Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cozy Cooking Comfort The Bear-y Best Kind

With golden leaves whirling about in the stiff breezes, pumpkins and mums decorating home entrances and snow predicted for the end of the week, it's easy to get in the mood to fill the house with the scent of fresh-baked goods. Welcoming warmth fills the kitchen spreading to nearby rooms in contrast to the chilly temperatures outside. This is what makes a house a home.

To share this cooking adventure with others is a memory worth making.  Baking Day at Grandma's (Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA), August 14, 2014) written by Anika Denise with illustrations by Christopher Denise follows three bear children as they happily traipse through the snow to their grandmother's home.  Anticipation whispers promises in the air.

It's baking day!
It's baking day!
It's baking day at Grandma's!

Dressed from head to toe in hats, coats, mittens, scarves and boots they pull their sled from a cottage to a cabin, past the pond and up and down hills.  Grandma Bear is ready and waiting for their arrival.  A crackling fire gets them warm on the outside as quickly as grandmother's greeting warms their hearts.  

Utensils and ingredients are gathered.  Aprons are donned.  A recipe is read. Can't reach the table?  Then stand on a chair to blend everything together.  You can even sneak a taste.

Delicious smells come from the oven; a cake is rising.  Grandma gives steaming cups of hot chocolate to her treasured trio as Jack Frost paints patterns on the windows.  Singing, dancing and smiles add to the merriment.  

A timer signals this confection is done to perfection.  Shapely gifts are decorated, covered in paper, tied with a bow and gently placed in personalized pouches.  Dressed from head to toe in hats, coats, mittens, scarves and boots the three, glowing inside from exchanged hugs and their sled brimming with hand-made goodies, head home, the path lit by a full moon.

Get ready for some audience participation! Anika Denise begins with a refrain echoed throughout this story which your readers are going to voice with unbridled enthusiasm.  In-between she tells the story with rhymes rich in rhythm, a spirited beat.  Words express the mood and emotions connected to the day as well as conveying the steps taken to create this delightful delicacy.  Readers will understand love is the most important element in making this cake but the pleasure of the day is doubled when it is given away.  Here is a three sentence sample of her writing.

Pass out aprons, "One-two-three."
Grandma reads the recipe:
flour, sugar, butter, eggs.
Stand on chairs with tippy legs.

Rendered in Adobe Photoshop each illustration exudes luminosity.  Those on the matching dust jacket and book case are taken from interior pages.  Looking at the children and grandma dancing in the kitchen makes you want to do the same thing.  On the back they are on their way to the cabin singing the baking song.  The cool steel blue on the opening and closing endpapers match shades found in the morning and evening skies.  The still life of the measuring cup, bowls, wooden spoon, recipe book and checkered towel foreshadow the activity to come.

With visuals other than his edge-to-edge double page spreads Christopher Denise uses white space as an element to frame his one page illustrations and smaller insets on pages containing text.  A very fine red line also delineates his one-page pictures.  His characters' features are lively and lovable.  The bears' physical traits are realistic even if they are wearing clothes.  

What readers will notice are his careful details in his landscapes and the interior of the cabin.  The little bear in the rear watching his reflection in the pond as they pass a group of birches with trees and mountains in the distance is absolutely perfect. The rag rugs, the cuckoo clock and sampler handing on the wall, the wooden table and chairs, the copper tea kettle on the old stove and oven, and the Victrola are charming. (Count me in when everyone heads to Grandma's for a day of baking.)

I would gladly frame any one of these illustrations but one of my favorites is when the three children are dancing around the table carrying the recipe book, wooden spoon and whisk and the bowl above their head.  Grandma Bear is clapping in time to their song, the table covered with other baking ingredients and utensils behind her.  The cabin is awash in light from the fire, the sunny day and glee.

Make sure you have everything on hand to bake Grandma Rosie's Chocolate Cake.  I know readers and listeners will hardly be able to wait to cook and taste after reading Baking Day at Grandma's written by Anika Denise with illustrations by Christopher Denise.  This book is pure one hundred percent comfort.  What a treat it is!  The recipe is on the last page above the publication information.

To enjoy more about the work of Anika Denise and her husband, Christopher Denise, please visit their websites by following the links embedded in their names.  Several days ago Anika Denise tweeted about extras available at her website which are linked here.  Anika Denise is interviewed by Stephanie Bernaba.  Christopher Denise is interviewed about this title and his other work at all creativelike and Writing and Illustrating. When I first saw this book at my favorite independent book shop, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Michigan, I immediately thought of Jama Rattigan and her blog, Jama's Alphabet Soup.  After her blog post about this title which contains even more links and several illustrations from the book, I went back to get a personal copy.

Update: Author Anika Denise shares with her readers one of the best kinds of frosting to put on the cake.


  1. Love this review! You've captured every delicious detail of what makes this book so special.

    And thanks for the link love :)!

    1. Thank you Jama! It is such a wonderful story of family and food. And you are welcome.