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September 2011


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Mar. 30th, 2011

baby reading

just peachy: easy as pie by cari best and melissa sweet


Thought it might be nice to spread a little sunshine today. I know Spring has barely begun, but already I'm craving late summer peaches. There's nothing like a just ripe peach -- blushing and golden, sweet and juicy, a perfect orb bursting with the sunny goodness of lazy summer days.


Now, I truly love peach pie. I'd walk a mile for a piece of warm peach pie, double or lattice crust, flaky and buttery, all melty and velvety in my mouth. And, as some of you may know, I love Melissa Sweet's art. She's one of my top ten favorite children's book illustrators of all time. What happens when you combine two things you love so much? Well, I can barely stand it -- the joy, the swooning, the admiration, the dreamy reverie of it all, the sweet resonance of my senses fully sated.


In three words: EASY AS PIE, a.k.a., a picture book written by Cari Best and illustrated by Melissa Sweet, all about baking a peach pie.


I will try to contain my gushing long enough to tell you a little about it, but no guarantees. Like the profoundly perceptive, self-proclaimed picture book nerd Julie Danielson of 7-Imp, I am fond of utilizing superlatives when it comes to good stuff. There's no sense in trying to be restrained or even reasonable when it comes to picture book love, because it's a genre that by its very definition (if there ever was one) emotes emotes emotes all the wonder, fun, beauty, joy, surprise, fears, disappointments, curiosity, and all-knowingness of childhood.  

So, budding chef Jacob is making his very first pie after watching Chef Monty on his favorite TV show. Throughout the process, he's mindful of Chef Monty's Baking Rules, which include things like, "A happy baker bakes a happy pie," and "If something unexpected happens, fix it as best as you can." What I love is how palpable Jacob's love of cooking is, and how single mindedly he presses on despite his sister distracting him and the family trying to rush him so they can go out to dinner.

(click to enlarge)

He makes a few mistakes along the way, as is expected, but manages to surprise his family with a totally delicious end product. Lots of verve in the language, I like that. Great story about problem solving with lessons applicable to everyday life, and Jacob's own baking rules may be the best ones of all: "It's no fun eating a fresh pie all by yourself," and "A happy pie eater makes a baker happy!"

Jacob, with his rosy cheeks, chef's hat and baking shoes, is definitely my kind of baker. Melissa has filled her pencil, watercolor and collage illustrations with details that tickle me blue, red and green: Jacob's adorable facial expressions (a little tongue sticking out for extra concentration), lotsa checks and plaids and a polka dot pillow!, fetching book titles (Muffin Mania, The ABC of Baking, C is for Crumble), and of course those dang expressive illustrated words taken from the text (poke! push! big! bigger! toot! toot!). There's nothing that pleases me more than letters with personality. And I love the "P" on Jacob's pie. "P is for Pie and P is for Peach, and, of course, P is for Parents!"

(click to enlarge)


Of course you will crave peach pie like the dickens after reading this. And yes, a recipe for Happy Peach Pie is included. Kids will clamor for some time in the kitchen, and will love most of all the idea of eating dessert before dinner. Yes, a very good thing indeed.

I won't torture you any further. Dig in:



by Cari Best
illustrated by Melissa Sweet
published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux, March 2010
Full color Picture Book for ages 4-8, 40 pp.
nom nom nom nom nom and nom

♥ Hungry for a few more pie books? Click here.

*Spreads posted by permission. Text copyright © 2010 Cari Best, illustrations © 2010 Melissa Sweet, published by FSG. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

Aug. 24th, 2010

d is for dog

dogs dogs dogs

from The ABC Book by Florence Sarah Winship (Whitman Publishing, 1940).

Holy Dog Breath!

The alphabet soup kitchen has been hijacked by dogs! 

They're everywhere, everywhere! Lapping up tequila and expensive mineral water, leaping through hoops, barking, whimpering, panting, jumping on the furniture, and licking all my stamps! Some want me to read Shiloh to them over and over again, while others are demanding doggie massages. And I'm running out of biscuits and chew bones!

All because Thursday is National Dog Day, and some of these clever critters got whiff of my plan to post pics of them with their children's author companions. Ever since I put out the call, there's been a steady stream of these tail wagging, tale telling, marvelous mutts ringing my doorbell.

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Jan. 25th, 2010

choc cupcake

january 2010 small graces auction


It's Small Graces time again!

And would you just look at who's kicking things off this year? Only one of my absolute favorite children's illustrators of all time, Melissa Sweet! *swoon*

You may remember that Newbery Honor winner, Grace Lin, donated eleven original paintings last year, each with a proverb or "small grace," to benefit the Foundation for Children's Books. For 2010, twelve different illustrators will be donating paintings, and I'm really looking forward to seeing each and every one.

But back to Melissa. I've always loved and believed in Beethoven's quote, and when I first saw this painting (thanks, Jules), I near fainted dead away. Soup! Painted by Melissa! What a perfect way to celebrate National Soup Month! In case you're not familiar with Melissa's work, she won a Caldecott Honor Medal in 2009 for illustrating A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams, written by Jen Bryant (Eerdman's BFYR, 2008). She also self-illustrated my all-time favorite alphabet book, Carmine: A Little More Red (HMH, 2005), illustrated a whole slew of books by other authors, and her art has graced cookbooks and greeting cards as well as toys. 

So yes, I would love to own this original, unpublished, 8-1/2" x 6-1/2" watercolor gem that comes with a signed certificate of authenticity. But I would also like to see you bid on it, because the FCB sponsors author/illustrator visits and residencies in urban schools in the greater Boston area. A good cause, a win-win situation, a chance for you to own a winsome piece of art created by a Caldecott winning illustrator!

Click here to place a bid on Ebay. The auction runs all this week, January 25-29, 2010.
For more about Melissa Sweet and her work, visit her official website. If you haven't yet seen this fabulous interview at 7-Imp, full of gorgeous, glorious, color-popping Melissa art, you simply MUST. Her studio is beautiful and I want to live there. 

More Melissa goodness right here at alphabet soup:

My 2009 interview with her.
Review of Day is Done, her latest release.

Review of The Sleepy Little Alphabet.
Review/chat with Melissa and Joan MacPhail Knight on the Charlotte series.

*skips off in a Melissa Sweet happy trance*

Copyright © 2010 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved.

Dec. 11th, 2009

poetry friday

friday feast: a balm for the soul

Just as I sat down to write this post, I spotted deer outside my window:

They were snuffling patches of dead leaves, hoping to find a treat or two under the snow. Seeing them always makes me feel calm and reassured. Despite all the chaos in the world, they're still here, reminding us of what is important. Good timing, because I'd been admiring the deer (as well as other woodland animals) in Peter Yarrow's new picture book, Day is Done, which features the lyrics to his iconic folk song. The lovely marriage of his words and Melissa Sweet's pictures calms, comforts, and celebrates the kinship of all living things.

In case it's been awhile since you've heard the song, here's a lovely version featuring Peter, Paul & Mary, the Smothers Brothers, Donovan, and Jennifer Warne:

Day is Done is quite handsome as picture books go, a big hug of a book. Sweet's lush watercolor and mixed media illustrations of animal families settling down for the night are gorgeous and evocative. Of course Melissa had me at the cover, with the mama bear hugging her cub.

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Nov. 19th, 2009


a to zzzzzz's

#19 in an ongoing series of posts celebrating the alphabet.


I hope you don't mind my whispering, but I finally got all the lower case letters to go to sleep. As soon as I opened this doozy (or should I say dozy) of a picture book, those little rascals skitter-scattered every which way and their UPPER CASE parents kind of looked at me like this -- :o(.
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Aug. 5th, 2009


look who's here: charlotte, joan, and melissa!

CHARLOTTE IN LONDON by Joan MacPhail Knight,
pictures by Melissa Sweet (Chronicle, 2008). Ages 8+, 64 pp.

It's August, the perfect time for some armchair traveling! Are you in the mood for a little cherry clafoutis, raspberry fool, and vegetable soup?

Earlier this year, while I was preparing for my interview with Caldecott Silver Medal winner Melissa Sweet, I noticed that she's the illustrator for Joan MacPhail Knight's Charlotte series. I had never seen any of these totally captivating, impeccably designed books before, and it was love love love at first sight!
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May. 12th, 2009


we have two winners!


This is just to say we have selected the winners in our Melissa Sweet Book Giveaway!

After riding around in a red wheelbarrow and consuming an inordinate number of juicy plums, Cornelius got right down to work.

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Apr. 29th, 2009


SOUP'S ON: Melissa Sweet in the Kitchen Interview and Book Giveaway!

Melissa with Rufus and Nellie.

Friends, I’m tickled pink and over the moon, because our very special guest at alphabet soup today is 2009 Caldecott Honor Medal winner, Melissa Sweet!


I can’t think of a better way to top off National Poetry Month, than with the illustrator who so brilliantly rendered the story of how Willie Williams, a doctor from Rutherford, New Jersey, became one of America’s most influential twentieth century poets.



If you’ve seen Melissa’s masterful work in A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams (beautifully written by Jen Bryant), then you know the award was supremely well deserved. Her mixed media collages embody the very soul and spirit of the poet, who “walked through the high grasses and along the soft dirt paths . . . stretched out beside the Passaic River . . . watched everything,” took notes “about things he’d heard, seen, or done . . . looked at the words . . . and shaped them into poems.”

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