You have a plan. You have a list. You have directions to follow. You have three steps to reach your goal.
A lightning strike during a thunderstorm causes your power to go out so you won't be leaving the house on time. Looking at your gauge as the needle points dangerously near the E makes you realize stopping at the gas station should have been among your to-do items. It would have been nice if during the early morning news they had mentioned US-31 would be down to one lane due to painting traffic lines. It's odd they never mentioned which products not to use when cleaning the spot before placing the new yearly sticker on your license plate.
Even on a good day our best intentions might not turn out as expected. We begin with one vision in mind only to end with an entirely different scenario. In A Piece of Cake (Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers) written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham, on Mouse's path to a friend's house surprising encounters create surprising results.
It was Little Bird's birthday. Mouse, who was a very kind mouse, made her a cake.
In making Little Bird's cake, Mouse has used up everything he has in his pantry. He is pleased with the delicious outcome as he sets off to deliver his gift. He's not the only one out and about on this fine day.
Fairly soon he meets another friend, Chicken. Now Chicken takes one look at the cake and expresses a passion for a piece. Wanting to be fair, Chicken offers to give Mouse a cork in exchange. A cork? Mouse is not sure what Little Bird will do with a cork, but he is, as we know, a very kind mouse. The trade is made.
Three other cheerful pals, Squirrel, Bear and Cow, crave cake. They all barter with equally odd items. Puzzled by the possible use of each, Mouse, with affection overruling common sense, arrives at Little Bird's house with no cake but a curious collection.
Little Bird is pleasantly pleased with the presents. It would seem Mouse's kindness is equaled by Little Bird's cleverness. She is sure each will become most useful; asking Mouse to follow her. The two companions find Cow, Bear, Squirrel and Chicken in a bit of a quandary. Four problems with four marvelous solutions will astonish readers as much as they do Mouse. There might be cake involved.
LeUyen Pham tells an original circle story prepared using the best kind of storytelling ingredients. Each time Mouse meets his four friends the same greeting is used with only a slight alteration. Like phrases are used in the following conversations which are a direct invitation for participation. A give-and-take rhythm is established not only between the characters but between the narrative and the reader.
The brilliance of this tale is in the return trip back to Mouse's house. Pham designs predicaments with obvious answers but Little Bird wittily thinks outside the box generating more fun for everyone. When Cow needs a stopper, Little Bird gives her bubbles. Here is a single sample of a conversation.
Next, Mouse met Squirrel, who was gathering nuts.
Hello, Squirrel! said Mouse.
Gadzooks, that's one tasty-looking cake!
Mouse, old buddy, how about giving me some?
If you give me a piece of cake,
I'll trade you...
The smiling faces, cheery colors and warmth in the layout and design greeting readers on the matching dust jacket and book case are a definite attraction. You know by facial expressions at least four of those characters desire what friends Mouse and Little Bird are holding. On the title page LeUyen Pham begins her story with Mouse carrying a milk bottle, a small jar of honey and a basket of acorns.
Drawing them in pencil and digitally coloring her illustrations, Pham shifts her backgrounds for her two page pictures using lighter shades of more prominent colors in her characters and their settings. Her visuals on the following pages are smaller, grouped together and framed with the same hues surrounded by white. This technique mirrors the cadence created by the text.
Each item given to Mouse in exchange for a piece of cake is taken from an inclusive detail in the illustrations. The settings of Chicken, Squirrel, Bear and Cow in which Mouse initially finds them also provide the possibility for each of their eventual problems. Careful readers will also notice Mouse collecting his own items on the return trip home. All the elements in LeUyen Pham's illustrations have a purpose relative to her story.
The expression on Mouse's face when Little Bird offers Cow a wire in trade for some milk is hilarious. It reflects the unexpectedness of Little Bird's suggestion. This illustration is one of my favorite ones. It introduces readers to exactly how clever Little Bird really is; setting the stage for the story's marvelous twists and turns.
There is much deliciousness between the covers of A Piece of Cake written and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. Mouse's kindness and Little Bird's cleverness are a sweet treat certain to brighten any day. This book is perfect for story time, bed time, reader's theater and teaching children how to tell a story without words using props. Plus it's sheer genius on the part of LeUyen Pham to title her story with those four words considering their meaning other than the obvious.
To learn more about LeUyen Pham please follow the link embedded in her name. The chance to win one of her handmade characters is still available. To view more pages from the book follow this link to the publisher's website. Although this video was made for another project, it gives you insight into Pham's process and passion for her work. (I could not get an embed code to appear.) Author Julie Falatko presents an audio review on Katie Davis' Brain Burps.
I wholeheartedly encourage you to get a copy of this book from your closest indie book seller. I got my personal copy from McLean & Eakin in Petoskey, Michigan. Check with your local library too.