Most Influential

Bunny Salad courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsQ: What books inspired you to do the creative things you do today?

A lot of children’s books have influenced me as a reader, writer, educator, and artist. Some of my childhood favorites have even shown up on the blog (here and here!) But if you’re specifically asking about creativity, there IS one book that towers above all others like a yellow-and-white striped Everest. It’s not a picture book. It’s not a chapter book. It’s not even a fiction book. It’s a cookbook. Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook to be exact (Golden Press, 1965).

Betty Crocker's New Books and Girls Cookbook image courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsI would look at this book for hours. I would slowly flip the pages, eagerly anticipating the arrival of my favorite section. Can you guess which one it was? Yup. “Cookies, Cakes, and Other Desserts.” Here is the cake of my childhood dreams:

Enchanted Castle Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsOh where do I start? I was wholly enthusiastic about cake (and those pink pillow mints – wow, do they even make those anymore?). But even more, I loved that someone had taken food and sculpted it into something imaginative and fantastical. Then fearlessly added non-edible items (such as the toothpick drawbridge chains) to complete the picture. Also, they didn’t just photograph the cake on a table. They set the scene with grass, a shiny moat, and a blue sky with cotton ball clouds. And how about this beautiful creation…

Ice Cream Flower Pot courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsIt’s an “Ice Cream Flower Pot.” A waxed paper cup, ice cream and crushed cookie “dirt,” candy leaves, and a frigging lollipop flower! You can put lollipops and ice cream together and make it look like a flower pot? My mind was officially blown.

Also earth-shattering was the realization that you could use food to make images of, say, animals parading around a “Circus Cake” (did you notice the little cashew feet and red licorice knot tail on the pig?).

Circus Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsThose wild and crazy Betty Crocker bakers even used holiday-specific candy…on cakes that were totally unrelated to that particular holiday! Like candy canes on a 4th of July “Drum Cake”:

Drum Cake courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsThis taught me that you could look at an object, even a familiar one like a candy cane, and see it used for a different purpose or in a different context. That, my friends, is a pretty abstract lesson to be learned from a cake. I still want to eat those cherries too.

While I did spend an inordinate amount of time pouring over the cookbook’s dessert sections, there was one recipe that caught my eye in the “Salads and Vegetables” section:

Bunny Salad courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsOf all the time I spent looking at this book, I only made one recipe from it. One! It was “Bunny Salad.” I begged my mom for the ingredients and proudly assembled this spectacular dish. It was awesome. I had created! I also learned that, alas, I didn’t like cottage cheese very much.

Interestingly, I’m not the only person who was affected by this cookbook in childhood. Cece Bell mentioned it in an interview with Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blogger Jules Danielson. She specifically cites the “Enchanted Castle Cake” of my dreams, too! If I ever hang out with her, I’m baking one and bringing it with me (pssst! if you’d like to see our story time project for Cece’s book, Itty Bitty, go here).

One final Betty Crocker’s New Boys and Girls Cookbook connection for you. The cookbook features illustrations as well as photographs. I was obsessed with this one in particular:

Red Devil Sundae Topping courtesy of Betty Crocker and General MillsWhen it came time to dress my toddler for Halloween 2009, what costume did I choose?

Halloween devilCoincidence? I don’t think so.


Book images courtesy of Betty Crocker and General Mills. Many thanks for allowing me to use the images, and for being such an inspiration.

Don’t Wake The Giant

don't wake the giant

Besides having exquisite taste in socks, these two clever girls came up with a book project that was much cooler than my book project. It involves giants, snoring, caves, and castles perched in a precarious place. It was for To Be Continued, our story time for 6-8 year-olds.

We read The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, written by Jennifer Trafton, and illustrated by Brett Helquist (Puffin, 2010). Persimmony Smudge has lost her hat, and her way, in a woods filled with poison-tongued jumping tortoises and restless mangroves. Little does Persimmony know that she is about to be a part of a much bigger dilemma – one that involves a castle, a bratty king, a mountain that rises and falls according to the time of day, and rumors of a snoring giant under said mountain. And then there’s the revolt at the pepper mill, the prophecy of the Lyre-That-Never-Lies, and the growing indignation of the most terribly polite Leafeaters. Will the island be shaken to pieces by the giant? Or will Persimmony and her friends be able to stop this terrible fate?

In the book, elderly Theodore the Potter makes Giving Pots. Basically, there are pots that give you what you need, not what you want. Persimmony’s pot, for example, gives her a single feather (and it turns out later she really, really, really needs it!). I loved the idea of making Giving Pots, so I brought out a slew of Model Magic. Love this stuff. It’s light, no mess, and it dries beautifully (it makes great mandrakes too).

giving pot

Before the kids started sculpting, I asked them to recall a passage from the book that described the beautiful artwork of the Leafeaters. Here’s the passage:

“The walls were elaborately painted with glorious pictures of trees. There were coconut palms bent sideways from the wind. There were clusters of mangrove trees as they grew at the forest’s edges along the shore. And there were stately willows with boughs drooping to the ground like green waterfalls.

The dome above was painted to look like the sky with the sun and moon and stars. Farther down were hundred of pictures stretching in a circle around the room – pictures of Mount Majestic, of fields ripe for harvest and orchards ripe for picking, of fishing boats on the sea and brown seals on the rocks, of goats and squirrels and pelicans.”

Here are the beautiful nature-influenced Giving Pots the kids created:

When the kids finished their Giving Pots, I dropped a single white duck quill feather into them. Because like Persimmony, you never know when you might need it!

So that was my project. However, two story time attendees were trying to guess what the Mount Majestic book project would be, and decided to send in one of their own! It was a contest to see who could keep the castle on their belly the longest while holding up the Snoring Cave. It’s a perfect match to the book (the giant originates in the Snoring Cave and the castle is located directly above him on Mount Majestic). Awesome.

don't wake the giantDid you recognize the castles from a previous To Be Continued? They were the project for Castle Hangnail. Nice to see them make a triumphant return!

The Game is Afoot

the game is afoot“Check this out!” Katie said to me one morning, holding up her phone. “My friend just posted this to her Instagram!” It was a board game, based on the book Hatchet, designed by Quinn Densmore, a 5th grader in New Mexico.

First of all, wow. Hatchet is a fantastic book. Second of all, WOW! Quinn’s game board was 3-dimensional! Thirdly, what amazing muse inspired him to create a game version of the book? The answer was Kandice Tomanek, his teacher. Clever Ms. Tomanek invited her class to design board games based on their favorite books. I asked if she would be willing to share a few more creations. The whole class voted for their Top 5, which I am delighted to present to you today, in no particular order.


PETER PAN
Designed by Terra Donahue

peter pan designed by terra donahue

Dice rolls move 4 players around the board. Some squares contains a symbol, others a number. If you land on a marked square, you must pick a card with the matching symbol or number and follow its instructions (be they good or bad). The game ends when a player reaches the “Finish Zone,” but the winner is the person who has collected the most gold balls.

I love the way the game board opens into Mermaid Lagoon and Pirate’s Bay. I love that all the famous Neverland landmarks are there. I love the ring of clouds around the top of the tallest mountain. I love the gorgeous compass. And I especially love the upended mermaid tails in the lagoon!


UPSIDE-DOWN MAGIC: STICKS AND STONES
Designed by Ailey Cassidy-Jones

upside down magic stick and stones designed by ailey cassidy-jonesThe goal of this game is to get rid of as many gems as you can before reaching the finish line (i.e. the “Pennies for Potions” square).  No small feat considering that each player starts with 50 gems! As you travel the board, you can either gain or lose gems depending on the space you land on and the cards you draw.

I’m not familiar with the Upside-Down Magic books, but I can absolutely appreciate that the game players are characters from the books (such cool little wooden boxes for each of them!). I also appreciate the math involved as you navigate the board and acquire and lose gems. That and Kitten Ball in the Gymnasium. I need to know what Kitten Ball is!


THE LANDS BEYOND
Designed by Greta Smith

the lands beyond designed by greta smithBased on The Phantom Tollbooth, players begin at the tollbooth but soon encounter the Doldrums. If you roll a 1,3, or 5, you get stuck on the Doldrums. If you roll a 2,4, or 6 you take another path. The game continues to move forward in this quirky fashion, and also includes directional cards that make you stop or allow you to roll again. Waiting at the finish line, of course, are Princesses Rhyme and Reason.

So, how much do you love that beautiful purple tollbooth? And the innovative take on dice roll navigation? As you get close to the Mountains of Ignorance, you’ll notice that the cards change from “Pick a Card” to “Demon Card” as well. So clever. And did you notice the Mathamagician’s pencil?

I can’t resist sneaking a couple Phantom Tollbooth connections in here. Click here to meet the author, and click here to visit Digitopolis, the city of math.


HATCHET
Designed by Quinn Densmore

hatchet designed by quinn densmoreThe object of this game is to get rescued from the wilderness. As you move around the board, you acquire different cards. If you get a fire card you are immune to 1 hypothermia card.  If you get hit by a disaster, you must do what the card instructs (move back, lose a turn, etc.). If you get a rescue card, you are safe from the next attack card. Collect 5 rescue cards, and you win!

Not only is this board a total work of 3-dimesional art, I think Quinn really captured the uncertainty of Brian’s plight in the game play. Because sometimes Brian was just plain unlucky (plane crash, gut cherries, extremely territorial moose). Also, there’s no finish line. You wind your way back and forth through the wilderness until (hopefully) you are rescued. Very cool.


THE HOBOKEN CHICKEN EMERGENCY
Designed by Rebekah Bagwell

hoboken chicken emergency designed by rebekah bagwellI’ve been a Daniel Pinkwater fan since I was 9, so I was thrilled to see this classic book turned into a game. Players race each other to Hokoben City Hall. Along the way, they must follow the directions on each space (if they land on a blank space, they just wait until their turn comes up again). The winner gets to take home a little Henrietta as a pet!

The details on this game are awesome. The players are characters from the book. Rebekah’s labeled the streets, the stores, and locations. There are nods to Bozo, potatoes, the Hoboken Inquirer, and Dr. Hsu Ting Feng. I tip my hat to you, Miss Bagwell.


Many thanks to Ailey, Greta, Quinn, Rebekah, and Terra for sharing their games, and to Kandice Tomanek for organizing the vote and sending the pictures (and just for being an awesome teacher)!