About the Holiday
There’s a true art in putting together a delicious meal from seemingly disparate parts, and this month’s holiday honors those with a talent for combining tastes, flavors, and textures. With fresh ingredients available from farm stores, farmers markets, grocery stores, and maybe even your own garden, July is a great month for celebrating the culinary arts. This month, spend time with your kids in the kitchen. It’s a terrific way for them to learn cooking skills and even practice practical math while creating experimental or favorite recipes. And, of course, be sure to remember to make a few treats! Today’s book should get you off to a delicious start!
Thanks to Oni Press for sharing a digital copy of This Is a Birthday Cake with me for review consideration. All opinions about the book are my own.
This is a Birthday Cake
Written by Andrew Cangelose | Illustrated by Josh Shipley
Andrew Cangelose’s two-layered story about making a cake and the history of cake is by turns hilarious and informative. First, kids meet Shelly, a turtle and the forest’s official baker, and Bucky, a rabbit and baker-in-training. Shelly explains that she is “teaching Bucky how to make a birthday cake.” Bucky is rarin’ to go because as soon as the cake is baked, “the party will start.”
But wait! A narrator breaks in on the very next page to reveal that “cake was first used to celebrate birthdays in the Roman Empire two thousand years ago,” but “only became widely popular about two hundred years ago during the Industrial Revolution.” Bucky isn’t too keen on the delay this history lesson has caused, and even less patient with Ms. Shelly’s directive to “visualize out beautiful cake in our minds.”
But wait! The narrator has another interesting point to make, during which Bucky takes to sticking birthday candles up his nose and in his ears. Finally, Shelly says it’s time to get the recipe and all of the ingredients. Bucky, it seems, is already those steps ahead of Ms. Shelly and hot-foots it out the door, giving her a podcast-worthy “Byeeeee!”
As Bucky speeds into the forest, the recipe tightly gripped in his hand, he imagines his success and the accolades that will follow. At home, Shelly is slowly and methodically making the batter. Bucky takes a moment to reflect on the results of his soon-to-be triumph: “another party just to celebrate [his] accomplishment” and the sad fact that he will most likely be asked to be the new official forest baker.
But what about the ingredients, Bucky? The narrator begins to outline the necessary elements to a good cake. Hmmm… seems Bucky has forgotten to bring these along. No worries, though. Garbage, the ground hog tells Bucky that dirt is delicious: “a little sweet. A little sour. A lot of worms.” Bucky adds it to his pot. Still, he needs a sweetener and a liquid as the narrator describes.
Now, with her cake in the oven, Shelly is relaxing with a hot cup of tea with honey, while Bucky is hightailing it away from a swarm of angry bees. A champion-spitting frog is happy to help out with the liquid. At last, it’s time for the mixing. Ignoring the narrator’s warning about overmixing, Bucky goes at it like a tornado. With no oven to bake his cake in, Bucky comes up with an… ingenious?… solution.
What’s a birthday cake without decoration, though? To get things moving along quicker, Bucky elicits the help of his forest friends, and in no time, it’s finished. What about Shelly? She’s still carefully drizzling colorful icing on the layers. It’s a good thing Bucky’s cake is ready. The forest animals line up for big pieces, excited to party.
But while Bucky’s congratulating himself and extolling his speed, the animals are coming to a grim realization. It doesn’t take long for Bucky to understand that maybe his cake is a disaster. Fortunately, Shelly is on her way with another cake. The animals watch her coming closer, and closer, and closer… until ta da! “The birthday cake has arrived!”
With two cakes on offer, Shelly wonders about the voracious response to hers, and Bucky reveals his unique recipe. He even admits that he went to fast and that he needs to slow down when he’s excited. Shelly is understanding and promises they can try again tomorrow—if only they can get home before morning.
Wonderfully paced and with funny, realistic dialogue, Andrew Cangelose’s fourth book in his This is a Taco series will have kids and adults laughing out loud as they read it together. Suspense builds as Bucky runs out to bake his own cake with only the recipe to follow. Wanting to discover what substitutions he makes for each ingredient will have readers whipping through the pages as fast as Bucky stirs the batter. And his self-confidence throughout adds another layer of amusing storytelling. Cangelose’s intermittent inclusions of information on the history of cake and a typical recipe is a genius device that not only informs but amplifies Shelly’s slow, careful process that drives Bucky crazy. Bucky’s admission that he worked too fast and Shelly’s patient and understanding response to his failed cake serve up just the right message, sweetened with love.
Josh Shipley’s hilarious illustrations perfectly convey Bucky’s impatience as well as his confidence in his baking prowess. As Bucky’s forest friends help him create his cake, their roles are all the more comical for Shipley’s understated depictions. Clever juxtapositions and well-loved cartoon tropes add to the fun. As the animals—all except one—reject (and eject) the cake, kids will laugh but also empathize with Bucky’s now-sheepish and disappointed expression.
A masterful collaboration between story and art, This Is a Birthday Cake is a humorous and heartfelt must for fans of the series and newbies alike. The book will become a quick favorite on home, school, and public library bookshelves.
Ages 4 – 8
Oni Press, 2022 | ISBN 978-1637150450
You can read my review of This Is a Flying Rat here.
National Culinary Arts Month Activity
Don’t Whisk Losing Your Page Bookmark
The author’s of your favorite books have cooked up such fantastic stories that you don’t want to risk missing a word! To make sure that doesn’t happen, use this culinary-themed bookmark!
- Printable Don’t Whisk Losing Your Page Bookmark
- Poster board
- Print your bookmark
- Glue it to the poster board
- Cut out the bookmark
- Slip it into the book you’re reading now!
You can find This Is a Birthday Cake at these booksellers
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Picture Book Review