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!

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

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

Picture Book Review

November 24 – Small Business Saturday

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About the Holiday

Sure, you could buy all of your gifts online or join the throngs at some big box store, but where’s the fun in that? Instead, head out to the independently owned shops in your area and see what kinds of unique items you can pick up for the people on your list. Not only will you find gifts that will surprise and delight your friends and family, you’ll be helping your local economy. More and more people every year are enjoying the camaraderie and atmosphere of Small Business Saturday. With friendly shop owners and a relaxed shopping experience, it’s no mystery why.  Why don’t you join in this year? 

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

Small Business Saturday 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