Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Building Freedom One Loaf At A Time

Making bread from scratch is a labor of love.  Measuring and mixing the ingredients, selecting the correct temperature to activate the yeast, kneading the dough, letting it rise, kneading it again, dividing it into loaves and baking it are time-consuming steps but even the smell of the yeast working is enough to trigger memories of complete comfort.  As it bakes the odor drifting from the oven wraps around you like arms in a hug.

Growing up, every town, no matter the size, had a bakery.  Each morning fresh baked pastries and breads would fill the glass cases.  Gingerbread for Liberty!:  How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 27, 2015) written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch is about a bake shop in Philadelphia and its baker who served for and with General George Washington during the American Revolution.

Everyone in Philadelphia knew the gingerbread baker.  His honest face...his booming laugh...

With his creative hands all sorts of shapes were formed and outlined in frosting.  For the children there were always left-over bits and pieces so none went hungry.  You could hear him say

"No empty bellies here!" 
"Not in my America!"

This baker knew what it was to be hungry living in Europe as a child but he also understood America offered opportunities for those willing to work hard perfecting their skills.  So he came.  In time rumors turned to truth; Americans were fighting for their freedom from British rule.  

Regardless of the advice from his wife about his age (old) and his robust physical shape (fat), this baker was determined to fight for his country, America.  He set off with the other soldiers to serve in General Washington's army.  When the baker arrived at the camp, he heard grumbling rumblings of soldiers ready to leave.  They were hungry.

While the baker from Philadelphia baked and baked for those soldiers, trouble was brewing across the ocean.  Men arrived in boats hired by the king of England.  It was more men than anyone had ever seen except for one man, the baker.  

After a consultation with General Washington, under cover of darkness the baker rowed toward those men from across the ocean.  Upon his arrival and looking at them all his plans changed.  He knew what he kneaded to do.  At the end of the revolution, believing his duties as baker general to be fulfilled, the baker from Philadelphia was ready to leave but General Washington had one more request.  And Christopher Ludwick did it.

The geniality of the baker in Philadelphia is apparent from the first two phrases penned by Mara Rockliff.  With great care she blends her research into a narrative easily understood by the youngest reader infusing the personality of the baker into her words.  With ease we follow the course of events and the baker's part in them.  Here is another passage.

But now, something was in the air (besides the smell of baking gingerbread).  Newspapers shouted
Revolution! Independence! Liberty!
Boys rolled up blankets, shouldered guns, and kissed mothers goodbye.
The baker hung his apron up.  He dusted flour off his hands.

As soon as you see the matching dust jacket and book case, you know this picture book biography is unique.  Marching off to join the army the baker is carrying stars on a platter.  He is ready to help America using his greatest skills.  To the left, on the back, other soldiers are marching to serve with General Washington.  The remarkable style of the illustrations seen here is continued throughout the book.  Created by Vincent X. Kirsch with 140-lb. press watercolor paper, watercolor, and rubbelkrepp (masking fluid) each image looks like the work of a master gingerbread baker.  

The opening and closing endpapers done in brown and cream feature a visual and written recipe for Simple Gingerbread Cookies.  Each letter in gingerbread appears as a cut-out cookie.  On the title page the majority of the text is placed on a sign such as one would find hanging outside a place of business during this time period.  Along the bottom buildings reflect the architecture of historic Philadelphia.  They continue on the verso and on the first page with the baker in a similar stance as on the front of the jacket and case.  

The color palette chosen by Kirsch is muted and warm with details etched in icing.  All of the pictures span across two pages.  Most of them present a larger overview with the exception of the conversation between Washington and the baker prior to his mission.  We are so close, we feel like participants in this communication. 

One of my favorite illustrations is when the baker is leaving to join the army.  To the left his wife is standing outside the bake shop, hands on hips.  A cow is grazing nearby.  The baker, carrying all his gear on this back, legs spread wide, is running.  It's as if he is floating over the countryside.  This is a reflection of the man's continuous can-do attitude. 

Gingerbread for Liberty!:  How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution written by Mara Rockliff with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch is a piece of our history too delicious to miss.  It showcases the importance of doing what you do best in service to a cause in which you believe.  One person did and can make a difference.  An author's note and list of sources are found on the last page.

To learn more about Mara Rockliff and Vincent X. Kirsch please visit their websites by following the links attached to their names.  This title and Mara Rockliff are featured at Jama's Alphabet Soup.  Publishers Weekly showcases this book, 'Gingerbread Liberty' Serves Up A Slice of Revolutionary History.  You will want to listen at TeachingBooks.net to hear Mara Rockliff talk about her name.

Please take a few moments to stop by Kid Lit Frenzy to see the selection of titles other bloggers have included in the 2015 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.  I can never thank educator Alyson Beecher enough for hosting this each week.

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