Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Peeking Into A Pastry's Past

Certain foods prompt memories; the first (or only) time you tasted something new, a parent's special recipe or when you cooked a meal all by yourself.  They are an integral part of annual celebrations and cultural traditions.  One very special pastry has been a crowd-pleaser for more than one hundred fifty years.

Growing up there was nothing better than walking into the local bakery early in the morning and tasting one freshly made.  In one of my school positions whenever there was a snow day, one of my neighborhood family's made them, inviting me to join in the fun.  The Hole Story Of The Doughnut (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, May 3, 2016) written by Pat Miller with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch adds a delicious ingredient to an already scrumptious treat.

Few remember the master mariner
Hanson Crockett Gregory, though
he was bold and brave and bright.

At the age of thirteen Hanson left his home in Maine to sail the seas as a cabin boy.  He became a cook's assistant and then was assigned to scale the ship's rigging releasing the sails.  Can you imagine climbing eight stories on lines in your bare feet?

Six years later he captained a cargo schooner, then in a short time lead a crew sailing a clipper ship from coast to coast.  He even received a medal from Queen Isabella II of Spain for rescuing Spanish sailors at sea.  There is little doubt as to the excellence of Hanson Crockett Gregory's skills aboard a ship.

This book is not solely about Hanson's abilities as a sailor but his ingenious leap of faith in the galley one morning cooking for the crew as an assistant when he was a teenager.  Rather than making the less than savory "sinkers", ball-shaped fried dough with gooey, greasy centers, he altered the routine.  Voila!  A new delectable treat was born.

Over time legends of an elaborate nature were told about the doughnut's origin, daring rescues at sea involving sinkers, wheels and belaying pins but we readers know the truth.  Decades later Hanson is quoted in a newspaper interview, giving a humorous and humble reply to a query.  Today in his honor he still looks to the sea from his resting place.

With her introductory two sentences Pat Miller reminds readers there are many stories within the single story of our lives.  She highlights the sailing life of Gregory first; giving us a foundation for his famous invention.  Then using a flashback technique we are privy to his creativity and how it spread from ship to shore.  The specific details in both of these narratives represent meticulous research.  By including other tales of the origin, she allows us to see how legends are formed.  Here is a sample passage representative of her conversational presentation in this book.

Hansom formed balls of sweetened dough.  Both men stood on spread legs as the cramped galley lurched with the ship.  Pans clanged overhead.
The aroma of browning sugar rose as the cook dropped in the first blobs of dough.  The iron railing on the stovetop kept the pot in place as the Ivanhoe bucked and plunged. ...

For knowing observers of children literature illustrators, they will recognize the work of Vincent X. Kirsch last seen in Gingerbread for Liberty!: How a German Baker Helped Win the American Revolution.  The attention to details on the matching dust jacket and book case enhance the narrative adding tasty pieces of humor; the medal on Gregory's jacket, the whale reaching toward the doughnut mouth open and the expression on Gregory's face after sampling his invention.  On the back, to the left, within a circle of rope (a line) all eight legs of an octopus are holding a doughnut through the hole.  The blue along the bottom edge on the front crosses the spine becoming the hue surrounding the golden shade inside the circle. Eighteen rows of nine doughnuts and life rings around a doughnut with a ship's anchor in an array of decorative patterns (Fourth of July, Halloween, and a snowman) cover the opening and closing endpapers.  A clever set of marine signal flags spells out a request on the verso page.

Throughout the volume Kirsch places his images within circles framed by white space, background visuals extending the opposite picture and rope.  His perspective shifts bringing readers into the moment;  a smaller Gregory high in the vast rigging with the sun behind him, the movement of the ship at sea, a close-up of the defining ingenious moment in the galley or brave rescues during stormy waters.  All of the illustrations are suggestive of the energy surrounding this man; nothing is static.  Although my knowledge of period attire and architecture is limited it seems that Kirsch is authentic in his work.

One of my favorite illustrations is when Kirsch zooms in on Gregory hard at work in the galley bending over a tray of "sinkers".  Behind him are the shelves in the galley lined with ingredients.  He gives additional color to the important element there.  The look on Gregory's face is determined as well as full of hope.  You can see the progress of his baking spread before him.

This nonfiction picture book biography will linger in readers' minds as surely as the first sweet taste of a well-cooked doughnut will in their mouths.  The Hole Story Of The Doughnut written by Pat Miller with illustrations by Vincent X. Kirsch is savory and informative from beginning to end.  The final four pages include a photograph of Hanson Crockett Gregory, an author's note, a timeline, acknowledgments and a selected bibliography.

To discover more about Pat Miller and Vincent X. Kirsch please follow the links attached to their names to access their websites.  Vincent X.Kirsch gives readers a peak at several interior images from this title.  Please read the review of this title at Jama's Alphabet Soup by Jama Rattigan.  She includes other helpful links on the progress of this book's creation.  On May 18, 2016 Pat Miller is a guest on a podcast at Storybook Spotlight, SSP86.

Please stop by Kid Lit Frenzy hosted by educator Alyson Beecher to discover the other books selected by bloggers participating in the 2016 Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge.


  1. LOVED this one--from the circular tall tale story structure, and the donut-inspired designed pages. I especially loved Vincent's illustrations.

    I loved Jama's post on this one too.

    And Gingerbread for Liberty is another favorite. I have to say that PB bios are among my very favorite to read. Some day I will write one too--just haven't quite found the right topic :).

    Thanks, Margie :)

    1. I agree with your comments about the story and the illustrations Maria. I really like how more than one story was a part of the whole (hole). I have learned more from reading picture book biographies than any other history book read in a classroom. I think they should be in all classrooms regardless of age level. I hope you find a topic, I know it will be good. :)

  2. Thanks for the nice review and link love, Margie. Now I'm craving donuts all over again . . .

    1. You are welcome on both counts Jama. I know what you mean about the doughnut cravings.