Quote of the Month

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

Friday, December 7, 2018

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like .. #4

They date back to the 16th century during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.  She had a special baker to fashion men shaped like foreign dignitaries and people in her court. They were made of gingerbread.  Gingerbread men (and women) have become an important feature of Christmas food presentations.  They have also been a part of the folktale realm for more than 150 years.  To our delight tellers of stories have given readers and listeners numerous variations.

The one constant in most of the stories is the tasty treat is usually running as fast as they canTough Cookie: A Christmas Story (Christy Ottaviano Books, Henry Holt and Company, September 11, 2018) written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway offers readers an appetizing twist.  A brand-new tradition is about to race into your repertoire of holiday tales.

Once upon a time, while Fox
was visiting Christmastown,
in the Land of Holiday Treats . . .

A cookie, fresh from the oven, ran to the bakery door and declared how delicious he was.  Fox could hardly wait to catch this little rascal and savor his sweetness.  The cookie taunted him 

Run, run, as fast as you can!
You can't catch me---
I'm the Sugar Cookie Man!

Fox was fast, faster than the cookie.  He reached out, grabbed him and bit that cookie's head.  YUCK!  He tasted horrible.  He was the worst sugar cookie Fox had ever tasted.

Well, let me tell you; cookie was mad on two accounts.  He had a bite mark on his head and no sugar cookie wants to be told they taste disgusting.  In addition, Fox told him he was so hard, he broke one of his teeth.  Cookie, Tough Cookie, burst into tears.

Fox decided to befriend the little guy attempting to help him be sweeter and faster.  A trip to Christmastown Spa, including a dip in scrumptious eggnog with other luscious choices, running in the Sweet Treat Christmas Race and building a gingerbread home in Cookie Cutter did nothing to improve Cookie's circumstances. He was more depressed than ever.  Always the optimist, Fox was sure something good would happen.  And it did!

Suddenly a chorus of voices pointed out the truth to Cookie and Fox.  How had they missed this tiny but important detail?  Now everything was tree-mendous for Cookie; toughness can be an asset for cookies and their foxy friends.

When Edward Hemingway begins with once upon a time you know you're in for a treat.  The words Christmastown and Land of Holiday Treats conjure marvelous visions.  The blend of crisp, descriptive dialogue and concise, natural narrative create a captivating flow.  Edward uses repetition and clever wordplay to cook up a storytelling cadence with ample seasonings of humor.  Here is a passage.

And that's when Cookie crumbled.

I'm not sweet.
I'm not fast.
I can't even make a
gingerbread house.
Everything I do 
is half-baked!  

It's impossible not to smile when looking at the matching, opened dust jacket and book case.  Wide-eyed Cookie and all his confection companions are grinning with happiness.  Even Fox is joining in the merriment.  On the front Edward Hemingway introduces us to the color palette used in this book.  Snow drifts gather on the title text or maybe it's frosting.  It's Christmastown, after all.

To the left, on the back, Cookie, featured in a circle of white on a pale mint green background, is running and chanting his familiar phrase.  The opening and closing endpapers are patterned in rows of rectangles in a variety of colors.  They are canvases for seventy-five treats (plus Christmas decorations and gifts) with one more for Fox who is leaning over and sipping one of those mouthwatering goodies.  Cookie is shining in the near center.  The eyes, positions of arms and legs and exquisite details in these portraits are wonderful.  

Rendered with oils on board sprinkled with Adobe Photoshop the illustrations throughout this title spanning double pages, single pages and partial pages contribute to stellar pacing.  The speech bubbles and narrative placement are pleasing.  The background elements with the previously mentioned intricate details present a setting readers will be eager to visit.  

One of my many favorite illustrations is the first double-page picture.  We are given a bird's-eye view of a crossroads in Christmastown.  The brick buildings are enchanting.  Peeking out of most of the windows are wide-eyed treats.  A bluebird (of happiness) sings above the Christmastown Bakery sign. The word bakery looks to be fashioned from bread; like the bread displayed in the window.  Bright candy-shaped lights hang along the roof edge.  Fox, standing in front of the bakery, is dreaming of sweet treats.  A candy cane is riding a bike down Sugar Street with a peppermint passenger.  A whip-cream topped drink, cupcake and candied apple are running down Spice Avenue.  A Santa Claus mural on a building faces Spice Avenue.  In the town square a decorated tree is glowing.  It's snowing. 

When you read the title text on the front of the jacket and case you wonder why a gingerbread man, front and center, is smiling.  Why would a tough cookie be smiling?  When you read Tough Cookie: A Christmas Story written and illustrated by Edward Hemingway you'll be smiling too.  It's entertaining from beginning to end.  It's gives us a fabulous new beginning and ending on a traditional tale.  It inspires us to keep seeking our rightful place in the scheme of things.  It also encourages us to start baking because we are craving sweet treats.  With that end in mind Edward includes two separate recipes at the close of the book.  I know you'll want to add this title to your personal and professional book collections.  

To learn more about Edward Hemingway and his other work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  You can view interior images at Edward's site and at the publisher's website.  Edward maintains accounts on Twitter and Instagram.  You'll enjoy this article published about the book in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

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