Review: “Pie” by Sarah Weeks

PieI’m working on the Iowa Children’s Choice Award books right now and “Pie” is the first I’ve finished (and I confess I read it first because of the audiobook versions I was able to acquire, it was the shortest.  Also, pie.).  One of the libraries I work in is an elementary school library and we are busy promoting both the Goldfinch Award books (Iowa-based award for picture books) and the Iowa Children’s Choice Award books (Iowa-based award for youth fiction).  My students are constantly checking these books out so that they can participate in some awesome (to be determined) surprises for top readers so I want to keep up with them.

“Pie” is about Alice Anderson, a young gal whose Aunt Polly is a fantastic pie baker, an award-winning pie baker, much to Alice’s mother’s dismay.  Out of the blue, Aunt Polly dies leaving her cat, Lardo, to Polly and her secret pie crust recipe to Lardo.  The whole town goes pie-crazy both with missing Polly’s delicious pies and wanting to win the pie contest now that the biggest competitor isn’t around to win.  People are working to create their own award-winning recipes and some are working to steal Aunt Polly’s recipe.  So much so that Alice discovers that Lardo has been catnapped and Aunt Polly’s pie shop has been ransacked.  No one believes Alice’s theories but that doesn’t stop her from trying to solve the mystery all the while working through her grief.

I enjoyed the familial aspect of this story; it made it clear that not every family is perfect, in fact, there is a lot of imperfection in families.  What I did not enjoy I was the ending.  Weeks included an entirely unnecessary epilogue about Alice as an old woman.  It added nothing to the story or character development and mostly served to depress the reader.  Instead of a happy woman who experienced life, I took away that Alice was a woman stuck in the past who spent too much of her time remembering and not living.

Picture Book Wednesday

Chick loves adventure and superheroes.  Pug loves naps.  Chick becomes convinced that Pug is just like a superhero from one of Chick's comics and isn't willing to let a little thing like apathy stop Pug from maintaining his true self.

Chick loves adventure and superheroes. Pug loves naps. Chick becomes convinced that Pug is just like a superhero from one of Chick’s comics and isn’t willing to let a little thing like apathy stop Pug from maintaining his true self.

Adam Rubin has quickly become one of my absolute favorite children's authors and Daniel Salmieri's pictures are incredible.   These darn squirrels are plotting against the neighborhood cat and they plot like champions: over cheese puffs and ginger ale.  Duh.

Adam Rubin has quickly become one of my absolute favorite children’s authors and Daniel Salmieri’s pictures are incredible. These darn squirrels are plotting against the neighborhood cat and they plot like champions: over cheese puffs and ginger ale. Duh.

This is a great story about being a part of a team but also learning how to work on your own.

This is a great story about being a part of a team but also learning how to work on your own.

Cooking Adventure: “Mad for Muffins” by Jean Anderson

Most of my cooking adventures that involve library-procured cookbooks and are also baking focused are pretty successful and this time was a pretty average hit. I decided to bake for my coworkers, as I am one to do, and because I’ve gone pretty sweet lately (pumpkin doughnuts and a cheesecake just to name a few), I thought I should go for a more mild sweetness. Therefore, Friday night found me alone in my apartment baking peanut butter and jelly muffins. I thought they were a little drier than I would like but again, a lot of my baking has been very sweet and exceptionally moist so my gauge might be a little off. I did enjoy the opportunity to use grape jelly I had made last summer from the best Concord grapes I have ever tasted.

IMG_0618.JPGIngredients:

2 c flour
1T baking powder
2 T sugar
1/2 t salt
1 1/4 c evaporated milk
2/3 c chunky peanut butter
1 egg
2 T melted butter or oil
1/4 c grape jelly

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare muffin tin. Then mix dry ingredients in separate bowl.

2. Whisk milk, peanut butter (I melted it), egg, and oil in a small bowl before adding wet ingredients to dry.

3. Spoon into muffin tin and bake 20-25 minutes. Once slightly cool, use a sharp knife to cut a small opening in tops of muffins and spoon in a small amount of jelly.

Review: “The One and Only Ivan” by Katherine Applegate

one-and-only-ivanI’ve been slowly working my way through books, really any book but this one I was able to devour in a day. Just as “Flora and Ulysess” is the 2014 Newbery Medal winner, “The One and Only Ivan” is 2013’s winner. I knew nothing about this except that it was on the poster of Newbery Medal winners next to my desk at school library and that a fifth grade teacher had checked it out to read to her class. As is my custom, I did check out the audiobook version and I have to say that this has been an amazing year for me and my listening to audiobooks. Adam Grupper reads the story with such ferocity. He alters his voice into such distinct characters that I can picture Ivan, the captive silverback gorilla, pacing in his cage as the only gorilla in a circus-themed mall. I can picture Bob, the runaway dog who befriends Ivan, slipping through a whole in Ivan’s wall and offering sage but sassy advice. I can picture Stella, the one and only elephant, and her limp, injured foot, dreaming of freedom.

These animals have lived in the mall for decades with only themselves for company. Sure, crowds come to watch them perform forced tricks but the crowds dwindle over time to nothing. Mack, the human owner, develops a scheme to get the people to come. He purchases a baby elephant from a bankrupt circus – introducing little Ruby to Stella. Stella takes Ruby in as her own but Stella cannot go on forever. She has been sick and injured for far too long to continue. In the darkness one night, Stella whispers through the walls to Ivan and he promises her an unpromisable thing: that he will save Ruby.

This work unfolds into a story about survival and the treatment of animals in captivity. Applegate features the circus as a terrible place for the lonely animals and pits that against the lush, familial atmosphere of a zoo. There can be no real recommendation for which of these places is what is for the best for the animals, but in this particular telling, the zoo is far safer. This is yet another work that should spark active discussion:
1. Is it ethical to keep wild animals in a circus?
2. Is the zoo better?
3. If the zoo is featured as better, replicating a more primitive and native habitat, why are the tools for motivation for Ivan, et al. obviously human such as marshmallows and yogurt-covered raisins?
4. Can an animal held in captivity safely transition to a family life in a zoo?
5. Can they transition back to the wild?

(Applegate does take the time to feature an epilogue of sorts; she explains that there is a great deal of truth to this story. It was inspired by a circus-themed mall in Washington state that proudly featured a gorilla named Ivan.)

Picture Book Wednesday

This is more of a cautionary tale than anything; it sets out to encourage parents to not rely on their televisions as a glorified babysitter for hours on end.

This is more of a cautionary tale than anything; it sets out to encourage parents to not rely on their televisions as a glorified babysitter for hours on end.

This is this week's Goldfinch Award book that I've been reading to the kiddos and it isn't getting old.  An adorable gingerbread man goes on the hunt for his missing classroom to discover that they've been looking for him too.  Sidenote: Gingerbread desk? Adorable.

This is this week’s Goldfinch Award book that I’ve been reading to the kiddos and it isn’t getting old. An adorable gingerbread man goes on the hunt for his missing classroom to discover that they’ve been looking for him too. Sidenote: Gingerbread desk? Adorable.

I love fairy tales and I love Mo Willems.  And I especially love when Mo Willems takes a fairy tale and shoves it back into the woods for another adventure.

I love fairy tales and I love Mo Willems. And I especially love when Mo Willems takes a fairy tale and shoves it back into the woods for another adventure.