Many believe cooking to be an art form as well as a labor of love. Regardless of how simple or complex the dish being prepared is, the quality of the ingredients contributes to the sensory results; the way it looks, smells and tastes. No two people, even when following the same recipe will achieve the same outcome. Not everyone knows about the secret ingredient.
With the winds howling outside here in southern Michigan and the promise of rain and possibly snow in the air, there's no better time to create comfort food in the kitchen. A little more than seven years ago, author illustrator Melissa Iwai gave us Soup Day (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, September 28, 2010). In this title a little girl and her mother venture out from their apartment in the city into the snowy weather to visit the local market. Once there they select the vegetables with the most vibrant colors and appropriate shapes, vividly described for readers.
Home again the vegetables are cleaned and chopped into particular shapes; squares, circles, and cubes are placed in the pot to saute. Step by step a story of cooking and playful waiting unfolds. Upon the arrival home of the father in the evening, the three sit down to a dinner of homemade soup topped with confetti made of parsley. The title closes with the inclusion of the Snowy Day Vegetable Soup recipe.
Today, October 31, 2017, Halloween, readers receive another treat, the release of Pizza Day (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company) written and illustrated by Melissa Iwai. Just the mention of the word pizza brings to mind memories of shared meals with friends and family as slices of this deliciousness are happily consumed. In this companion title to Soup Day a boy and his father work and play together to prepare a pie uniquely their own.
Today is pizza day.
Excitement and summer sunshine are in abundance as a little boy and his father gather tools and a basket for a visit to the garden outside their home. The family dog, Caesar, runs along beside them. The results of their sowing seeds earlier in the spring are visible; plants filled with tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions and basil. Specific amounts of each are collected, carried inside and cleaned.
Next the two work to make the dough for the crust. After the ingredients are measured and mixed in a large bowl, the real fun begins. The gooey concoction, placed on a hard surface, is punched and pulled by hand until it's smooth and shiny. Back in the bowl and covered, it rests so it can rise.
Vegetables from the garden are mixed to make a sauce now simmering on the stove. While the dough and sauce transform into delectable delights, the father and his son join Caesar outside for games real and imaginary. Before they know it, it's time to complete the pizza.
The dough, puffy and full, is rolled into a round on the pan. The sauce, rich and thick, is poured into a blender and then on top of the crust. The next layer is other sliced vegetables and this is topped with grated cheese. Into the oven this piece of scrumptious perfection is placed. As the twosome pick up outside, mom arrives home. It's pizza picnic time!
In this and the previous title, Melissa Iwai makes with her words the adventure mixed with a bit of magic cooking can and should be. Her simple initial statement declares the beginning of a promise. When the duo are in the garden the amount of vegetables picked are named along with descriptive adjectives and verbs;
Five juicy red tomatoes plucked from the vine.
Moving into the kitchen the listing of the ingredients as the dough and sauce are made generates anticipation. The two, the dough and the sauce, are tied together with the comparison of sleeping and waking and the boy's whispered words. Warmth and naturalness are added to the experience with the inclusion of playing outside, putting away the tools and toys and the cleaning of the dog. What makes this story accessible to all ages is the first person, the boy's, point of view. Here are several sample sentences.
I mix it all together with a wooden spoon.
It turns into a big, sticky, squishy lump. (page turn)
the dough onto
When you look at the front of the dust jacket (I am working with an F & G. My copy has not arrived yet.) you can almost smell the aroma of the pizza wafting into the air in the shown swirls. The expression on the boy's face leaves no doubt as to his thoughts. The details Melissa includes, the toppings on the pizza and the freckles across the boy's nose and cheeks, add to the realistic charm. To the left, on the back, within an oblong frame like a recipe card is an introduction to the book. A small watering can, rolling pin, tiny twig of basil, several tomatoes, a grater and cheese are pictured.
The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in scattered tomatoes, basil and mushrooms on first a cream and then a spring green background. Across the verso and title pages on a canvas of crisp white are a sprinkling of gardening and cooking tools and ingredients. Rendered in acrylics, collage, Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator the illustrations may span two pages, edge to edge, single pages with loose frames surrounded by liberal white space or a series of smaller images to portray the passage of time.
The bright, full color images are bursting with energy. Each scene supplied with elements full of the everyday radiate the affection shared by all the family members including Caesar. A towel hanging over the kitchen sink, a vase of sunflowers sitting on the window ledge, an open cupboard of kitchen tools and ingredients in view, Caesar jumping up and licking the boy, pots and pans hanging from the ceiling, rubber boots, one laying on its side, near a rug by the door and a calendar attached to the refrigerator are seen as the dad says goodbye to his wife leaving for work. This first picture is followed by others of similar and varying perspectives. We might be at the boy's level as he picks tomatoes within the garden or see the family gathered around the picnic table eating the pizza from a slightly above angle. Singing off of every single page is the happiness of this entire day seen on the faces of the characters.
One of my many favorite pictures is when the boy is in the garden. It is a two-page picture. On the left he is kneeling in the dirt with the tomato vines replete with their fruit making a green wall around him. He is wearing a blue and white striped shirt, blue overalls and red tennis shoes. To the right crouched down on his front paws, tail wagging in the air, is Caesar. He is sniffing the lettuce. Identifying stakes are sticking up for tomatoes and peppers.
Pizza Day written and illustrated by Melissa Iwai is a scrumptious story with a tasty resolution. Every reader will want to have a pizza day as soon as possible. This title is sure to inspire and encourage gardening and cooking together. The secret ingredient is love which radiates throughout this book. At the end Melissa include a two page recipe for the dough and sauce as well as a step-by-step set of instructions complete with an Anatomy of Pizza. You will want to make sure you have a copy on your professional bookshelves and in your personal collection.
To discover more about Melissa Iwai and her other work, please take a few moments to visit her website by following the link attached to her name. On her blog she has a post talking about this title. She maintains an account on Instagram which you will enjoy. At the publisher's website you can view interior images including one of my favorites. A teacher's guide and activity guide are also available there. At Scholastic's Ambassador of School Libraries, John Schumacher's blog, Watch. Connect. Read., he and Melissa chat about Pizza Day and libraries. Just before I clicked Publish on this post, I checked the blogs I have listed that I check every single day. I was delighted to see this title featured at Jama Rattigan's Jama's Alphabet Soup. You must go there to read her review and interview with Melissa Iwai. Melissa Iwai is also a guest on All The Wonders, Episode 399 chatting with teacher librarian Matthew Winner. Be sure to watch the book trailer.