July 15 – It’s National Culinary Arts Month

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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.”

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Image copyright Josh Shipley, 2022, text copyright Andrew Cangelose, 2022. Courtesy of Oni Press.

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.

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Image copyright Josh Shipley, 2022, text copyright Andrew Cangelose, 2022. Courtesy of Oni Press.

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.

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Image copyright Josh Shipley, 2022, text copyright Andrew Cangelose, 2022. Courtesy of Oni Press.

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 connect with Andrew Cangelose  and Josh Shipley on Twitter.

You can read my review of This Is a Flying Rat here.

National Culinary Arts Month Activity

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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!

Supplies

Directions

  1. Print your bookmark
  2. Glue it to the poster board
  3. Cut out the bookmark
  4. Slip it into the book you’re reading now!

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You can find This Is a Birthday Cake at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 27 – National Chocolate Cake Day

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About the Holiday

Cake

Written by Sue Hendra | Illustrated by Paul Linnet

 

Cake had received an invitation to a party. “He’d never been to a party before, so he didn’t know what to expect.” He wanted to look his best, though, so he tried on different outfits and asked Fish what he thought. Fish didn’t think the pink parasol, the pirate get up, or the superhero costume were quite right. Fish suggested Cake wear a hat, so Cake went off to the shops in town to find one.

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Cake tried on a fedora and a fez, a hat with streamers and a hat with a feather, he even tried on a hat with a full fruit salad on top, but none of these were what he wanted. A shop assistant approached and asked if he could help. Hearing that Cake was going to a party, the shop assistant brought out a hat that he said Cake would look “irresistible” in. Cake couldn’t wait to show Fish.

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

At home, Cake put on his new purchase and surprised Fish with the big reveal. Fish took in the drippy icing hat sporting four lit candles and the blue ribbon and exclaimed, “‘You’ve cracked it!’” Cake jumped on his bike and rode to the party. As he rang the doorbell, Cake felt nervous, but everyone welcomed him with cheers and smiles. “‘A party isn’t a party without CAKE!’ they said.” Cake had a great time watching the dancing and games from his place on the table, but when the singing started he got a bad feeling about things. “Suddenly, there was a gust of wind, and everything went black.”

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Just then Cake felt a shaky hand grab his, and voice yelled, “‘Quick!’” Cake found himself running through the backyard and over the fence with a slice of pizza, cookies, ice cream, and other treats. They all went to Cake’s house and had a lovely tea party. Meanwhile, back at the party, Piñata rang the bell, hoping he wasn’t too late.

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

If your kids enjoy a slice of dark humor, Sue Hendra’s droll party story is a gift they’ll love to open again and again. With clever turns of phrase and by juxtaposing Cake’s naïveté and readers’ birthday party experiences, Hendra invites kids to be active participants in Cake’s adventure. As Cake prepares for his first party, little ones will giggle as he tries on various outfits—sly riffs on popular cake decorations. Cake’s hat reveal provides a laugh-out-loud moment and increases readers’ suspense for what’s to come as Cake attends the party. Hendra’s food flight will delight kids, and the surprise ending gives them one more laugh—and a chance to devise their own story of Piñata’s escape.

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Image copyright Paul Linnet, 2019, text copyright Sue Hendra, 2019. Courtesy of Aladdin.

Paul Linnet sprinkles his pages with festive party colors, cake-shaped spotlights, and vibrant layers that are the icing to Hendra’s story. With his wide eyes and innocent expression, Cake is a sweetie that will charm little readers. The clueless revelry that Cake and Fish display over the chosen party hat is hilarious, endearing and even a little poignant. Cake’s impromptu tea party for his new foodie friends shows readers there’s a way to party for everyone—as Piñata is sure (hopefully!) to find out too.

For silly story time fun frosted with sweetness and spiced with suspense, Cake is a delectable addition to home, school, and public library book shelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Aladdin, 2019 | ISBN 978-1534425507

You can connect with Sue Hendra on Twitter

You can connect with Paul Linnet on Twitter

National Chocolate Cake Day Activity

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Piece of Cake! Maze

 

Help the kids navigate their way through the party while picking up all five cakes so they can get slices of their own in this printable puzzle.

Piece of Cake! Maze Puzzle  | Piece of Cake! Maze Solution 

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You can find Cake at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

 

 

 

October 14 – National Dessert Day

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About the Holiday

Fermented chocolate drinks date back to 1900 BCE and the Aztecs believed cacao seeds were a gift from Quetzalcoatl, their god of wisdom. Who can argue that chocolate is a pretty smart thing? Almost anything is better covered in chocolate, and today’s holiday proves it! Whether you like your chocolate straight up or on the…potato chips, enjoy the day with a little indulgence!

Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake

Written by Michael B. Kaplan | Illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch

 

Betty Bunny knows she’s a “handful” because her parents often tell her so. Betty Bunny also knew her parents love her, so she figures that “being a handful must be very, very good.” One day when her mom offered her a piece of chocolate cake after dinner, Betty Bunny declined. She didn’t like trying new things, and “announced: ‘I hate chocolate cake. Chocolate cake is yucky.” But then added “‘What’s chocolate cake?’”

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Image copyright Stéphane Jorisch, 2016, text copyright, 2016. Michael B. Kaplan. Courtesy of Penguin Books.

With her first bite, Betty Bunny was in love. She was so in love, in fact, that she decided that when she grew up she was “going to marry chocolate cake.” Her siblings were supportive—kind of—but her older brother Bill thought “‘you’re going to have really weird-looking kids.’” The next day at school, Betty Bunny had chocolate on the brain. When her teacher went over the A B C’s Betty said, “‘A is for chocolate cake, B is for chocolate cake, C is for chocolate cake.’”

On the playground when Betty Bunny mixed together dirt and water, it looked like chocolate cake, but sure didn’t taste like it. At dinner Betty Bunny was ready for her dessert before her healthy dinner, but her mom said no; and her dad agreed with her mom. Her siblings tried to help—kind of. Henry suggested she eat some peas. Kate told her to eat her carrots, and Bill taunted, “‘Why don’t you have some chocolate cake? That’s what you really want. Oh, no, wait. You can’t. Ha-Ha.’”

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Image copyright Stéphane Jorisch, 2016, text copyright, 2016. Michael B. Kaplan. Courtesy of Penguin Books.

Betty Bunny exploded. She threw peas at Henry, tossed carrots at Kate, and lobbed mashed potatoes at Bill. Betty Bunny’s mother was not pleased and sent her little daughter to bed without chocolate cake. “Betty Bunny screamed, ‘This family is yucky!’” and stomped up the stairs. Later, her mom came up to kiss her goodnight, and she had a plan. She would put a piece of cake in the fridge and the next day after a good dinner, Betty Bunny could have it. “‘Maybe if you know it’s there waiting for you, it will be easier to be patient,’” her mom said. Betty Bunny thought this was a great idea and “wanted to say something especially nice to her mother. ‘Mommy,’ she said, ‘you are a handful.’”  

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Image copyright Stéphane Jorisch, 2016, text copyright, 2016. Michael B. Kaplan. Courtesy of Penguin Books.

The next morning Betty Bunny couldn’t leave the house without first checking on her piece of cake. It looked so alone sitting on the plate all by itself, so Betty Bunny decided to put it in her pocket and take it to school with her. All day the secret knowledge of what was in her pocket made Betty Bunny happy. At dinner, after she had cleaned her plate, she reached into her pocket for her chocolate cake, but all she found was “a brown, goopy mess” that made her cry.

After her mom explained to her that putting the cake in her pocket was not the same as being patient, she prepared another piece for the next day. In the morning, Betty Bunny remembered her lesson in patience—and that’s why she put the cake…in her sock.

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Image copyright Stéphane Jorisch, 2016, text copyright Michael B. Kaplan, 2016. Courtesy of Penguin Books.

Michael B. Kaplan’s adorable Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake is a delight from its beginning to its smashing ending. He hits all the right notes in this humorous family drama, from the “helpful” siblings to the hair-trigger tantrums to the Ramona Quimby-esque misunderstanding of phrase. Along with the giggle-inducing fun kids learn a bit about patience, and adults discover insight into what goes on in their little bunny’s mind when obsession meets disappointment.

Stéphane Jorisch’s Bunny family is as cute as…well…a bunny.  His watercolor, pen and ink, and gouche paintings employ brilliant color and crisp lines to depict the loving relationship among the siblings and parents as well as the realistic home and school environments. The perfectly drawn body language—including folded arms, sly looks, emotional meltdowns, and understanding smiles—will resonate with kids and adults alike. And once the piece of chocolate cake appears, it’s easy to see how little Betty Bunny could become such a fan.

Ages 3 – 7

Puffin Books, 2016 (paperback) | ISBN 978-1101998632

Chocolate Covered Anything Day

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Delicious Dot-to-Dot

 

Everything is better with chocolate—even this printable Delicious Dot-to-Dot! Get your pencils, follow the dots, and then color this delectable page!

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You can find Betty Bunny Loves Chocolate Cake at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

Picture Book Review