July 4 – Independence Day

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About the Holiday

Today, the United States commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776 by delegates of the original 13 colonies, which asserted that the colonies considered themselves a new nation and no longer part of the British Empire. The day is traditionally celebrated with parades, picnics, and grand fireworks in cities and towns across the country or in one of our beautiful national parks. The holiday also provides the opportunity to remember and honor all the people who have come to America’s shores and have helped to build our nation. 

Mountain Chef: How One Man Lost His Groceries, Changed His Plans, and Helped Cook Up the National Park Service

Written by Annette Bay Pimentel | Illustrated by Rich Lo

 

Tie Sing, born in Virginia City, Nevada, grew up during a time when “America was a tough place to be Chinese.” Most worked in restaurants or laundries and were paid less than white employees. Tie Sing had big plans, though. “He got a job cooking for mapmakers as they tramped through the mountains, naming peaks. With sky for his ceiling and sequoias for his walls, he stirred silky sauces, broiled succulent steaks, and tossed crisp salads.” He quickly became known as the best trail cook in California.

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Image copyright Rich Lo, 2016, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel, 2016. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com.

In 1915 Steven Mather was trying to convince politicians to create a national park system even though many business people were against it. Mather invited journalists, tycoons, congressmen, and others to go camping for ten days to show them the wonder of America. He knew that the trip had to be perfect, so he hired Tie Sing as his chef. Tie Sing planned gourmet menus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that would satisfy the 30 campers. Each day he rose before dawn, cooked eggs and sizzling steaks, and packed box lunches.

As the group hiked across beautiful scenery to the next site, Tie Sing and his assistant washed the dishes, put out the fires, packed the mules, and started the dinner’s sourdough bread. By the time Tie Sing arrived at the new campsite, it was time to begin cooking dinner. “He assembled sardine hors d’oeuvres, sliced juicy cantaloupe, and squeezed lemons to make tart-sweet lemonade. He grilled steaks and venison, fried fish and chicken, and baked sourdough rolls” as good as any fine restaurant. One morning Tie Sing was able to pack the mule early before he served breakfast. When he went back to the mule, however, he discovered it had wandered away—taking all of the best food with it.

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Image copyright Rich Lo, 2016, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel, 2016. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com.

Steven Mather shrugged it off as he left for the day’s hike, but Tie Sing was upset. All of his planning was ruined. That night the dinner wasn’t as fancy, but it was delicious and topped off with “all-American apple pie.” The campers, happily satisfied, talked late into the night about the possibilities of a national park service. The next day, Tie Sing carefully led the mules along a narrow ridge. As the stones crumbled underneath their feet, one mule strayed too close to the edge. He tumbled backward and down the cliff. Bags, boxes, and food went flying. The mule got up and shook itself off, but much of the food, utensils, and equipment was lost.

Hours later Tie Sing limped into camp with “the battered boxes and bent knives and bruised apples he’d salvaged.” The men were ravenous; Tie Sing had to think quickly. He knew just how to use those apples, and under the glow of paper lanterns, the crew enjoyed the most delicious applesauce they’d ever had. Tie Sing knew his job was to fill the party with delicious meals, but “Steven Mather wasn’t the only one who loved the mountains; Tie Sing had the Sierra singing in his blood. He too planned to fill the campers with memories.”

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Image copyright Rich Lo, 2016, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel, 2016. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com

As the pots bubbled on the camp stove, Tie Sing “bent over tiny slips of paper and wrote in English and Chinese.” Following dinner he handed out fortune cookies, each one holding a handwritten message: “Long may you search the mountains.” “Long may you build the paths through the mountains.” “Where but in the mountains would such a man become a spirit with the mountains?”

In the months following the trip, the members of the group “wrote magazine articles, published books, and made movies about America’s national parks.” Steven Mather’s and Tie Sing’s efforts worked. On August 25, 1916 Congress created the National Park Service. “Today, if you visit Yosemite National Park, you can hike to Sing Peak. It was named for Tie Sing, a mountain-loving American who knew how to plan.”

Three pages of back matter, complete with photographs of Steven Mather’s and Tie Sing’s actual 1915 trip, answer readers’ questions about Tie Sing, how he kept food fresh in the mountains, details of the trip, and short bios on the members of the mountain party.

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Image copyright Rich Lo, 2016, text copyright Annette Bay Pimentel., 2016. Courtesy of Rich Lo at greatsketch.com

Annette Bay Pimentel’s fascinating and timely story of the establishment of the National Park Service highlights the contributions of a Chinese American dreamer who had big plans for himself and the country he loved. Her detailed storytelling enhanced by lyrical phrasing (a linen tablecloth is washed in an icy snowmelt stream and spread “brighter than white-water foam” over a table) reveals the marvel of Tie Sing’s art. Readers will be awed by the dedication and careful planning it took for the gourmet meals and elegant table settings to come together in such rough surroundings. As food and supplies are lost along the way, children will be held in suspense, wondering if Steven Mather’s and Tie Sing’s strategy worked.

Rich Lo’s beautiful detailed and realistic watercolors transport readers to the mountains and trails of early 1900s California. With vivid imagery Lo lets children see the day-to-day preparations that went into Sing’s meals as well as the dangerous conditions he faced. Lo captures the hazy purple majesty of the mountain peaks, the glow of the campfire in the dark of night, and the vastness of the California environment. Kids may well wonder how Sing managed to create a five-star restaurant atmosphere and menu in the wild, and Lo shows them how it was accomplished.

Mountain Chef gives a unique perspective on an important historical moment—one that still resonates today—and is a compelling book for any classroom as well as for kids interested in history, culinary arts, and the environment and for those who just love a good story.

Ages 6 – 9

Charlesbridge, 2016 | ISBN 978-1580897112 (Hardcover) | ISBN 978-1580899857 (Paperback, 2019) 

Discover more about Annette Bay Pimentel and her books on her website. You’ll also find a Teacher’s Guide for Mountain Chef.

Learn more about Rich Lo and view a portfolio of his artwork on his website!

Independence Day Activity

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Majestic Parks Coloring Pages

 

The national parks are home to some of the most beautiful scenery in the country. You may not be able to visit all of these parks, but you can still enjoy their beauty while you learn a little about them with these printable coloring pages! Then check the map and see if there’s a park near you!

Mesa Verde National Park | Gates of the Arctic National Park | Hawaii Volcanoes National Park | Biscayne National Park | Acadia National Park | Everglades National Park | Rocky Mountains National Park | National Parks Map

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You can find Mountain Chef at these booksellers

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

Picture Book Review

February 25 – It’s Bake for Family Fun Month

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About the Holiday

During the month of February, family and friends are encouraged to get together and have fun baking. Making sweet treats and savory dishes that come out hot and delicious from the oven is a wonderful way to spend time together, try new recipes, and learn new skills. This month is also a great time to explore foods and cuisine from other countries!

Chow Mein and Potstickers

Written by Liselotte Schippers | Illustrated by Monique van den Hout

 

A little boy named Chan has just moved here from China and is hoping to make new friends. He tells a little about himself: “I moved to this country with my father, / my mother and my sister. / My mother is starting a new job here. / She’s an astronaut and someday she’ll go to the moon!” He reveals that his favorite food is potstickers and chow mein. He’s just about to go door-to-door to meet his neighbors. He wonders if kids here like to play and how “things work around here.”

Next door at Number 6, Chan meets Mila, who is from Bosnia. Chan thinks “she looks like a princess from a country far away.” Chan and Mila play soccer until they “get tired and hungry!” Then they eat Mila’s “favorite dish / Bosnian ćevapĉići—rolls of ground / meat.” At the end of the day, they say goodbye: “‘Zàijiàn!’” and “‘Doviđenja!’”

The next day Chan meets Rani, who was born in Indonesia. Even though Rani is younger, Chan says that “you can tell he is very wise. / Rani’s father is a famous musician. / He has to travel a lot, touring with his band. / His mother works at the hospital and helps people who are sick.” Rani shows Chan how to play marbles. Afterward, they enjoy Rani’s “favorite foods: satay and kroepoek. / That’s meat on a stick and shrimp crackers.” Later, they wave good-bye and say: “‘Zàijiàn!’” and “‘Sampai jumpa!’”

Across the street lives a little girl named Jamila, who is originally from Afghanistan. “‘Salaam!’” she greets Chan. Jamila plays the guitar, and the two sing and dance along. Chan says: “After a while we get tired and hungry. / Jamila and I eat Afghan qabuli—rice and lamb. / That brings us to the end of our day. / As we wave good-bye, we say: “‘Zàijiàn!’” and “‘Khodahafez!’”

Twins Kim and Coen live at Number 10. They are from Belgium. “Their father is a master chocolatier. That means he / makes fancy chocolates. When he is working, the house / smells wonderful. / Their mother sells the chocolates in a  / special shop. We get to try some. I’ve never tasted / anything so delicious!” After roller skating, they eat frietjes, which are like French fries served with mayonnaise. “‘Zàijiàn!’” and “‘Tot ziens!’”

In the tall yellow house next to the church on Chan’s street, Chan meets Basu, who came here from South Africa. His mother is a minister and his father is a fireman. Chan thinks that maybe he’d like to be a fireman too when he grows up. “Basu loves to paint and draw.” He and Chan “get busy with brushes, paints and pens.” When their “masterpiece is finished,” Chan says, “We have paint splatters on our clothes and in our hair!” All that creating has made them “tired and hungry.” They “eat South African bobotie… / a dish made with seasoned ground meat.” Before Chan goes home, the boys say:  “‘Zàijiàn!’” and “‘Totsiens!’”

Chan is excited to discover that his street is full of other children to play with. In other homes live Ania from Poland, Nuray from Turkey, Clifton from Suriname, Gracy from England, and Nino from Italy. On one special day, Chan invites all of his new friends to go to the playground with him, and Chan’s father brings chow mein and potstickers for everyone to enjoy. At the end of the day, the air rings with each child’s special way of saying “good-bye.”

Liselotte Schippers free verse poetry opens the door to a world of children for young readers. Each poem gives children the kind of information they want to know about kids from around the world. What do they like to do? What are their families like? What do they eat? Every poem includes the words “hello” and “good-bye” in the native language of the child as well as a favorite dish from each country. Little Chan makes a delightful and enthusiastic tour guide to his multicultural neighborhood, and shows young readers that even though people may come from different countries, their dreams, desires, games, and even jobs are the same. The country that Chan has moved to is never named, making “here” everywhere.

Monique van den Hout’s beautiful illustrations combine the ethereal with realistic portrayals of the happy, bright-eyed children that Chan meets in his neighborhood. Each poem is presented on a two-page spread in which Chan and his new friend are surrounded by colorful images of symbols from that child’s native country. Following each poem, a short dictionary defines and gives a pronunciation guide to the greetings and food introduced.

Chow Mein and Potstickers is an enticing introduction to the global community for children. Each poem could be used to spark more discovery about the countries presented and their children. The book’s inclusion of languages and foods makes it a perfect addition to school, classroom, and homeschool libraries for social studies units as well as a fun book for personal bookshelves.

Ages 4 and up

Clavis, 2017 | ISBN 978-1605373287

Discover more about Liselotte Schippers and her books on her website.

Learn more about Monique van den Hout, her books, and her art on her website.

Bake for Family Fun Month Activity

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Let’s Bake Together Coloring Page

 

It’s fun for friends to create new recipes or just cook up some favorite treats! Have fun with this printable Let’s Bake Together Coloring Page!

Picture Book Review