Nonfiction Inspired by Classic Children's Books

A Notes from the Windowsill annotated bibliography by Wendy E. Betts. Copyright 2005, 2006

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Last Updated 11/07/06


The Laura Ingalls Wilder Country Cookbook compiled by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Commentary by William Anderson. Photographed by Leslie A. Kelly. HarperTrophy, 1997 (0-06-446196-3) $12.95 pb

Based on recipes from Laura Ingalls Wilder's scrapbook, this is an unusually serious "children's" cookbook: no kid recipes here, but real dishes like Irish stew and pork pie with sweet potato. (As you might expect, apples recipes are also heavily featured.) Fortunately a clean, easy-to-follow design makes the recipes seem inspiring rather than intimidating; only true beginners will need much help following them. Accompanying commentary provides some historical background about Ingall's life and times, illustrated by recent color photographs of items from her various homesites. This is an excellent introduction to hearty, downhome cooking, with as much appeal to adults as to children. (10 & up)

Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes illustrated by Quentin Blake. Viking, 1994 (0-670-85836-6) $15.99; Puffin, 1997 (0-14-037820-0) $6.99 pb

You don't have to be a Roald Dahl fan to be enchanted by this innovative cookbook, a collection of recipes based on foods described in Dahl's books. Including tasty versions of "Fresh Mudburgers," "Stink Bugs' Eggs" and an "Enormous Crocodile" centerpiece, these dishes manage to be both visually true to the stories and quite edible. Blake's slyly funny illustrations are combined with photographs of the finished dishes for a hilarious (as well as practical) effect. Unfortunately, the recipes are not really designed for young cooks, so adult assistance will almost certainly be necessary. (7 & up)

Inside the Secret Garden: a Treasury of Crafts, Recipes, and Activities by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson. Illustrated by Mary Collier. HarperCollins, 2002 (0-06-027922-2) $24.99

There's something counter-intuitive about an activity book based on The Secret Garden; as even this book's authors acknowledge, Frances Hodgson Burnett's characters were really too busy actually gardening to care much about pressing flowers or making windchimes. Still, enthusiastic readers will enjoy this chance to understand the everyday lives of the characters somewhat better, by eating what they ate and seeing some of what they saw. Besides recipes and crafts, the attractively designed book includes a short biography of Burnett, a time line of her life shown in context with historical events, descriptions of typical places, and a glossary of unfamiliar words used in the story.

The World of Little House by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson. Illustrated by Deborah Maze and Garth Williams. HarperCollins, 1996 (0-06-024422-4) $24.95

For readers who love the "Little House" series, this book offers an opportunity for thorough immersion in Laura's world. Each chapter looks at a particular book in the series, with maps and furnished floor plans of the Ingalls's homes, background information about details of daily life, and craft projects that recreate items from the stories: readers can make their own molasses-on-snow candy and name cards. There is also a family tree, which includes many photographs, and a timeline showing the historical events that happened at the same time as events in the life of Laura's family. The final chapter lists resources for readers who want to visit the "little house" sites. (6 & up)

Also available: The Little Women Treasury by Carolyn Strom Collins and Christina Wyss Eriksson. Viking, 1996 (0-670-86337-8) $24.95

The Narnia Cookbook by Douglas Gresham. Illustrated by Pauline Baynes. HarperCollins, 1998 (0-06-027815-3) $15.95

The high point of this collection of "Narnia recipes" is not the recipes themselves, but the commentary by Gresham, one of C.S. Lewis' stepsons. A boy himself when the Narnia books were written, Gresham is familiar with dishes like gooseberry fool and steamed pudding, dishes that American children today may never have encountered and might find hard to envision. (What American child wasn't terribly disappointed when she found out what Turkish Delight is really like?) But more importantly, Gresham has an intimate knowledge of the Narnia books and their creator that lets him write, with total conviction, about what Narnia is like. His commentary is almost entirely free from coyness or a sense that he's "playing with the children" by pretending Narnia is real; obviously for him, as well as for legions of fans, Narnia is real in all the ways that matter. I suspect this wasn't really intended as a cookbook for children: the design isn't child-friendly and many of the dishes are complicated and require special, hard-to-find ingredients. But I can't imagine a fan who wouldn't enjoy reading it, and perhaps trying a hand at the sherbet Shasta drank in The Horse and His Boy or the toffee that grew into a toffee tree in The Magician's Nephew. Full color versions of many of Bayne's original illustrations are an attractive accent (8 & up)

Books on the Move by Susan M. Knorr and Margaret Knorr. Free Spirit, 1993 (0-915793-53-9) $13.95 trade pb

What a wonderful idea for a book: a family travel guide to the United States based on children's literature. Divided by themes such as "Science and Nature," "Stepping into the Past" and "Celebrating Our Diversity," each section lists both books and destinations for numerous different types of exploration and discovery. The books listed are well chosen and nicely diverse: "Adventures in Art," for example, has picture books by Tomie dePaola, nonfiction about art appreciation and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, a story about two runaways who hide out in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. (I'm also glad they chose to include out-of-print books, remembering that such things as libraries exist!) The destinations, divided by state, are of all sorts of child-friendly places like Caddie Woodlawn Memorial Park in Wisconsin, an International Pancake Race in Kansas and the Vaillancourt Fountain in San Francisco. (The recognition of the enjoyment value of this highly underrated fountain alone would've earned this book a star from me.) Both book and destination listings are annotated with basic information and a short description; these seem to be reliable and informative. There are three useful indexes: Subject, Author-Title, and Destinations by State. All fifty states and Washington D.C. are represented, though some with only a few destinations. Don't expect to use this book as a complete vacation planning guide, but it's a terrific way to get ideas of places to go, things to do and books to read about them. Teachers may also find it a very useful sourcebook for units on geography, transportation, cultures or history. *

Searching for Laura Ingalls: a Reader's Journey by Kathryn Lasky and Meribah Knight. Illustrated by Christopher G. Knight. Macmillan, 1993 (0-02-751666-0) $15.95

The urge to see places that have become real to us through literature is a feeling most readers know. This unusual picture book describes and photo-illustrates one girl's literary pilgrimage to the many homesites of her favorite heroine, Laura Ingalls. Written by the girl, Meribah, and her mother, with photographs taken by her father, it is a vivid, on-the-spot portrait of what it feels like to try and recapture the past, with some poignant disappointments as well as moments of excitement. As both a description of Meribah's experience and a chance for the reader to see the sights along with her, it will have a strong appeal for other fans of the "Little House" books, although the overall mood is, perhaps inevitably, rather sad. (5 & up)

Storybook Favorites in Cross-Stitch by Gillian Souter. dutton, 1996 (0-525-45613-9)

Favorite picture book characters such as Madeleine, Babr, Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington can make wonderful decorations on pillowcases, place mats, birth annoucements and numerous other items with the help of this book. Each project includes a cross-stitch design and color chart; ann introductory chapter explains the basic techniques. I know absolutely nothing about this craft, but the instructions seem straightforward and thorough. The instructions for the individual projects, on the other hand, are rather terse and may confused beginners. This book will probably be most useful to those already quite experienced with handicrafts, particularly sewing.

Mary Poppins in the Kitchen by P.L. Travers. Illustrated by Mary Shepard. 1975; Harcourt, 2006 (0-15-207080-4) $14.00

This book is in two parts, a section of stories about Mary Poppins and her charges cooking and a collection of recipes, and it says something that the recipes are slightly more interesting than the stories. Each vignette follows the same pattern: the children are reuinted with one of the odder characters from the Mary Poppins books, who's come to help with the cooking, and mild hijinks briefly ensue; the effect is a bit like that of a television clip show, and only readers who are already very fond of the series will be much entertained. But the cookbook section is fun, if you like that sort of thing (I do), with hearty recipes like Shepherd's Pie and dashes of cookery wisdom from Mary Poppins, such as "You must wait for the souffle--it won't wait for you." It's not completely beginner friendly, but kids (or adults) who already know the basics of separating eggs and sifting flour will find it pretty easy to follow. (8 & up)

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