Category Archives: Picture Books

Happy Easter!

This Little Bunny Can Bake

Today we celebrated Easter with the family and had a lovely day.  Even the weather cooperated!  And although the oldest grandchildren are nearly 21 years old they protested quite loudly when Grandma suggested ending the annual Easter Egg Hunt.  Since Grandma still enjoys preparing the hunt and the kids love searching, the tradition continues, but with a slight twist this year: instead of a treat, one of the eggs had a chore that needed to be done.  After a great deal of laughter, most of the kids were good sports and did their part by setting the table or helping with the dishes.  A few snuck out without following through, but Grandma knows who they are!

In honor of chocolate bunnies I thought I’d share This Little Bunny Can Bake by Janet Stein.  Little Bunny is not an Easter Bunny and he doesn’t deliver eggs, but he sure can bake!  And a lot of what he bakes involves chocolate, which is an Easter favorite.  Recipes adorn the endpapers.  Check it out if you are interested in making any of the following:

Frozen Banana Pops
Milk Chocolate Truffles
Petit Cream Cheese Tarts
Chocolate Salami
Crunchy Rice Pistachio Bricks
Crazy Coconut Lime Macaroons
Incredible Crepes


Happy reading and happy eating!


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The Winter That Wasn’t

So far this winter has really been the winter that wasn’t.  The Chicago area did not get its first one inch snowfall until this past Friday.  We went an incredible 335 days between one inch snowfalls.  And today it’s 60 degrees!

I’m not ready to say winter is over; I’ve witnessed flurries in May.  However, I won’t be sad if we don’t get any big accumulations.  I am OK with rain; I know the farmers need the precipitation, but I don’t have to shovel rain.

I would like snow better if I didn’t have to shovel it or drive in it.  If I could stay home with a book and a cup of hot cocoa and admire the glistening snowflakes through my window, I’d be fine with it.  But alas, that is not usually the case.

But in the spirit of admiring the snow through the window, I offer two cozy winter stories:

Uncle Phil’s Diner by Helena Clare Pittman tells the story of a cold, snowy Sunday morning when Ruthie and her father undertake the ten block walk to Uncle Phil’s diner.  As they walk they try to keep their mind off the cold by reminiscing about the fun they had over the summer and sing in anticipation of the yummy treats (including blueberry pancakes with blueberries they picked and preserved themselves the previous summer) that await them at the diner.  Includes the recipe for Uncle Phil’s Blueberry Pancakes.

Soup Day by Melissa Iwai tells the story of a little girl and her mother making soup from the visit to the market to buy the vegetables to sprinkling it with parsley at the table as they prepare to eat it.  Includes the recipe for Snowy Day Vegetable Soup.

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Happy New Year! 明けましておめでとうございま!

Today we celebrate the beginning of a new year and our hope for good things to come.  Japan, unlike many other Asian countries, celebrates the new year according to the Western calendar, so today my family and I headed over to the nearby Japanese market to watch mochi-tsuki and listen to taiko drumming.  We concluded our festivities with homemade sushi.

From My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe

From My Japan by Etsuko Watanabe

In honor of the new year, I offer the following stories by Ying Chang Compestine and their accompanying recipes.  Set in China the first two are original stories for the new year.  Boy Dumplings would be perfect to tell around Halloween and the last two offer the author’s imaginings on the history of chopsticks and noodles.

The Runaway Rice Cake     Baked Nián-Gão
                                                        Steamed Nián-Gão
The Runaway Wok                Festive Stir-Fried Rice
Boy Dumplings                        Boy-Free Dumplings (i.e. Potstickers)
The Story of Chopsticks     Sweet Eight Treasures Rice Pudding
The Story of Noodles           Long-Life Noodles
Happy reading and happy eating!
May 2013 bring health, happiness and prosperity.

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Picture Book Pancakes

Who doesn’t love pancakes?  In our house we love pancakes so much we sometimes eat them for dinner.  And they are easy to make, right?  Pretty much just some flour, eggs, milk and baking powder.  Yet slight variations in the ingredients make all the difference.  The following four picture books all offer slightly different pancake recipes.  The only recipe I haven’t tried yet is Weston’s as it calls for buttermilk which I don’t normally have on hand.

Fannie in the Kitchen by Deborah Hopkinson is a fictional account of how Fannie Farmer came up with her famous cookbook.

Pancakes for Breakfast by Tomie DePaola is a wordless picture book about a little old lady who wakes up with a taste for pancakes and the struggles she has to get some.

Tallulah in the Kitchen by Nancy Wolff walks the reader through Tallulah’s pancake making.  (Wolff’s recipes is actually for blueberry pancakes.  I left the blueberries out so I could better compare with the other recipes.)

Hey, Pancakes by Tamson Weston is a rhymed picture book about waking up and making pancakes with the bonus of illustrations by Stephen Gammel.  (I love his colorful style.  Look closely and you will see the car from his illustrations in The Relatives Came by Cynthia Rylant on one of the pages.)

So how did they compare?  Well, DePaola’s batter was very runny; I did not get nice round pancakes, but weirdly misshapen ones.  Not the end of the world, though.  Shape is not as important as taste.  So how did they taste?  A little salty.

Hopkinson’s Fannie Farmer pancakes were nice, round pancakes; a little on the sweet side.

Wolff’s pancakes were the most popular with my family which prefers thicker, puffier pancakes.   Her batter was definitely the thickest.

Then I got to wondering how these recipes compared to my go-to recipe from the Better Homes and Garden New Cook Book.  Below is a chart comparing all the recipes.  DePaola’s recipe contains a lot more liquid than any of the other recipes, which explains the runniness of the batter.  My go-to recipe contains no salt, which is probably why I felt the other recipes were a little salty.  And Hopkinson’s recipe had a lot more sugar than any of the others.

So what’s the final verdict?  I still need to try Weston’s buttermilk pancakes, but until then Wolff’s pancakes are in the lead and will probably even become my new go-to recipe.

Happy reading and happy eating!

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Thunder Cake

After a hot dry June, we finally got some rain yesterday in the form of a couple of thunderstorms, so in honor of the rain, I made Thunder Cake from the recipe in Patricia Polacco’s books of the same name which is a sweet story of a grandmother helping to ease her granddaughter’s fear of storms as they gather ingredients for a cake that Babushka insists must be in the oven before the storm hits.

I was intrigued by the recipe’s secret ingredient: tomato puree, but I had trouble with the recipe from the start.

Predicament#1: cake flour.  I don’t generally use it, so I had to go out and buy some.  I could have substituted regular flour mixed with corn starch, but felt I should stick with the listed ingredients—at least the first time I tried it.

Predicament #2: tomato puree.  As I had never heard of tomato puree and my usual groceries did not carry tomato puree, only tomato paste, tomato sauce and tomato catsup, I made my own puree by blanching a tomato and then blending it in my food processor.

Predicament #3: when to fold in the egg whites.  According to the recipe, the beaten egg whites are folded into the creamed mixture, and then the dry ingredients are added.  In my past baking experience, beaten egg whites are added last of all, so as to not deflate the volume created by beating them.  By adding the dry ingredients after adding the beaten egg whites, volume is lost.

I finally decided to follow the recipe as written the first time through, and then make adjustments if necessary.

I did, however, make one small change: I added sliced fresh strawberries between the layers, which I felt would only enhance the overall taste experience.  And because I was in a hurry, I took one shortcut: I used—gasp!—canned frosting.

The tomato puree gave the cake a slight reddish tint, but as far as my taste buds could tell, did not add any significant flavor dimension to the cake.  And none of my tasters could guess the secret ingredient either.  The cake was very crumbly; after just a few forkfuls, a big chunk fell off and the rest of the piece fell over.

So, all in all, what did I think?  Well, you can’t go wrong with the combination of chocolate and strawberries, but the tomato puree didn’t seem to add anything to the taste and the cake itself was pretty crumbly.  Final grade: B-.

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Jim Aylesworth’s Recipe Collection

Picture book author Jim Aylesworth has several retellings of traditional tales, all illustrated by Barbara McClintock.  The two also produced a picture book biography of Abraham Lincoln based on an old campaign song sung to the tune of “The Old Gray Mare.”

All of these books, in addition to telling wonderful stories, have a recipe on the back cover.  According to his website (, the sugar cookie recipe on the back of The Tale of the Tricky Fox is  adapted from Aylesworth’s great-grandmother’s sugar cookie recipe.

Any of these stories would make for a great activity with your children: read the story, make the recipe, eat the results.

Aunt Pitty Patty’s Piggy Aunt Pitty Patty’s Old-Fashioned Cornbread
Gingerbread Man Gingerbread Cookies
Goldilocks and the Three Bears Mama Bear’s Porridge Cookies
Our Abe Lincoln Mary Todd Lincoln’s Vanilla Almond Cake
The Mitten Hot Cocoa
The Tale of the Tricky Fox Tricky Fox’s Eat-Your-Hat Cookies (sugar cookies)

Happy reading and happy eating!

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A Good Day for Soup

On cold, wet, dreary days like today when the sky can’t decide whether it’s sending down rain or snow my mind (and my stomach) turns to soup.  It just seems to me to be the perfect meal for this type of weather.  Add some fresh-baked bread and you’ve got a great meal.

Beside the previously mentioned Growing Vegetable Soup, here are some soup stories that I found at my local library:

Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper is a story of three friends, Duck, Cat and Squirrel, who live together and each have their own jobs that keep the household running smoothly, till one day Duck decides he wants to stir the soup.  Soft, whimsical illustrations with lots of details.  Ends with a recipe for pumpkin soup.

Delicious! by Helen Cooper is another story about Duck, a picky eater who won’t even try fish soup, mushroom soup, or beet soup when his favorite pumpkin soup is not available.  Fed up, Cat finally  makes soup with squash, tomatoes, carrots and corn that looks like pumpkin soup. This tricks Duck into tasting the soup and discovering that it tastes good.  The jacket flap is supposed to have a recipe for beet soup, but some libraries–including mine–cut it off.

Veggie Soup by Dorothy Donohue has Miss Bun, a rabbit who likes to cook making soup for her friends, but when she decides it needs a little something, she adds all the ingredients that her friends brought her.  This doesn’t help; in fact it makes it worse.  So the group starts over by following Great Nana’s recipe for veggie soup, which is given on the last page.   Love the paper cut illustrations.

Chicken Soup by Heart by Esther Hershenhorn has Rudie Dinkens making chicken soup for his babysitter, Mrs. Gittel, who has come down with the flu.  As he cooks, Rudie thinks about times that he and Mrs. Gittel have spent together.  Both Rudie’s and Mrs. Gittel’s recipes are shared.

Carmine: A Little More Red by Melissa Sweet is a twist on the traditional Little Read Riding Hood tale that has Carmine riding her bike to Granny’s for some alphabet soup, but on the way she stops to paint, which allows the wolf to get to Granny’s house first.  The story formatted like an alphabet book and uses words like dilly-dally, nincompoop and surreal.  Granny’s Alphabet Soup recipe is on the last page.

I’m off to make soup.  Happy reading and happy eating!

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