October 10 – National Cake Decorating Day

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About the Holiday

You’ve seen them on TV and in bakery shop windows—cakes that tower three, four, five, and even more tiers high, cakes shaped like animated characters, cars, clothing, even unicorns. Today’s holiday honors all of those creative professional and amateur bakers who keep decorating in new and amazing ways and pushing the boundaries of what a cake can be. Using six different types of icing to produce those stunning results, bakers are always searching for innovative methods for jazzing up these favorite desserts. To celebrate today, stop by a bakery and pick up a creative cake, or why not try personalizing your own homemade cake with colors, candies, and other decorations. No matter how it comes out, you know that it will taste delicious! There’s even a recipe at the end of this post! To add to the fun, get your kids involved in the baking and decorating process—just like the grandmother in today’s book! 

Cake Day

Written by Ellen Mayer | Illustrated by Estelle Corke

 

An adorable little boy runs to his grandma, excited that it’s “Cake Day!” “That’s right,” his grandma agrees, “Today we’re going to bake a cake!” The boy, hardly able to see over the counter, wants to be picked up and see what’s in the cabinet. His grandma happily obliges, and the pair carefully pick the ingredients for their cake together.

“‘Hmmm…we need flour, salt, baking powder, and sugar to make a cake,’ says Grandma.” With all the ingredients set on the table, the two start measuring. The little chef is eager and curious: “‘Cake Day! How much, Grandma?’” he asks. As Grandma pours the flour into the cup and a soft, powdery cloud envelops them, the delighted boy laughs, “‘Too much, Grandma!’” The two work happily side by side, with Grandma adding the eggs while her grandson pours in the milk.

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Image copyright Estelle Corke, text copyright Ellen Mayer. Courtesy Star Bright Books, 2016

As the ingredients start to mesh, Grandma exclaims, “‘Look! What’s happening to the batter?’” The little boy wants to help it along and takes up the wooden spoon. Round and round he stirs, creating swirls in the yellow batter until it’s ready for the oven. “‘Bake day! Your turn, Grandma!” the boy says and stands wide-eyed as his grandma slides the deep pan into the oven. 

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Image copyright Estelle Corker, text copyright Ellen Mayer. Courtesy of Star Bright Books, 2016

The little boy and his dog settle in front of the oven to watch the cake bake. With keen expectation the boy asks, “‘Cake day! Ready, Grandma?” Grandma encourages her grandson’s inquisitiveness and explains the process: “‘We have to wait until the cake rises. The heat makes it rise. When you hear the timer go BEEP BEEP it will be ready.’” At last the cake comes out of the oven, but it’s not ready to be decorated yet. First, they must wait for it to cool.

In a short time the high, golden cake can be iced and decorated. The little boy vigorously shakes a jar of sprinkles over the top, scattering a rainbow of colors across the white frosting. The cake is beautiful and just the right complement to the little boy’s Cake Day, Bake Day, Shake Day—Birthday!

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Image copyright Estelle Corke, text copyright Ellen Mayer. Courtesy Star Bright Books, 2016

Ellen Mayer’s language-rich and playful story of a small child and his grandmother baking together is a wonderful introduction not only to reading but to the type of full-sentence conversational modeling that improves and increases literacy. The steps to baking the birthday cake flow organically and lyrically through the loving relationship between the little boy and his grandma, enticing young readers to learn more about the world around them and how it works. The repeated phrases “Cake day! Bake day!,” and “Ready, Grandma?” as well as the boy’s short statements offer opportunities for kids to read along and learn new vocabulary as they develop important language skills.

Estelle Corke’s cheery illustrations glow with enthusiasm and the close bond between grandmother and grandson. The grandmother lifts, steadies, and holds the boy while still allowing him to perform all the tasks he can. The little boy, in his green apron, delights in every aspect of the baking process, his eagerness expressed in his animated smile and lively participation. The homey kitchen is awash in inviting colors and objects that children will recognize. The clearly drawn boxes and jars of ingredients, kitchen tools, and furnishings offer readers a chance to practice their vocabulary and learn new words.

Ages Birth – 5

Star Bright Books, 2016 | ISBN 978-1595727466 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1595727473 (Paperback)

To see more books by Ellen Mayer as well as language development and reading strategies for young children, visit her website!

Visit Estelle Corke’s website to view a gallery of her artwork!

National Cake Decorating Day Activity

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Image copyright Ellen Mayer, 2016

Grandma’s Cake

 

Grandma and her grandson baked a delicious, special cake—and now you can too! Invite your child or children to help, and make a cake decorated just the way they’d like! Here’s the full recipe that Grandma uses. Recipe courtesy of Ellen Mayer.

A Simple Sponge Cake Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened, plus a little to grease cake pan.
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3 large eggs at room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup milk
  • You will need: 3 mixing bowls:
  1. 1 to cream butter and sugar
  2. 1 to mix flour, baking powder and salt
  3. 1 in which to beat the eggs
  • A 7-inch diameter, deep cake pan

Directions

  1. Butter pan and dust with flour.
  2. Set the rack at the middle of the oven.
  3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  4. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into a bowl and set aside.
  5. In large mixing bowl, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. In the third bowl, beat the eggs and add milk.
  6. Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to butter mixture then alternate with the egg and milk mixture. Continue to alternate ending with flour mixture. Scrape bowl and beater often.
  7. Add vanilla and mix well.
  8. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a spatula.
  9. Bake cake about 45 minutes. Insert knife or wooden skewer into the center. If it emerges clean, the cake is done. If not, bake for 5 more minutes.
  10. Remove cake from oven and allow to set for 5 minutes.
  11. Turn cake out onto a cake rack and leave to cool.

Grandma’s Favorite Frosting

  • 8 oz cream cheese
  • 1 1⁄2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1⁄4 stick butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Blend all ingredients together with a mixer until smooth
  2. Spread on the top and sides of cake
  3. Decorate with sprinkles or your favorite topping

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You can find Cake Day at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

May 23 – It’s Mystery Month

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About the Holiday

The month of May is dedicated to mysteries! Established ten years ago by Booklist, part of the American Library Association, Mystery Month highlights all things mysterious and offers webinars, articles, awards, recommendations and more! Mysteries, with their unusual situations, puzzling clues, suspect suspects, and plenty of unexplained phenomena, are great for getting kids—even reluctant readers—to fall in love with books. With so many classic and new mysteries to investigate, this month’s celebration may just last all summer! And if you like your mysteries funny, you’ll love today’s book!

Betty’s Burgled Bakery: An Alliterative Adventure

By Travis Nichols

 

“Ahoy!” Antoine hails the caller to the control center when the red alert button lights up. He listens carefully as Betty the Panda describes the crime. “A bread bandit burgled by bakery before breakfast!” It seemed her “counters and cupboards were completely cleared of carrot cake, cornbread, and crackers. This is a considerable crummy crime,” she sums up with aptly punny indignation.

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Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Antoine is immediately on the case, calling in his detectives from their various pursuits to “dutifully deal with [the] distressing dilemma.” When they arrive at Betty’s Bakery, she shows them the empty shelves and is assured that they will “find the fully fed, fiendish foe.” The detectives fan out across the store and are surprised that anyone could have broken in without tripping the powerful security system.

Josie believes the “key to catching this kitchen crook” is in examining what they left behind—namely the “kale crumpets” and a cash register full of money. The gumshoes have been so hard at work trying to crack the case that Quentin has gone to the market next door and brought back snacks to sustain them. Everyone digs in, except Betty who’s “in need of nary a nibble.” When Morgan the chicken is finished with his snack, he inquires whether perhaps Betty didn’t hear something since she lives right above the bakery. But Betty, it seems, is a deep sleeper and heard nothing.  

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Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Antoine looks around and has a quick question for Quentin about how long he thinks it would take to “acquire this quantity of baked goods.” Josie notices that the racks are so high that “no runt could ransack this room.” Meanwhile, Steve the monkey has discovered a clue. He thinks they could track the tooth marks in a tasty tart.

Steve is just about to match the distinctive notch in the half-eaten cookie to one sharp tooth in a snoozing Betty’s lower jaw when…swipe!…Betty grabs the cookie and gobbles it up. The detectives look on in astonishment. “Sleepwalking?” suggests Mike the bull. “Sleep eating,” corrects Josie. Just then Betty wakes up to see all the detectives staring at her, ready to solve the case.

Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

“You yearn for sleep, yes?” asks Steve. Sharon, the duck reminds Betty that she last ate yesterday, yet she wanted no snack, and Quentin reveals, “you ate your yield of yummies yourself.” Betty’s surprised… astounded… asleep! But the Gumshoe Zoo has a bit of celebrating to do since they “zipped this zany, zigzagging zinger with zeal! The press celebrates them too with an article in the 1000% True News. But what’s this on Page 2? A valuable painting has been stolen! It seems there’s a new case for the Gumshoe Zoo to solve!

Notes about alliteration and some very hungry animals follow the text.

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Copyright Travis Nichols, 2017, courtesy of Chronicle Books.

Travis Nichols’ witty alliterative alphabetic mystery will have little ones giggling at the zany language and big words that trip off the Gumshoe Zoo detectives’ tongues, while adults will laugh along and shake their head in appreciation of the clever construction of the story. Detective-story tropes, including the round-up of detectives caught in the middle of chores or play, a clueless member of the team, and the locked-room mystery, add to the fun. The panel illustrations set a quick pace for the investigation and clearly show the objects or ideas being alliteratively alluded to to boost younger readers’ understanding.

Betty’s Burgled Bakery will be a favorite of little linguists-in-the-making as well as for mystery lovers. It’s a book that will be asked for again and again. It makes a fun and unique addition to home bookshelves and a terrific English or writing lesson lead-in for classrooms.

Ages 4 – 8

Chronicle Books, 2017 | ISBN 978-1452131832

Learn more about Travis Nichols, his books, and his art on his website

Mystery Month Activity

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Bake up Some Fun! Word Search Puzzle

 

Before this pan goes into the oven, can you find the eighteen baking-related words in this printable word search puzzle?

Bake up Some Fun! Word Search PuzzleBake up Some Fun! Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-betty's-burgled-bakery-cover

Betty’s Burgled Bakery can be found at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 9 – National Bagel Day

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About the Holiday

With its deliciously soft, doughy inside and crusty outside, the boiled-then-baked bagel is a favorite for breakfast, lunch, and snacks! Bagels come in all sorts of flavors and varieties and with toppings for every taste, there’s no denying that the bagel is comfort food at its best. To celebrate today’s holiday, visit your favorite bakery and enjoy!

The Bagel King

Written by Andrew Larsen | Illustrated by Sandy Nichols

 

“Every Sunday morning Zaida went to Merv’s Bakery for bagels.” Sometimes his young grandson, Eli, went with him. When he did, Mrs. Rose always gave him a pickle from the big jar behind the counter. When he didn’t, “Zaida delivered his bagels right to his door.” Zaida went to Merv’s every Sunday no matter what the weather. The “warm, chewy, salty bagels were the best thing about Sunday.”

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Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

One Sunday, though, the familiar knock on the door never came. Later, Zaida called Eli and told him he had “slipped on some schmutz at Merv’s” and had gone to the doctor. Zaida had hurt his tuches and was ordered to relax at home for two weeks. Eli ran right over. As they sat together, both Eli’s and Zaida’s stomach rumbled with missing the usual bagels.

Pretty soon there was a knock on the door and three of Zaida’s elderly neighbors came in. All three were just as hungry as Eli and Zaida. It turned out that Zaida had been hosting a bagel feast for the four of them for years. When Zaida told them about his tuches, they said “‘Oy! Are you all right?’” But they were all disappointed about the bagels.

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Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

As the week went on, Eli visited his grandfather every day. He brought chicken soup one day, another day he brought chicken soup and a book, and on yet another day, he brought chicken soup and a canine friend for company. On Saturday night, though, it wasn’t chicken soup Eli was thinking about, but bagels. “Even the moon looked like a bagel all smothered with cream cheese.”

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Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

The next morning, Eli woke up early and walked down to Merv’s with a list in his hand. When he reached the counter, he handed Mrs. Rose the list. As she read it, she said, “‘This looks very familiar. Except for the last item.” Eli told her that it was a surprise. With the big bag hugged close, Eli left Merv’s and went to Zaida’s. When Zaida saw the big bag of bagel, he was surprised! His friends were delighted. “‘The boy’s a prince,’” said Mr. Goldstck, but “Zaida proudly declared, ‘He’s the Bagel King!’”

Then Eli reached in and brought out his surprise—a jar of Merv’s pickles. As Eli ate his “warm, chewy, salty” bagels, he knew “bagles were the best thing about Sunday. The best thing, that is, except for Zaida.”

A glossary of the Yiddish words used in the story and a bit about bagels and chicken soup precede the text.

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Image copyright Sandy Nichols, 2018, text copyright Andrew Larsen, 2018. Courtesy of Kids Can Press.

With a sprinkling of Yiddish words and an old neighborhood atmosphere, Andrew Larsen depicts a close relationship between a grandfather and grandson who bond over bagels, pickles, and a deep love for one another. While Zaida is the one who begins the Sunday bagel tradition, this is Eli’s story as he takes it upon himself to help his grandfather recuperate and makes sure that he, Zaida, and Zaida’s friends don’t miss their favorite day for a second time. Young readers will find in Eli a peer role model for showing care and concern for family members and friends. Larsen’s straightforward storytelling peppered with realistic and humorous dialogue is as warm and cozy as sitting down to a Sunday family breakfast.

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Sandy Nichols’ fresh, retro illustrations stylishly bridge the generations while also reveling in the friendly city neighborhood feeling that provides a backdrop and context for Eli’s emotional growth within the story. Images of Eli hanging over the arm of his grandfather’s sofa in boredom and disappointment, wistfully dreaming of bagels on Saturday night, and proudly making his list, buying the bagels, and delivering them—complete with a surprise—to Zaida and his friends will delight readers.

The Bagel King is an uplifting, joyful for all kids coming into their own and desiring to make a difference. The book would make a sweet gift for grandparents or grandkids, a snug family story to add to home libraries, and a terrific choice for classroom or library storytimes.

Ages 4 – 8

Kids Can Press, 2018 | ISBN 978-1771385749

Discover more about Andrew Larsen and his books on his website.

National Bagel Day Activity

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CD (Compact Doughnuts) Decoration

 

Do you have an old CD that could use an upgrade? With this easy craft, you can turn it into a cute doughnut (or bagel) hanging.

Supplies

  • Unused CDs
  • Craft paint in tan, black, pink, yellow, white (or any colors you want for the doughnut and the icing)
  • Ribbon, any color and length you want
  • Fine-tip markers in bright colors
  • Glue
  • Glue dots (optional)
  • Paint brush

Directions

  1. Paint a wavy edge around the CD, let dry
  2. Paint the center of the CD, leaving the clear circle unpainted
  3. When the icing paint is dry, draw sprinkles on the icing with the markers
  4. With the ribbon make a loop hanger and attach it to the back of the CD with glue or glue dots
  5. Hang your decoration

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You can find The Bagel King at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 4 – It’s National Bake for Family Fun Month

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About the Holiday

Mid-winter is a perfect time to gather with family and friends and spend those cold, indoor day baking your favorite recipes! Baking together is a great way to teach valuable cooking skills and a little math. Talking with kids while baking cane fun too! Tell old family stories, favorite recipes, and funny or memorable culinary experiences at school, home, or while eating out. Of course, the best part of baking together is eating the delicious meals or treats afterward!

There Are No Bears in This Bakery

By Julia Sarcone-Roach

 

Muffin, the “whiskers” of the neighborhood assures readers that “there are no bears in Little Bear Bakery.” After all, he works the nightshift and knows everything that goes on. He knows the scratchy sounds of the mice, the clanging that means the raccoons are raiding the trash, and the flip flap of the bats. But he has to admit that last night there was a new sound: “grrrrrrrrrrr.” He went to investigate.

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

“The air was cool and wet like a dog’s nose.” None of the regular creatures were in the alley, but “the bakery’s back window was open like a crooked smile.” And, again, Muffin heard, “grrrrrr.” He entered the bakery thinking that maybe the intruder was a mouse looking for sprinkles. Then he saw it. Was it a huge mouse? No. It was a tiny bear. The bear was surprised; Muffin was surprised; and Muffin’s tale? It “was the most surprised” of all. The “grrrrrrrr” was coming from the bear’s stomach.

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Muffin knew just what to do. He gave the cub a slice of cake, let her choose a doughnut from the bakery case, and toppled over a canister of cookies so she could nibble a few. The bear’s belly stopped grumbling, but then the bakery seemed quiet – too quiet. Muffin looked around and saw something in the darkness. It turned out to be a huge bear, and suddenly Muffin was in the dark as he was enveloped in a big hug. “It was warm, like a bath mat in the sunshine. It smelled like that bath mat needed a bath.”

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

The mama bear was a bit hungry too and scarfed down some sprinkles. As the sun came up, the bears crept out the window and down the alley toward the forest. With the nightshift over, Muffin headed home to wake up his sleeping human and tell his heroic tale. “It was a messy job,” he said, “but I handled it.” And as Muffin curled up on his pillow, he just happened to mention, “By the way, we’re out of donuts.” Among other things….

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Copyright Julia Sarcone-Roach, 2019, courtesy of Knopf Books for Young Readers.

Julia Sarcone-Roach’s storytelling is as frisky as a kitten and full of hilarious and oh-so-apropos similes from a cat’s point of view. Sarcone-Roach imbues her little feline security guard with the supreme confidence and guilt-free consciousness that cat lovers will recognize. Kids and adults will enjoy the noir-tone of this wry narrator, and like the best parodies, the suspenseful buildups give way to laughs. Sweet moments abound during the off-hours snackfest, and as readers gaze into Muffin’s wide, “who-me?” eyes, they’ll know that after the clean-up there will still be cuddles for this adorable cat.

Sarcone-Roach’s nighttime illustrations are rich with humor and shadowy atmosphere as Muffin relates her suspenseful tale of how she rid the bakery of bears. Clever perspectives immerse readers in Muffin’s experience while also allowing them to laugh at the feline expressions that make these pets so beloved. The little bear cub is as cute as a mini-cupcake and as endearing as any child. Those readers with a cat “alarm clock” will appreciate the morning scene, and the final spread of the bakery will elicit an “Oh!” or two.

If you love any of these: cats, bears, bakeries, mysteries, or a story wonderfully told that kids will want to hear again and again, you’ll want to add There Are No Bears in This Bakery to your home, classroom, or public library collection.

Ages 4 – 8

Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2019 | ISBN 978-0399556654

Discover more about Julia Sarcone-Roach, her books, and her art on her website

National Bake for Family Fun Month Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-cupcakes

Very Vanilla Cupcakes

 

This delicious vanilla cupcake recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction would definitely please Grandma—and they’ll become your favorite confection too!

Vanilla Cupcakes

  • 1 and 2/3 cup (210g) all-purpose flour (spoon & leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (115g) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 1/4 cup (60g) vanilla Greek yogurt (or plain; or regular yogurt; or even sour cream)
  • 3/4 cup (180ml) vanilla almond milk (or cow’s milk; or soy milk; or plain almond milk)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1

Vanilla Bean Frosting

  • 1 cup (230g) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
  • 4-5 cups (480-600g) confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60ml) heavy cream2
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract seeds scraped from 1/2 split vanilla bean1
  • Salt, to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tin with 12 cupcake liners. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large microwave-safe bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Whisk in sugar – mixture will be gritty. Whisk in egg whites, yogurt, milk, and vanilla extract until combined. Split 1 vanilla bean down the middle lengthwise. Scrape seeds from half of the vanilla bean into batter. Reserve other half.
  3. Slowly mix dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until no lumps remain. Batter will be thick.
  4. Divide batter among 12 cupcake liners (or 24 mini) and bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Bake for 8-9 minutes if making mini cupcakes. Allow to cool.
  5. To make the frosting, beat softened butter on medium speed with an electric or stand mixer. Beat for about 3 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add confectioners’ sugar, cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds with the mixer running. Increase to high speed and beat for 3 minutes. Add more powdered sugar if frosting is too thin or more cream if mixture is too thick. Add salt if frosting is too sweet (1/4 teaspoon). Frost cooled cupcakes (I used Wilton 1M piping tip). There may be leftover frosting depending how much you use on each cupcake.
  6. Store cupcakes in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days and in the refrigerator up to 7.

Additional Notes

  1. If you can’t get your hands on vanilla beans, add an extra ½ teaspoon of pure vanilla extract instead.
  2. Strongly urged to use heavy cream. You may use milk or half-and-half, but heavy cream will give the frosting a thicker texture. I recommend it!

For ways to adapt this recipe and more scrumptious recipes, visit Sally’s Baking Addiction. I guarantee you’ll go back again and again!

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-there-are-no-bears-in-this-bakery-cover

You can find There Are No Bears in This Bakery at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 8 – Gingerbread Decorating Day

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About the Holiday

Originating in the Middle East the art of gingerbread making made its way to Europe in the 10th century. It was quickly embraced for its delicious combination of spices as well as for its soothing medicinal qualities. It was during the 13th century that gingerbread began to be decorated and displayed. The gingerbread man we know today was first introduced in 1875 in a story published in St. Nicholas magazine. To celebrate, mix up a batch of gingerbread cookies and get out the icing and sprinkles!

The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas

Written by Laura Murray | Illustrated by Mike Lowery

 

One wintry morning, the Gingerbread Man heard the teacher calling. It was time to wake up and start a very special day. All the kids listened as the teacher told them, “It’s the season of giving, / and we can give, too! / Our gifts could be things / that we make, say, or do.” Individually, paired up, or in groups, the kids went to work on their gifts. Some made cards, some baked cookies, and one trio practiced singing a holiday song.

The Gingerbread Man wanted to join in too. He thought hard about what he would make and then went to work. As the kids headed out the door of their classroom and into town, the little cookie excitedly said, “I’ll deliver this present / as fast as I can. / With a jolly Ho-Ho from the / Gingerbread Man!” All through town the kids delivered their gifts. A few children sang a song to a police woman, the garbage men got a plate of cookies, and a special card went to the librarian. The kids also visited the dentist, the grocer, and the vet.

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Image copyright Mike Lowery, 2015, text copyright Laura Murray, 2015. Courtesy of lauramurraybooks.com.

When an icy wind blew up and it started to snow, the teacher gathered all the kids and hurried back to school. But the Gingerbread Man hadn’t delivered his gift yet. He yelled for the class to stop, but they didn’t hear him. He decided to deliver it himself and dashed past the barber, the bookseller, the doctor, the florist, and the bank teller giving them all a happy wave on the way. The snowy sidewalks took their toll on the Gingerbread Man, though, and by the time he found the bake shop, his “feet were all mushy and crumbled.”

Inside, the warm, delicious-smelling shop, the Gingerbread Man held up his card. “I’ve come to say thanks / for your sweet recipe. / without it, / my class would’ve / never made me.” The baker was so touched that she gave the Gingerbread Man a kiss and then noticed his feet. She knew just what he needed. She sat him on the side of a bowl and let him dip his feet into the dark chocolate icing. When she took him out, he was wearing boots! He smiled and told the baker, “I’ll run in my boots, / as fast as I can. / Thank you so much, from the / Gingerbread Man!”

He dashed back to school just in time to join the class in presenting a last, surprise gift—a poem they had all written just for their teacher: “You are a gift / that we get every day. / You help us to learn / in our own special way.” They told her she was “funny and kind,” encouraging, and “clever,” and when they were finished with their special thank-you, their teacher gave them all “a warmhearted hug and a very big grin.”

The book also includes a poster of fun activities to extend the fun.

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Image copyright Mike Lowery, 2015, text copyright Laura Murray, 2015. Courtesy of lauramurraybooks.com.

Fans of Laura Murray’s sweet Gingerbread Man series will be delighted with this holiday treat. With jaunty, pitch-perfect rhymes and a message about the joys of giving thanks for and to all the members of a community, Murray’s story resonates long past the holiday season. Murray’s adorable cookie creation will make kids smile with his plucky attitude as he “hobbles” on mushy legs through the slushy streets to deliver his gift and giddy enthusiasm on succeeding in surprising the teacher. The story offers a wonderful opportunity to talk with kids about truly valuable gifts and ways they can show their love for others.

As cute as ever, Mike Lowery’s Gingerbread Man is a pint-sized dynamo spreading happiness and thoughtfulness wherever he dashes. Kids will love following the class as they fan out into town delivering baked treats, songs, and cards to the adults who make their lives better. Smiles and hugs abound, making this one of the merriest Merry Christmas books around. Little ones will love pointing out the tiny Gingerbread Man on the pages, talking about familiar shops and businesses in the town, and giggling over humorous details like the bat hanging from the vet’s examining table.

A thoroughly charming way to celebrate Christmas and sure to spark random acts of giving in young readers, The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas will be a favorite on home bookshelves for years to come.

Ages 3 – 7

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015 | ISBN 978-0399168666

Discover more about Laura Murray and her books on her website and find lots of Gingerbread Man-related activities too!

To learn more about Mike Lowery, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Gingerbread Decorating Day Activity

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Dashing Home! Maze

 

Help the Gingerbread Man find his way home the fastest way in this printable puzzle!

Dashing Home! Maze | Dashing Home! Maze Solution

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You can find The Gingerbread Man Loose at Christmas at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

December 4 – National Cookie Day and Interview with Author Tara Knudson

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About the Holiday

Whether you call them cookies or biscuits, these yummy treats have been around for quite a long time. Originating in Persia in the 7th century, cookies conquered Europe by the 14th century and came to America with the earlies settlers. Of course, cookies are great any time of the year, but the holidays just wouldn’t be the same without the delicious snap or soft melt-in-your-mouth goodness of favorite cookies. Baking together is one of the joys of the season for adults and kids, and you can bet that with each batch, good memories are being created too.

Christmas Cookie Day!

Written by Tara Knudson | Illustrated by Pauline Siewert

 

Mama bear and her little bear get ready for one of the most fun days of the year. “Cooke day, / Time to bake. / Aprons on, / Lots to make!” The little one cracks an egg into the bowl while the butter, flour, and sugar wait their turn. Mom pours warm melted butter and lets her little bear stir it into dough.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

With the dough rolled smooth, it’s time to use the cookie cutters to make…”Christmas tree, / Reindeer, bell. / Snowman, star, / Cookie smell.” The pair add angels, candy canes, and drummer boys before sliding the tray into the oven and watching them bake. At last the timer rings but they still must wait. Finally “ready, set… / Decorate!”

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

It’s so much fun spreading the frosting and shaking out sprinkles to create green trees, yellow stars, and red-and-white striped candy canes. Even the bakers can’t resist nibbling a few. But not too many, because these are special “cookie gifts. / Made with care. / Pack them up, / Cooke share!” It’s time to invite friends and family for a yearly treat—“Christmastime, / Spirits bright. / Family hugs, / Cookie night.”

A delectable Christmas Cookie Day Recipe follows the story for all little bakers to try.

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Image copyright Pauline Siewert, 2018, text copyright Tara Knudson, 2018. Courtesy of Zonderkidz.

Tara Knudson’s jaunty rhyming story captures all the giddy anticipation and fun of a day baking Christmas cookies. Short, lively verses follow Mom and her cub step-by-step as they make and decorate special treats for their annual cookie party and invite little ones to join in on repeat readings. Knudson delights in the enjoyment Mom and her little one feel during their day of baking and goes on to celebrate the deeper meaning and joy of Christmas as the two wrap up their cookies and give them to family and friends.

With tender smiles for each other, Pauline Siewert’s Mama bear and her cub spend a snowy day baking cookies in their cozy kitchen accompanied by a helpful mouse. Siewert’s vibrant colors mirror the cheerful companionship mother and child share on this much-loved day, and her engaging details, like a dusting of flour on the cub’s nose, will charm children. A double-spread scattering of the cookies the two make give little ones a chance to show their knowledge of shapes and Christmastime figures. The heartwarming final scene of the cookie party might just inspire a party of your own. Little ones will also be enchanted by the sparkly cover that opens this adorable book.

The absence of personal pronouns and a red apron for the little cub make Christmas Cookie Day! gender neutral.

A sweet story to spark a fun family tradition and share the joy of giving, Christmas Cookie Day! makes an endearing addition to a child’s home library.

Ages 2 – 6

Zonderkidz, 2018 | ISBN 978-0310762898

Discover more about Tara Knudson, her books, and her other writing for children on her website.

To learn more about Pauline Siewert, her books, and her art, visit her website.

Meet Tara Knudson

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I’m excited to be talking today with Tara Knudson about her sweet book, her favorite cookie, and how being a teacher inspires her work.

Christmas Cookie Day has such a joyous feeling. Do you have any special memories of baking with your family when you were a child?  What is your favorite kind of cookie?

I’m so glad that you think CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY has such a joyous feeling! The story evokes happy memories of baking Christmas cookies with my mom and sisters when I was a child. I remember gathering the cookie cutters from the cabinet, excited to get started! We all stood around the kitchen table and decorated our cookies with sprinkles, frosting, and candy pieces. It was so fun!

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While I do enjoy eating Christmas sugar cookies, my favorite kind of cookie is chocolate chip, especially ones with dark chocolate chips and a little salt. Yum!

As a regular contributor to children’s magazines like Highlights Hello, Highlights High Five, Baby Bug, and Ladybug, you write stories and poetry for the youngest readers, what do you like about writing for this age? What are a few of the most important ingredients in stories for little ones?

I love writing for little ones because they are so curious about everything in the world around them—sights, smells, sounds, tastes, new experiences, and people. They take it all in as they learn, develop, and grow. I like to be a part of that.

My poems and stories for this age group often include short and simple sentences with some fun words added that young readers may not be familiar with.

You’ve said that you loved to write even as a child. Can you describe your journey to becoming a published writer?

My journey as a writer has been a long one. I still have my creative writing stories from second grade. Reading them now makes me laugh! Growing up, the stories were always special to me, but I did not know yet that I wanted to be a writer.

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I started writing poetry when I was in high school. As I dealt with the problems and frustrations that adolescence can bring, I often wrote poems to express my feelings. After college, I became a Spanish teacher and I often used children’s picture books in the          classroom. I would spend hours at bookstores searching for favorite ones. It was during that time that I fell in love with picture books and decided that I wanted to write them.

In pursuit of my goal, I won a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship that allowed me to take a break from my teaching job and live in Barcelona, Spain for a year and experiment with writing for children. I wrote many poems and rhyming stories for children. I continued to write after my return to the U.S. As years passed, I sold articles and poems to children’s magazines and continued to work on my picture book manuscripts as I worked as a teacher and later took care of my two sons. Finally, I signed with an agent who helped me sell my first book.

Can you talk a little about your work as a teacher? How do your experiences influence your work?

My teaching background is unique because I have taught different subjects to students of many ages. I started my teaching career as a high school Spanish teacher. Then, while in Barcelona, I taught English to middle school students. Upon my return to the U.S., I taught Spanish to grades K-2 and then math to grades 1-4. 

Whichever subject I teach, and to whichever grade level, there is always something for me to gain as a writer when I work with students. Whether it be from something that happens in the classroom or something that a student says that sparks a writing idea, being around children gets my creative juices flowing! I hope to get back in the classroom soon.

What’s up next for you?

My next book, EASTER EGG DAY, will be released in February, 2020. Also, I’m happy to announce that a third book in my holiday board book series will follow. I will share details about that book soon. I have plenty of non-holiday projects as well that I hope will make their way into the world in the near future.

What’s your favorite holiday?

My favorite holiday is Christmas. I love the excitement that leads up to it, the beautiful decorations, the spirit of giving, and the true meaning of the season. It’s such a magical and joyous time for people of all ages filled with traditions and love. I’m so happy that CHRISTMAS COOKIE DAY can be a part of it all!

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Thanks so much for chatting with me, Tara! I wish you a wonderful holiday and much success with all of your writing!

You can connect with Tara Knudson on

Her website | Instagram | Twitter  

Christmas Cookie Day! Giveaway

I’m excited to partner with Tara Knudson in an Instagram giveaway of:

  • One (1) copy of Christmas Cookie Day! written by Tara Knudson | illustrated by Pauline Siewert

This giveaway is open from December 5 through December 9 and ends at 8:00 p.m. EST.

A winner will be chosen on December 10

It takes just these two steps to enter:

  • Like the Giveaway Post
  • Follow Tara Knudson @taraknudson and @celebratepicturebooks on Instagram
  • Bonus: Comment with your favorite kind of cookie! (Each comment gives you one more entry)

Prizing provided by Tara Knudson

Giveaway open to U.S. addresses only. | No Giveaway Accounts 

National Cookie Day Activity

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Gingerbread Kids Ornaments

You can make gingerbread ornaments to decorate your tree or windows with this easy-to-make craft!

Supplies

  • Printable Gingerbread Girl and Boy Template
  • 2 Brown foam sheets
  • White paint (or any color you like)
  • Glitter in two colors
  • Paint brush
  • 2 Small heart buttons (optional)
  • Mounting squares (for mounting)
  • Thread  and needle (for optional hanging)

Directions

  1. Cut out gingerbread girl and boy
  2. Trace gingerbread girl and boy on brown foam sheets
  3. Cut out gingerbread girl and boy
  4. Paint around the edge of the gingerbread boy and girl with the white paint
  5. Add trim to the edge of the gingerbread girl’s dress
  6. Add socks to the gingerbread boy
  7. Add buttons
  8. Add faces
  9. Paint the hands of each figure with the paint
  10. Sprinkle glitter on the hands to make mittens
  11. To use as decoration attach mountable squares or with a threaded needle make a hole in the top of the figures and tie the thread to create a hanger.

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You can find Christmas Cookie Day at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

November 26 – It’s Sweet Potato Awareness Month

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About the Holiday

Sweet potatoes are yummy and satisfying—and they’re healthy! Full of vitamins A and C, antioxidants, and anti-inflammatory properties, sweet potatoes make delicious side dishes for almost any meal. Sweet potato fries, muffins, pies, and—of course—casserole are just a few of the ways you can enjoy this natural treat. To celebrate today’s holiday, cook up your favorite recipe and discover some new ones!

Little Chef

Written by Matt Stine & Elisabeth Weinberg | Illustrated by Paige Keiser

 

Lizzie is a little girl who has always loved to cook. In fact, her mom and dad call her “their Little Chef.” She has her own chef’s uniform, complete with hat, and doesn’t mind the long hours a chef has to keep. Today, Lizzie is extra excited because “Grandmas is coming over for dinner!” Lizzie has learned all of her cooking skills from her Grandma, and tonight she is going to prepare a special dinner just for her.

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Lizzie knows she’ll need extra energy today, so she’s starting off by making her “famous scrambled eggs.” She whips eggs in a bowl with a fork and adds salt and pepper. After breakfast, Lizzie and her mom get ready to go to the farmers’ market to buy the ingredients for “Grandma’s Super Special Smashed Sweet Potatoes.” Lizzie wants Grandma to see that she “can cook just like her.” At the farmers’ market, Lizzie picks out the freshest sweet potatoes she can find. Back home, Mom and Dad peel and chop the potatoes and help Lizzie put them into the big pot of boiling water. When the potatoes are soft, it’s time for “the best part about making Smashed Sweet Potatoes. Smashing them!”

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Then “it’s time to add the secret ingredient! Grandma says every great recipe has one. It makes a chef’s food taste extra special and delicious.” But when Lizzie consults the recipe, no secret ingredient is listed. Lizzie decides she will just have to add one of her own. She looks in the spice cabinet and after going through bottle after bottle, she finds the perfect one. Lizzie gives her finished Smashed Sweet Potatoes a taste and waits for Grandma. Finally, Grandma arrives and everyone sits down to dinner. When Daddy tastes the sweet potatoes, he says, “‘Mmm!’” Mommy says, “‘ Mmmm!’” too.

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

But what will Grandma say? Grandma takes a bite and exclaims, “‘These are even BETTER than my own Super Special Smashed Sweet Potatoes.’” Then Grandma wants to know what Lizzie’s secret ingredient is. But of course Lizzie can’t tell her that! Grandma picks up Lizzie and gives her a big hug. “‘…being with you is the best ingredient of all,’” she says. And as Lizzie lies in bed later that night, reading her cookbook by flashlight, she wonders what she’ll cook tomorrow.

A recipe for Chef Lizzie’s (Grandma’s) Super Special Smashed Sweet Potatoes that encourages young chefs to experiment with their own secret ingredient follows the story.

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Image copyright Paige Keiser, 2018, text copyright Elisabeth Weinberg and Matt Stine, 2018. Courtesy of Feiwel & Friends.

Kids who love to cook or help out in the kitchen will be delighted by Matt Stine and Elisabeth Weinberg’s story of a little girl who wants to impress the grandmother who inspires her. Lizzie’s enthusiasm for cooking and her confidence in her skills make this an uplifting tale for children of all talents. Lizzie’s special bond with her grandmother adds a tender family element to the story and her big-hearted nature makes her a sweet companion for little readers. The recipe included in the back of the book invites children to make Lizzie’s Smashed Sweet Potato recipe and find their own secret ingredient—an invitation few will be able to resist.

Adorable little Lizzie, with her wild frizz of hair is energetic, thoughtful, knowledgeable, and a free spirit. With dashes of humor, Paige Keiser follows her through a day of creating the perfect dinner for Grandma. Dressed in her chef’s uniform, Lizzie splashes her dog with egg, sends him sneezing in a cloud of pepper, and turns him orange as she whacks away at the soft chunks of sweet potatoes. Images of Mom and Dad happily encouraging and supporting Lizzie in her cooking are heartwarming, and Grandma’s big hug is as sweet as it gets.

A charming and inspiring story, Little Chef is a fun read for culinary kids and any child experimenting with their talent and striving to do their best. The book would be a welcome addition to home, classroom, and public libraries and a great gift for grandmothers and grandkids to share.

Ages 2 – 6

Feiwel & Friends, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250091697

Discover more about Elisabeth Weinberg, executive chef and owner of Miss Elisabeth’s Catering in New York and a Food Network “Chopped” Champion on her website.

Find out more about Matt Stine and his work as a music producer and composer for Broadway and Off-Broadway on his website.

To view a portfolio of artwork by Paige Keiser, visit her website.

Sweet Potato Awareness Month Activity

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We Love to Cook! Coloring Pages

 

Add your secret ingredient and get cooking on these printable coloring pages!

Baking with Grandma | Cooking with Dad

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You can find Little Chef at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review