Monday, December 26, 2011
Friday, December 23, 2011
Interview with Casey McCormick
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Klein often writes Behind the Book posts for the titles she publishes. This time she offers Three Things Writers Can Learn from Liar's Moon by Elizabeth C. Bunce.
Klein discusses (1) knowing what sort of story you're writing; (2) how to make a mystery matter; and (3) how to recognize the power of a damn good outline. You don't have to write for young readers to find these posts helpful.
It all starts with this post:
Cheryl Klein is a superb analyst as well as a terrific teacher, which is why we recommend both her blog and her book.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
I love rum balls. As a college freshman with very little spare cash, I would walk once a week to the local bakery and treat myself to a few rum balls. That has been – ahem – a few years ago, but I still remember that little pop of pleasure. Mmmm. They’re like a brownie with a kick.
Most recipes call for vanilla wafers, but I think using chocolate cake or brownies makes them more chocolate-ey (always a good thing) and, well, like a souped-up brownie. Enjoy!
1 cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup confectioner’s sugar (plus some for coating the outside)
2 cups brownie crumbs or chocolate cake crumbs
¼ cup rum
2 Tablespoons corn syrup (you can substitute honey)
Place the chopped nuts in a mixing bowl. Add the cocoa, stir, then add the sugar and stir again until everything is coated. Break the brownies into small pieces (as small as you can get them) and add. Stir in the rum and corn syrup. Put the bowl in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes to help the dough firm up. Put some confectioners sugar in a small bowl.
Shape the dough with your hands into 1-inch balls. Roll the balls in the confectioner’s sugar, then roll in your hands to spread the sugar evenly. You can use candy sprinkles instead of sugar if you’d prefer. Place the ball on wax paper. Refrigerate overnight. Then eat!
Friday, December 16, 2011
We've been talking about favorite picture books. This was mine.
You may be more familiar with the iconic red and white folk art cover of earlier and later editions, but Mom owned the version published in 1956. I discovered Betty Crocker soon after I learned to read. She offered much more than lists of ingredients and procedures. Every recipe came with an anecdote, a bit of cooking lore or tidbit of celebrity gossip ("Christian Dior. . .sent us this recipe as a special favorite.") Charming, tiny illustrations accompanied these little stories.
Later in life, Mom haunted used book stores all over the country, searching for copies so that each of her four daughters could own the same edition. She succeeded—no easy task, for people cling to these cookbooks. Five years ago, my dear sisters presented me with Mom's own marked-up copy.
As a girl, I read the book so many times I can still quote bits. (Won't you come into our kitchen and join us in our "Cooky Shines?") I can still lose myself in its steam-stiffened, stained pages.
If you haven't the luck to own a handed-down copy, the original 1950 edition is available in a 1998 facsimile. (Warning: only the 1956 version contains the Eskimo Igloo Cake instructions!)
One indispensable component of any Christmas Cookie Table is found on page 220:
These scrumptious snowballs melt in the mouth. They'll also crumble into powder if you're rough with them before they cool. So treat them tenderly, and bake lots. (They freeze well.)
- 1 cup soft butter
- ½ cup sifted confectioners' sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
SIFT TOGETHER AND STIR IN
- 2 ¼ cups sifted flour
- ¼ tsp. salt
MIX IN ¾ cups finely chopped nuts
Chill dough. Roll into 1" balls. Place on ungreased baking sheet (cookies do not spread). Bake [at 400 or moderately hot oven for 10 to 12 minutes or] until set, but not brown. While still warm, roll in confectioners' sugar. Cool. Roll in sugar again.
Makes about 4 dozen 1" cookies.
LIFE'S LESSONS LEARNED: I'd never try to mail or ship Russian Teacakes. But I've learned how to carry them safely on planes and trains. Nest one in each hollow of those hard, clear plastic boxes in which are sold a certain kind of popular round, gold-foil-covered chocolates. (You will have to find a way to dispose of the chocolates, first.)
Since I'm reminiscing about hand-me-downs and family traditions, I'll share two Eastern European cookies my family always makes:
CREAM CHEESE KOLACHE
Kolache (or kolacky) means, simply, "cookies." There are lots of versions—Polish, Slovak, Czech, and so on. We pronounce it cuh-lotch-key, and we bake two varieties. This first kind is a two-bite treat, not too rich, and it freezes beautifully. (The other is more of a breakfast pastry, larger and with a yeast dough, and we wait to bake it until Christmas Eve.)
- ½ pound cream cheese
- ½ pound unsalted butter
- 3 cups flour
Begin with ingredients at room temperature. Cream the butter and cream cheese together. Then stir in the flour. Do not over-mix. Form into four flat, rectangular portions, wrap well, and chill overnight.
Roll out on well-floured board until so thin it's almost translucent. Cut into 3" X 3" squares. Drop about 1 teaspoon of fruit filling in centers. Overlap two corners of each square in the center, moistening the dough with water to seal. (The dough resists sealing; be firm.) Arrange kolache about 1" apart on ungreased pans (we like the air-filled, non-burning kind) and bake until tops start to turn golden brown (up to 15 minutes) at 375.
Just before serving, sieve confectioners' sugar on top.
LIFE'S LESSONS LEARNED: Never, never, never fill your kolache with the commercial fruit fillings sold in 10 oz. jars. The filling will run out of your pastry and bake into fruit leather.
So what to use? Best is to make from-scratch fillings, simmering 1 pound of dried fruit and 1 cup of sugar in 2 cups of water until the goo is too thick to drip off your spoon.
But we're lucky enough to bake our kolache in Pittsburgh, where grocery store bake shops cater to home bakers by selling commercial fruit fillings in bulk.
That's an outdated name, of course. I believe the recipe was Croation to begin with. These are fussy to make, and your grocery bake shop sells something that looks similar. Trust me, there's no comparison; these are super-flaky, and the filling has a delicate meringue crunch.
- 2 cups flour
- ½ cup unsalted, chilled butter
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 cup sour cream
Make as for pie dough: in a food processor, pulse flour and butter together until it resembles coarse meal, with bits of butter still visible throughout. Add egg yolk and sour cream, and pulse just until a sticky dough forms. (Or you can make this pastry the traditional way, using a pastry cutter.) Shape into four flat rounds, and chill for one hour.
After 45 minutes, prepare the filling:
- 2 egg whites (reserve the extra egg yolk for the egg wash)
- 1 dash cream of tartar
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Add cream of tartar to egg whites and beat until soft peaks form. Beat in the sugar until meringue-stiff and sugar is dissolved. Fold in the vanilla and walnuts.
Remove one portion of dough from chiller. Roll into an 8-9" circle on a well-floured board. Gently brush with melted, unsalted butter. (Dough is delicate!) Cut circle into 16 pie slices. Put ½ teaspoon of nut filling on each wide end. Roll up and place on ungreased cookie sheet (we use the air-filled, non-burning kind). Gently brush with egg wash (1 yolk whisked with about 1 tbsp. water). Bake until golden, 20-25 minutes at 375. Cool on pan for 2-3 minutes. Remove cookies to rack while still warm, or they'll glue themselves to the pan.
It's traditional to dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.
LIFE'S LESSONS LEARNED: Some of my sisters recommend rolling and shaping the Kifle right on the cookie sheet; and instead of brushing with melted butter, they spread the dough thinly with softened, whipped butter. All of us agree that a rolling pastry cutter works best for dividing the dough; a knife tends to drag and distort it.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
SC Poe's Indie E-Book Sampler, #6
Christopher Paolini put dragons in the limelight this month with his release of Inheritance. Lest we forget, Paolini's smash series began with a self-published book. Therefore, here be more dragons, self-pubbed (and, in one happy instance, reissued).
In fact, there be a multitude of indie e-[pen]dragons stalking Middle Graders these days. So Poe will devote a second sampler to dragons (and Middle Graders) in the near future.
By Neil Ostroff
Self-published: September, 2011
Poe thinks this is MG and younger YA satirical sci-fi/fantasy
First sentences: “Stop!” Dan Larson heard the tiny shout as the rolled up Car and Driver Magazine he was wielding slammed down and squashed the fly that had landed on his night table.
What if humans were the pests, and insect-sized dragons started to swat back? What if the only thing standing between the tiny dragons and total world domination is—Dan Larson? (Though he's not quite alone. He's been recruited by a team of insect robots called the Defenders.)
Why is this high school sophomore the Chosen One? What can he do to save humankind? Poe wants the answers to all these questions.
Neil Ostroff has a young sensibility and a strong sense of humor. When the Defenders shrink Dan to insect size, a side-effect is to heal Dan's acne.
Ostroff classes this book as "teen/YA." But this adventure, with a plot reminiscent of those found in 1950's peril-of-the-earth movies, seems skewed to MG sensibilities. If there's any content-based reason to keep this book out of younger hands, it's not evident from the sample.
NOTE: small but distracting editorial bugs (punctuation and usage errors, typos) become more numerous as the sample continues. Editorial glitches can keep an otherwise admirable title out of the school ebook collection.
That would be a shame, because Poe thinks kids, and librarians, will like Ostroff's stories.
Queued for future reading.
The Dragon Box
By Katie W. Stewart
Self-published in 2011
Poe thinks this is MG fantasy/sci fi
First sentence: James crept up the path to Mr McKenzie's front door, his legs trembling.
Mr McKenzie, we shortly learn, is a "cat zapper." Possibly a mad scientist. Definitely a tease. His house is a junk-pile of lab paraphernalia, computers, and goofy inventions. James, although initially suspicious, is soon fascinated by "Mack" and his geeky Wonderland.
The sample ends just as we start to suspect the peril of Mr McKenzie's most fascinating contraption. "Beware your own thoughts," the Dragon Box warns. It seems clear that this fantasy will be firmly grounded in psychological realism.
A sprinkling of Aussie vocabulary might slow some readers down a bit.
NOTE: Stewart has also published Treespeaker, advertised as a fantasy geared to older readers.
Queued for future reading.
(The Magic Books #4)
By Andre Norton
Reissued by Starscape (Macmillan) in 2010 (originally published in 1972)
Poe thinks this is older MG coming-of-age mythological fantasy
First sentence: Sig Dortmund kicked at a pile of leaves in the gutter, watched [sic] the crowd at the school bus stop.
Today's dragon theme offers the perfect forum to mention that Starscape seems to be in the process of reissuing Norton's entire classic Magic Sequence. In these stories, Fantasy's Grande Dame transforms a series of modern* coming-of-age struggles into heroic mythical-fantasy quests.
This volume introduces four middle-grade boys who discover a magic bridge to their diverse ethnic/mythic pasts (represented by four dragons—Scandinavian, Welsh, African, and Chinese).
*Poe uses the word modern, but the series was penned during the Vietnam War era. So the contemporary scenes have a historical feel, particularly when focused on African-American George, who has just changed his name to Ras ("Prince").
If Rick Riordan isn't publishing stories often enough to satisfy you, you definitely should get to know Andre Norton's Magic.
Poe's Rating System:
- S for snapped up (Poe has already purchased the full)
- Q for queued (the book is on Poe's to-be-read-someday list)
- U for underwhelming (Poe will always explain the reason)
- I for If/then (not Poe's cuppa, but perhaps it's yours)
- R for rejected (Poe will always explain the reason)
- E for editorially challenged (Poe will not mince words)
Caveat Emptor Internexi: Poe's samples are intended to provide a springboard for further browsing. Genre and age classifications are Poe's guesses based on short samples, and may or may not accord with the classifications suggested by authors, publishers, or anybody else. The buyer is always responsible for deciding whether the book as a whole is appropriate for the intended reader's age, interests, and reading level.
Poe's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of other members of this blog.
If you'd like SC Poe to sample your ebook on this blog, please follow submission guidelines.
Monday, December 12, 2011
*I really have to thank Karen MacPherson, whose weekly Children's Corner in the Tuesday Pittsburgh Post Gazette keeps me up to date on lots of new (and old!) children's books
Strega Nona's Gift chronicles the eight feasts celebrated by Italians from early December ( Feast of San Nicola), to early January (Feast of the Epiphany). Strega Nona and Big Anthony are together again and taught me that the Feast of the Seven Fishes, "La Vigilia," was celebrated as a way of fasting by Italians since no meat was served until after the midnight mass. If you'd like to find out how lentils and rice pudding, talking animals and red underwear are also a part of these eight Italian celebrations, make sure to give yourself (or a curious non-Italian child!) the gift of Strega Nona's Gift.
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Who might enjoy this: It's recommended for ages 3-7, but I'm willing to bet that the tempo and catchy rhyme of this book would also suit a younger child. In the final scene as be
When the lights go out and your little wormy is still squirmy, why not try a few favorite poems?
Monday, December 5, 2011
Friday, December 2, 2011
by Carol Baicker-McKee
This is the first of a new feature on our blog - reviews of picture books that pair up a recently released title with a complementary old favorite or forgotten treasure. I plan to focus on books of visual distinction; Kitty Griffin will target books that stand out for their language and story.
We welcome suggestions for titles in either category!
Can You See What I See? Toyland Express: Picture Puzzles to Search and Solve
Published by Scholastic, 2011
WHAT'S SO GREAT: This intriguing puzzle book features a dozen beautifully photographed, super-detailed, and richly colorful scenes with lists of objects to find. What makes it stand out even more is the sweet story - the spreads follow the "life" of a toy train from workshop to attic and back to being loved again.
WHO MIGHT ENJOY THIS: The publisher describes the book as for ages 6 and up. The "up" is definitely right; most adults enjoy these puzzles too. But "down" works too: preschoolers might need help narrowing their searches, but in my experience they also really like Walter Wick's books. This book will especially appeal to kids who like detailed artwork and visual puzzles.
FIRST PAGE: Shoot! I forgot to photograph it when I examined this at the bookstore. But you can see the first pages (and others) using the "Look Inside" feature on the Amazon page for this book here. The photo shows a toymaker's shop with the train being built and the rhyming text lists 20 objects to hunt for. Sample:
MORE TO KNOW: This is the 8th book in Wick's Can You See What I See? series. Wick is also the co-creator with Jean Marzollo of the classic I Spy series, also from Scholastic. He has an interesting website you can visit here, and there's also a great video about the making of this book you can access by clicking on the link on his website. Wick also has a keen interest in science and illusions - check out his books A Drop of Water and Optical Tricks.
Published by Little, Brown, 2003.
WHAT'S SO GREAT: The book showcases 9 detailed holiday scenes, ranging from Santa's Workshop to department store windows to a toy train beneath the tree. This might just seem like an excellent copycat of Walter Wick's books - except the objects in all of Steiner's books aren't what they seem at first glance. Look more closely and you'll discover in the Nutcracker scene, for instance, that Clara is wearing a badminton birdie, the doors are actually white chocolate candy bars, and the curtains are a woman's long hair, held back by barrettes. The challenge is to identify all the "look-alikes" used to construct the scenes - and they are clever puzzles indeed.
WHO MIGHT ENJOY THIS: No age range listed, but like Wick's book will be enjoyed by 6 and up, with preschoolers getting pleasure sharing it with an older reader. Detail-lovers, puzzle-lovers, and those with a creative bent will especially get a kick out it.
One caveat: several reader reviews on Amazon noted that the outdoor scene includes items they found objectionable (there's a toy skeleton draped with a lacy bra to look like a snow covered mountain). I read this book with several young kids who weren't frightened at all and who found the presence of undergarments hilarious - but be forewarned if you or your kids would see it differently.
MORE TO KNOW: This was one of a series of Look-Alikes books by Steiner, including several Look-Alikes, Jr. books with simplified images aimed at younger kids. Sadly, there will be no more masterpieces from Joan Steiner; the creator died of cancer in September, 2010. You can read interesting obituaries about her here and here. Steiner's studio was once featured in the now defunct Mary Engelbreit's Home Companion Magazine and shows her working on this book.
One more interesting fact: Walter Wick has photographed other Look-Alikes scenes for Steiner.
WHERE YOU MIGHT FIND THIS OLD BOOK: Hooray! It's still in print. New copies are available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and there are plenty of used copies floating around too. Most local libraries likely have copies - but they may be well-thumbed.
MORE LIKE THESE!
Other good search-and-find books include the now classic Where's Waldo series by Martin Handsford, and the book about an adventuresome orangutan that some feel inspired Handsford, Where's Wallace by Hilary Knight (the illustrator of the Eloise books), first published in 1964 and republished in paperback in 1991. For toddlers and preschoolers, The Baby's Catalogue and Each Peach, Pear, Plum by the British writer-illustrator couple Janet and Allan Ahlberg offer similar visual delights.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
This is just a reminder.