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

December 18 – Bake Cookies Day

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About the Holiday

Baking cookies is a wonderful to get the whole family together! Not only does everyone have fun, but it’s a great time to share traditional family recipes and tell kids the stories that go with them. By baking together children can also learn important skills that translate into future success in school and elsewhere. So, grab your recipes, ingredients, and utensils and bake up a few batches of scrumptious cookies!

How the Cooke Crumbled: The True (and Not-So-True) Stories of the Invention of the Chocolate Chip Cookie

By Gilbert Ford

 

As you’re gobbling down delicious chocolate chip cookies, do you ever wonder who invented them or how they came to be such favorites? Well, the “who” part is easy: chocolate chip cookies were the brainchild of Ruth Wakefield. But the “how” is a bit more tricky. Here are the three popular stories surrounding this yummy treat—which do you think is right?

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Ruth was a born baker. She loved helping her grandmother out in the kitchen as soon as she “was old enough to hold a spoon.” Ruth had a special feeling about cooking—to her “cooking was a science, and the kitchen was her lab.” When Ruth graduated from high school, she went to college to study nutrition. With her degree in hand, Ruth taught cooking in a high school. But while “she enjoyed leading her classes, she hungered for something more.”

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Ruth met and married Kenneth Wakefield, who also “shared her passion for cooking.” Together, they planned to open their own restaurant. Four years later, even though the economy was in depression and they had a young son, Ruth and Kenneth bought an old tollhouse in Whitman, Massachusetts. They fixed it up and named their restaurant the Toll House Inn.

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

Ruth did “most of the cooking herself while Kenneth ordered food and helped out in the kitchen.” Ruth was very particular about how the Toll House Inn was run, even measuring “the distance between the fork and the plate for accuracy. Hungry diners began visiting the Toll House Inn, leaving satisfied and ready to return.

So how did chocolate chip cookies come to be? Here are the three popular theories: “The Disaster”—One story says that while Ruth was “whipping up a batch of Butter Drop Do cookies,” her mixer, spinning at top speed, “knocked a Nestlé chocolate bar off the shelf” and right into the dough. “What a disaster!” The grill man thought Ruth should bake them anyway, and when the cookies were done, Ruth “discovered pure heaven.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-the-cookie-crumbled-the-disaster

Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of simonandschuster.com.

“The Substitute”—Having forgotten to order baking chocolate, Ruth chopped up a Nestlé chocolate bar and added it to the dough, thinking that it would melt evenly in the oven. “But when she pulled the cookies from the oven, boy, was she wrong. ‘They’re ruined!’ she cried.” But some waitresses and kitchen workers tried them and found them to be delicious. When Ruth tried them herself, she agreed.

“The Mastermind”—Inspiration struck Ruth while returning from a trip to Egypt. Back in the kitchen, “she deliberately took an ice pick to that chocolate bar” and “dropped the chunks into the mix.” The baked cookies were “exactly how she imagined it. She “took a bite and savored the warm, gooey chocolate as it melted right in her mouth.”

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of gilbertford.com.

“So, which version do you believe?”

The Disaster seems a little random, and the Substitute is “a little hard to swallow,” considering Ruth’s vast knowledge of cooking and ingredients. That leaves the Mastermind. Ruth was well-known for her ability to create delectable desserts and for searching out new recipes. It seems that “Ruth deserves some credit. She was one smart cookie!”

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of gilbertford.com.

So with new cookies on the menu, Ruth began serving them to her customers. Everyone loved them and word spread about her “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies.” People came from far away to try them. So many people, in fact, that Ruth had to expand her restaurant. You might think that Ruth kept her recipe a secret, but instead, she shared it with anyone who asked! She even let it be printed in the newspaper. Soon, people throughout Boston were baking Ruth’s cookies.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-how-the-cookie-crumbled-yummy

Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of gilbertford.com.

When Ruth was interviewed on the Betty Crocker radio show, her recipe spread across the country. Seeing an unusual increase in sales of Nestle chocolate bars, the managers set out to find the cause. Soon they showed up at Ruth’s door begging for her recipe. “She gave it to them, and Nestlé began to produce chocolate chips designed specifically for Ruth’s cookies.” In payment, it’s said “she was awarded a lifetime supply of Nestlé chocolate!”

By the 1940s Ruth’s recipe appeared on every bag of Nestlé chocolate chips. From then on, Ruth’s cookies became a favorite of adults and kids alike!

An Author’s Note relating more about Ruth Wakefield and her famous cookies, as well as her classic recipe follow the text.

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of gilbertford.com.

Gilbert Ford presents this sweet story with all the intrigue that has grown up around the invention of the chocolate chip cookie while giving Ruth Wakefield her proper due for her cleverness in the kitchen. Ford’s conversational style invites kids to participate in the story—a nice touch considering that the chocolate chip cookie is a perennial favorite with children. Relating the three separate theories gives readers an opportunity to think about the nature of invention. Including the facts about Ruth’s generosity with her recipe show readers that sharing ideas can be beneficial and could even prompt discussions about different ways to handle proprietary information.

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Copyright Gilbert Ford, 2017, courtesy of gilbertford.com.

In keeping with his light tone, Ford’s illustrations combine realistic and whimsical elements. The three theories are presented in more comic-book style, while the rest of the story portrays the historical time period, Ruth and Kenneth’s growing restaurant, and, of course, the star of the plate—the chocolate chip cookie.

For kids who love cooking and baking, history, and biographies as well as for its value in initiating discussion and even projects, How the Cookie Crumbled would be a welcome addition to home and classroom bookshelves.

Ages 4 – 8

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2017 | ISBN 978-1481450676

Discover more about Gilbert Ford, his books, and his art on his website.

Bake Cookies Day Activity

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Baking Together Coloring Page

 

Baking together is a fun activity for kids and adults to do anytime! Before gathering all the ingredients and utensils, enjoy this printable Baking Together Coloring Page!

Picture Book Review