How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World

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.Written and Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

Dragonfly Books, 1994

Making an apple pie is really very easy.

To make a pie, you just need to get all the ingredients at your local market, mix them, bake them and you’re done. But what if the market is closed? Well, then you’ll need to pack a suitcase and head to Europe. You can pick wheat in Italy, then head to France to pick up a chicken (since French chickens lay the best eggs). After that, it’s a quick trip to Sri Lanka for some kurundu tree bark (for cinnamon) and then to England for a dairy cow to provide the milk. On your way to Jamaica for sugar cane, get some salt from the ocean’s saltwater. Stop by Vermont to pick your apples (and don’t forget to get an extra one for the cow and chicken you’re bringing home) and rush home quickly so your ingredients don’t spoil. When the pie is baking, you can invite some friends to share it and remember that apple pie is great with vanilla ice cream, which you can buy at your local market. And if the market is closed, you can have the pie by itself.

Sri lanka

Better not disturb that leopard while getting your cinnamon.

What a fun idea for a book! Author/illustrator Marjorie Priceman gives her main character a wonderful adventure, travelling the world to collect ingredients for her pie. In the course of her travels, we wind up thinking a little more broadly about where all these things come from. The book includes a world map on the endpapers and a recipe for apple pie for those folks who find their mouths watering for some pie by the end. (Too bad it didn’t come with a plane ticket for those of us who were struck by a desire for world travel!) The artwork is bright and colorful, with lots of glimpses of all the foreign lands that our main character visits in her quest for the ingredients. The book’s ending is a perfect comedic button to end the story. I can see lots of ways this book could be used for lessons and for showing kids that the things we pick up in our local store have their own origins.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that it’s good to think about all the ingredients you use for any project and make sure they’re top quality.

How to Behave at a Dog Show

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Written by Madelyn Rosenberg, Illustrated by Heather Ross

Katherine Tegen Books, 2015

First, you fill out the form.

Before you go to the dog show, you have to get your dog (Rexie) ready, including giving him a bath (even if your little brother accidentally squirts Rexie with blue paint instead of shampoo). You have to dress like a proper handler and then, if Rexie gets into a scrap with a skunk, you’ll have to bathe him again with some tomato juice and then, when your brother adds grape juice and lemonade, figure out how to explain to the judges why your dog is purple. Groom your dog well at the show and be authoritative with your commands. Make sure your dog doesn’t steal the judge’s shoes or knock over the prize table. And if your dog is disqualified, keep your chin up and remember, you can always host your own dog show, where you can give prizes for fetching sticks and chewing shoes and let Rexie get a good night’s sleep after such a busy day.

Dog

Purple is a good color for Rexie.

Author Madelyn Rosenberg first introduced us to narrator Julia and her little brother, Charles, in How to Behave at a Tea Party. Their very funny dog show adventure here is sure to be a hit with dog lovers, since the love and pride Julia has in her dog is evident from page one. As you may have guessed from the summary above, nothing really goes right in this dog show and Rexie causes lots of problems, but Julia never gets disappointed in him, which is a nice little message to put in here. The illustrations are done in Photoshop and artist Heather Ross packs a lot of funny reactions and imagery into them. At times, it all seems really chaotic, but I think that’s kind of the point. If I had read this book as a kid, I would absolutely respond by hosting my own neighborhood dog show. What a cool idea.  (And spoiler – my childhood dog, Tippy, would have done very well.)

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that your dog doesn’t have to be a show dog to be a champion to you.

How to Catch a Mouse

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Written and Illustrated by Philippa Leathers

Candlewick Press, 2015

This is Clemmie.  Clemmie is a brave, fearsome mouse catcher.

Clemmie the cat is good at stalking, chasing and being patient. She knows all about mice, even though she has never seen one, and believes they all stay away from her because they are afraid. She is constantly on the lookout, pouncing on a ribbon that could be a pink mouse tail and a stuffed bear that has round mouse-like ears. She hears a strange noise in the kitchen and goes in to investigate, finding a weird looking creature nibbling on crackers. When she removes its disguise, she sees that it’s a mouse and it runs away before she can catch it.  But then she steals the idea of disguising herself, which becomes a new part of her plan to catch the mouse.

Unmasked

Who is that behind those Foster Grants?

This book, from author/illustrator Philippa Leathers, is sure to be a favorite with cat lovers (and probably mouse lovers, too). Clemmie is supremely confident and genuinely believes that the mice are all afraid of her. I love that she only allows herself a moment of disappointment when she finds a real mouse and learns that she is not as fierce as she believed. Instead, she immediately rebounds and uses her new knowledge against the mouse. The illustrations, in pencil and watercolor, use soft colors to make these characters instantly likeable and younger readers will enjoy finding the mouse on all the pages, gradually disguising himself so Clemmie won’t find him. It’s a simple story, but a very cute one.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that before you take on any project, it’s a good idea to learn everything you can about it (even if you think you already know it all).

How to Put Your Parents to Bed

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Written by Mylisa Larsen, Illustrated by Babette Cole

Katherine Tegen Books, 2016

I know. You are not tired.

The book’s unseen narrator commiserates with a little girl who is not at all tired and could stay up for hours, but mentions to her that her parents look exhausted and need to go to bed. So the little girl is instructed to prevent them from washing any more dishes or checking their email again. Then she helps them brush their teeth and get into pajamas, which can be tricky when they are so easily distracted by their phones or the TV. She has to keep them moving toward the bedroom because sleepy parents are liable to fall asleep anywhere (and snore). She reads them stories, keeps calm when dealing with problems, takes their phones away and tucks them in. Now, of course, she has the whole night to herself, but the narrator points out that she is also looking pretty exhausted.

Teeth

Those are some stubborn parents!

Author Mylisa Larsen turns the bedtime routine on its head in this very comical story, giving kids and parents alike the opportunity to laugh at themselves. I love that Mom and Dad are easily distracted by their phones, which should be pretty relatable to most parents and kids these days. The punch line, in which the child is exhausted simply from the act of putting her parents to bed, puts a nice button on the story for everyone and may make your child think about how difficult they cam be to put to bed, as well. Illustrator Babette Cole used dip ink and ink, watercolor dye, watercolor crayons and pastels to present this story in a cartoonish way that gives it lots of action, making it feel very real and very funny. A great read for those with kids who fight bedtime.

And what did we learn?  What I take away from this book is that it’s always fun to turn the tables and look at things from the other person’s point of view.

How to Find Gold

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Written and Illustrated by Viviane Schwarz

Candlewick Press, 2016

“Let’s find gold,” said Anna.

Anna’s best friend, Crocodile, warns her that finding gold can be difficult and dangerous, but Anna is up to the challenge. He tells her that they need a map, so she asks him to draw one (and put an X on it to mark the gold). His first map puts the gold in France, but they don’t know how to get there. He mentions there could be sunken gold and draws a picture showing gold at the bottom of the sea. They take a boat out to sea and dive into the water near a storm (which was in the picture he drew), where they find a pile of gold. Realizing they need to hide it from other people, they bury the gold and draw a new map (with an X marking the gold). Then they hide the map with the gold, just to keep it safe. It was a difficult task, but now the gold is theirs forever.

Sailing

Crocodile is a smooth sailor.

Author/illustrator Viviane Schwarz brings all the whimsy in this book that encourages imagination and exploration. Anna and Crocodile are fearless in their quest for gold and they beautifully create and overcome all the obstacles in their path. The relationship between these two is reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes and you are invested in their search from the moment that Anna is overjoyed to hear that the quest will be difficult. Their thought processes are very funny and the book’s conclusion is perfect. The artwork is done in pencil, crayon and watercolor and Ms. Schwarz tells us on the book jacket that she colored the pictures in with a hair from a wild horse and a reed pulled from the Thames. The illustrations feature monochromatic backgrounds at the beginning, which burst into full color as the pair dive into the sea in search of their treasure. I truly loved this book and hope that kids who read it will go on similar adventures of their own.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that even the most difficult tasks can be achieved with a good friend at your side.

How to Bake a Book

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Written and Illustrated by Ella Burfoot

Sourcebooks, 2014

I am going to bake a book!

The girl who narrates this book starts out by breaking some ideas into a cup and then mixing them. She chooses the right words and cuts out some interesting characters. She adds feelings, colors and pictures to add flavor and stirs it all up. After it’s left to sit for a while, she rolls it out and puts it in a pan so the characters can jump in. She fills it with action and adds some good and some bad, which makes the plot thicken. She adds punctuation and presses the ending into place, then glazes it with happiness. When it’s baked, she cuts a piece and sees that she’s baked a delicious book.

Cake

I’ll just take a very small slice, like a page or two.

As a home baker, I love author/illustrator Ella Burfoot’s concept of using baking as a metaphor for creating a story. The parallels really work here and the text is told in a bouncy and playful rhyme scheme that adds to the comic appeal of the story’s presentation. I imagine that lots of kids reading this book are immediately inspired to try writing a story of their own. Or maybe to bake cookies, but either way, that’s a good thing, right?

The mixed media illustrations offer lots of little details, including example words and other story ingredients, and they really help to clarify the different elements of storytelling. It’s a little frenetic in places, but even that fits the story. The visual representation of the final product as a book/pie hybrid shows a sky full of stars, which symbolizes the infinite possibilities inside a book.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that it takes a lot of different components to make a good story and when they are mixed just right, the results are always satisfying.

How to Heal a Broken Wing

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Written and Illustrated by Bob Graham

Candlewick Press, 2008

High above the city, no one heard the soft thud of feathers against glass.

The pigeon that hits the window falls to the ground with a broken wing and is ignored by everyone passing by until a little boy named Will finds it. Seeing that one of the bird’s wings is broken, he takes it home and his mother bandages the wing. They give the bird water and birdseed and give it a place to rest. Then they wait until time heals the break and they hope that the bird will be able to fly again. When the day comes, they take the bird out into the city and release him. The bird soars into the air and flies away.

Window

“Hey, I know those guys!”

This story, from author/illustrator Bob Graham, is a wonderful and gentle lesson on the power of compassion and how caring for someone else can make an impact on those around you. When Will shows the bird to his mother, her initial reaction seems to be alarm and you get the idea that she wants him to come away from the bird. But she becomes invested in helping the bird because she sees Will caring for it and that’s a really lovely takeaway from this story for kids and parents alike. The artwork, in pen, watercolor and chalk, sets brightly colored Will apart from the muted color crowd, emphasizing his uniqueness as the only person interested in the injured bird. There are minimal words in the story, so the pictures carry most of the plot. There’s a real sense of satisfaction when the bird flies away at the end, leading to the conclusion that we’ve now been infected by this sense of compassion as well.

And what did we learn? What I take away from this book is that some damage can be repaired. All it takes is someone kind enough to help.