would like to fulfill each task with a separate book, there may be some tasks that will be checked off with the same book:
  • A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25: Halfway Home: Drawing My Way Through Japan by Christine Mari Inzer, published by Naruhodo Press
  • A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65
  • A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people): Lost in the City by Edward P. Jones (January); Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant (March)
  • A book published by an indie press
  • A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ: Wandering Son by Shimura Takako, translated by Matt Thorn
  • A book by a person whose gender is different from your own
  • A book that takes place in Asia
  • A book by an author from Africa
  • A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.): The Blind Boy and the Loon by Alethea Arnaquq-Baril
  • A microhistory: The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin (February)
  • A YA novel
  • A sci-fi novel
  • A romance novel: Wolf Bride by Elizabeth Moss (March)
  • A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade
  • A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.)
  • An audiobook
  • A collection of poetry
  • A book that someone else has recommended to you
  • A book that was originally published in another language: Mikis and the Donkey by Bibi Dumon Tak (January); The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami, translated by Ted Goossen (February)
  • A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind: Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince
  • A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)
  • A book published before 1850
  • A book published this year
  • A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”): The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō, translated by Cathy Hirano
As you can see, I got off to a head start and finished a few of these tasks over the weekend. I'll endeavor to keep updating this post as I fulfill a task. Book Riot began a Goodreads page for the challenge, which links to the original post, lists the tasks and reading suggestions for the tasks, and allows for participants to share what they're reading. They encourage people to use the hashtag #ReadHarder on social media.

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA


My reading skewed older this week, but perhaps it was because I needed a dose of something different: Monstrous Affections reminded me yet again that I should be reading more short stories; I'm continuing to enjoy the storyline in Wandering Son as friendships change and romantic feelings are revealed; the diversity of the main characters in Under a Painted Sky is refreshing; and I'm going full steam ahead on Vango. Pretty good stuff this week!

[To rehash the concept :: post what you read last week, what you're reading now, and what you plan to read this week. If you have a review of the book(s), great! If you have a picture of the book(s), wonderful! If you have a book giveaway, fantastic! If you just list the title(s) of the book(s), not a problem! Make it as simple or as complex as you need it to be. At least, that's the message I got. This version of the meme is hosted by Jen and Kellee of Teach Mentor Text, which, in turn, was inspired by Sheila over at Book Journey, who hosts the original It's Monday! What Are You Reading?]

WHAT I READ LAST WEEK:



Manifest Destiny, Volume 2: Amphibia & Insecta written by Chris Dingess, illustrated by Matthew Roberts, colored by Owen Gieni

Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

Olympians #4, Hades: Lord of the Dead by George O'Connor

 
Wandering Son: Volume Six and Seven by Shimura Takako (志村 貴子), translated by Matt Thorn

You Can't Have Too Many Friends by Mordicai Gerstein

WHAT I'M READING NOW:


Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee

Vango: Between Sky and Earth by Timothée de Fombelle

WHAT'S ON HOLD RIGHT NOW:


Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks (aka Heather Rose and Danielle Wood)

3.23.2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA



[To rehash the concept :: post what you read last week, what you're reading now, and what you plan to read this week. If you have a review of the book(s), great! If you have a picture of the book(s), wonderful! If you have a book giveaway, fantastic! If you just list the title(s) of the book(s), not a problem! Make it as simple or as complex as you need it to be. At least, that's the message I got. This version of the meme is hosted by Jen and Kellee of Teach Mentor Text, which, in turn, was inspired by Sheila over at Book Journey, who hosts the original It's Monday! What Are You Reading?]

WHAT I READ LAST WEEK:



The Boy & the Book by David Michael Slater, illustrated by Bob Kolar 

The Bus Ride by Marianne Dubuc

Emmanuel's Dream: The True Story of Emmanuel Ofosu Yeboah by Laurie Ann Thompson, illustrated by Sean Qualls

Fin M'Coul retold and illustrated by Tomie dePaola

The First Drawing by Mordicai Gerstein

If You Plant a Seed by Kadir Nelson

I'm Not Reading! by Jonathan Allen

It's Only Stanley by Jon Agee

The New Small Person by Lauren Child

Octopus Alone by Divya Srinivasan

Ol' Mama Squirrel by David Ezra Stein

The Rainbow and You by E. C. Krupp, illustrated by Robin Rector Krupp

Red: A Crayon's Story by Michael Hall

Robot Kitties by Jim Benton

Special Delivery by Philip C. Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell

Tea Rex by Molly Idle


That's What Leprechauns Do by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Emily Arnold McCully

Wolfie the Bunny by Ame Dyckman, illustrated by Zachariah OHora

You Nest Here With Me by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illusrtated by Melissa Sweet

WHAT I'M READING NOW:



Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

WHAT'S ON HOLD RIGHT NOW:


Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks (aka Heather Rose and Danielle Wood)

3.17.2015

Steven Weinberg @ Politics and Prose :: March 17, 2015

Steven Weinberg, author/illustrator of Rex Finds and Egg! Egg! Egg! (published February 2015).






Fun fact: Steven illustrated To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One Story, a memoir (about their life post-college) written by Casey Scieszka, his then-girlfriend, now-wife, which makes him Jon Scieszka's son-in-law! And it's a great book, by the way!

3.16.2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? From Picture Books to YA



[To rehash the concept :: post what you read last week, what you're reading now, and what you plan to read this week. If you have a review of the book(s), great! If you have a picture of the book(s), wonderful! If you have a book giveaway, fantastic! If you just list the title(s) of the book(s), not a problem! Make it as simple or as complex as you need it to be. At least, that's the message I got. This version of the meme is hosted by Jen and Kellee of Teach Mentor Text, which, in turn, was inspired by Sheila over at Book Journey, who hosts the original It's Monday! What Are You Reading?]

WHAT I READ LAST WEEK:



Catch That Cookie! by Hallie Durand, illustrated by David Small

Digging a Hole to Heaven: Coal Miner Boys by S. D. Nelson


Greenglass House by Kate Milford

 
 
Wandering Son: Volume Two, Three, Four, and Five by Shimura Takako (志村 貴子), translated by Matt Thorn

WHAT I'M READING NOW:


Monstrous Affections: An Anthology of Beastly Tales edited by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant

WHAT'S ON HOLD RIGHT NOW:


Finding Serendipity by Angelica Banks (aka Heather Rose and Danielle Wood)