Guest Reader

A couple of weeks ago, a friend called and asked me to be a “celebrity” reader for second graders at a Webster elementary school (they obviously use the term “celebrity” loosely). I was told to talk about my cooking contest experiences, read a book, and then tell them how reading helps me.

The first part was easy – I used my aprons from the contests I've attended to illustrate my story. The third part was easy, because many people are eliminated from contests for failing to read the rules closely. The hardest part was finding the perfect book. I wanted it to be about cooking or food, and appeal to second graders – so it couldn’t be a really short picture book that preschoolers would enjoy, and it also couldn’t be a long chapter book.

I posed the question to the helpful members of Cooking Contest Central, and about a dozen people gave me some great suggestions including:
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Green Eggs and Ham
Warthogs in the Kitchen
The Sensational Samburger
Sam’s Sandwich
Gregory the Terrible Eater
D.W. The Picky Eater
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
series (a favorite series of ours, by the way)
Oliver’s Vegetables
Bread and Jam for Francis
Stone Soup
Mr. Wolf’s Pancakes
Chicken Fingers, Mac and Cheese ... Why Do You Always Have to Say Please?
Amelia Bedelia
Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich
Toad Food and Measle Soup

Although they all were great ideas, I decided I wanted the book to have more to do with cooking than with food, and came close to choosing these books:

The Little Red Hen (Makes a Pizza) , by Philemon Sturges and Amy Walrod

I always found the traditional Little Red Hen folk tale to be a bit punitive and mean-spirited. To me, the real joy of cooking is enjoying what you’ve made with family and friends -- whether or not you get any help in the preparation. In this tale, the little red hen decides to make a pizza and, of course none of her friends are willing to help with the process. This version's twist is that the Little Red Hen shares the pizza with her friends, then all of her friends help with the dishes. Better.

Tallulah in the Kitchen, by Nancy Wolff

This is about a cat that likes to create lots of different kinds of pancakes. Her friends are her recipe testers. (This obviously has parallels to someone who likes to create recipes.) The book has lots of little conversations and sidebars that I thought would make it hard to read to a big group, but it would be great for reading with a little one on your lap.

Cook-A-Doodle-Doo! by Janet Stevens and Susan Stevens Crummel

Here’s another story with references to the Little Red Hen folk tale. The illustrations by Janet Stevens are especially well done, and they are nice and big for reading to a group. In this case, Rooster gets his friends Pig, Turtle, and Iguana to help in making a strawberry shortcake. It gets funny when the friends misunderstand the directions completely inept in the kitchen. There are sidebars about cooking terms that are better suited for lap reading than for a big group.

Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds, illustrated by Paulette Bogan

The chickens were tired of chicken feed. Inspired by the cooking shows the farmer’s wife watches, the rooster raids the garden and makes chips and salsa. Soon the barnyard animals are making various Mexican dishes and yelling “ole!” The illustrations are fun, colorful, and festive and I thought it would be fun to get the kids yelling “ole!”

My “eureka” moment was finding The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch

Paulina the Princess decides to compete to be married to a prince. The competition involved the familiar pea under the mattresses test, then trying on a glass slipper, then an essay writing contest. The final contest is a cooking competition! Paulina wins the contest with an inventive pizza, but decides she doesn’t want to marry the prince after all, and instead opens a pizza shop. The illustrations are colorful and comical. I thought it was perfect for my talk, and the children seemed to like it.

A few days after my visit to the school, I was surprised to see a big article about Mary Jane and Herm Auch in the Democrat and Chronicle. By coincidence, the authors live in the Rochester area! They have written several children’s books, which you can see at their Web site.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the Webster second graders, and received a packet of cute and well-written letters from the children today. I guess being a “celebrity” has its perks!

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