The 641 Project: Gingerbread House Books at the Library


“The North Pole Library,” first place winner of the National Gingerbread House Competition, 2009.


If you’ve been following the 641 Project series The Gingerbread House Project, the talk about gingerbread and house building is making you think maybe about building your own house for the holidays.  I say, go for it!

Gingerbread house ideas, instructions and printable templates can be found easily on the web.  There are even videos that demonstrate different phases of construction.  If hard print is more your speed, the Clayton County Library System has a few books devoted to the art of the gingerbread house.  You may consult one or all of them to make a house or other goodies to show off your baking and decorating skills:

It’s a Gingerbread House : Bake it, Build it, Eat it! by Vera B. Williams

Carrie, Benny and Sam receive a gingerbread house from their grandfather.  When they eat it up before Christmas, they follow grandfather’s instructions for building a new house.

The story is an introduction to an excellent book for young readers/bakers.  With uncomplicated writing, kids should have no problem understanding the recipe and building instructions for baking and building a basic, seven inch tall house.  Like any recipe for any type of cooking, the recipe and instructions need to be read and studied thoroughly before beginning the project to achieve the best results.  The book suggests grown up assistance, especially when it comes to handling sharp knives and going into hot ovens.  Pictures show the tools, ingredients and assembly processes that should come in handy.

Making Great Gingerbread Houses by Aaron Morgan and Paige Gilchrist

Go ahead, say authors Morgan and Gilchrist, make a gingerbread house:  It’s good, messy fun!  Appealing to tactile, visual and olfactory senses, and even communal spirit, Morgan and Gilchrist convince the reader not to be intimidated by a seeming complex project, but to dive in and enjoy what is actually quite easy.  Step by step, they explain the basic house building process from mixing the dough to how to pipe icing.  From there on, your imagination’s the limit.

After the basics comes a full color gallery of gingerbread structure and tableaus.  The purpose is to inspire your own creations and/or how to achieve different effects (Patterns aren’t given for all of these houses, and in some cases not entire patterns).  The patterns given are not full sized:  You’ll need to enlarge many by two hundred percent on a photocopier.

The Gingerbread Book by Allen D. Bragdon

New to the Clayton County Libraries collection, The Gingerbread Book is a reprint of a 1984 book, and doesn’t appear to be revised:  the photos and print appear as they did nearly thirty years ago.  No matter really, because the ideas and most techniques have not changed significantly.

Bragdon’s premise is that gingerbread and gingerbread houses aren’t just for Christmastime.  To prove his point, he gives patterns for other holiday creations, ideas for party treats and centerpieces, and even some storybook scenarios.  He lists several different recipes for ginger cookies and cake – as well as for a building dough – and recounts an extensive history of gingerbread from the Middle Ages to the 1980s.

Sweet Dreams of Gingerbread by Jann Johnson

Author Jann Johnson believes as Allen Bragdon:  Decorated ginger cookies aren’t just a Christmas thing.  She too takes gingerbread around the calendar with the traditional holiday houses and décor pieces – such as a train, stockings, and Santa with sleigh and reindeer – as well as patterns for Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween and Thanksgiving.  Gingerbread men and women can be decorated for all seasons and occasions.

Johnson offers thorough but concise techniques for baking and building, with several different recipes for dough and icings for variety.  Color pictures and pointers accompany each project.  Attention must be given to copying patterns, as many overlap or must be pieced together from separate pieces.

This title is the one that I own and am using for my project (though I have gleaned tips and ideas from the other books listed).  It’s not in the CCLS collection, but can be requested through PINES; it’s also available from online book vendors.


Click the titles above to see the PINES catalog record for call number and availability.  Ask the staff at your nearest library for assistance.

Except for Making Great Gingerbread, these books direct the reader to trace the patterns from its pages.  I recommend photocopying instead to preserve the book; plus, it’s easier to make extra copies of templates.  If you must trace, lay a sheet of clear plastic over the page, then lay your tracing paper on top of the plastic and trace away.

Follow my baking adventure on The Gingerbread House Project blog.  Click here.


The 641 Project: The Gingerbread House Project

A real live sugar shack: Can he make one?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written an article for the 641 Project, my series of food and food related topics.  I’m now about to renew the series with a baking adventure!

The Gingerbread House Project” will journal my attempt to construct my first ever gingerbread house.  After years of thinking about it, I’m finally doing it! and will chronicle the steps from prep, dry runs and experiments to baking, construction and finally decorating a classic gingerbread house.  You’ll see everything, warts and all!  I’ll include some history, trivia and other educational stuff, too, along with pictures and links to relevant web sites.

Check  The Gingerbread House Project on Tuesdays and Fridays for the next six weeks to read the latest postings.  Just click on the name to connect to the blog site.  And look to see new 641 Project postings here starting in January 2013!

The 641 Project: What’s New in Haunted Haute Cuisine!

Three years ago, I wrote here about the cookbook Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes.  Filled with recipes and illustrations of the foods named in Dahl’s books, some dishes are so odd and gross that they may suitable for a Halloween party table.  Revolting Recipes is not intended to be a Halloween cookbook; however, I recently found a relatively new book in our collection that fits the bill perfectly.

Ghoulish Goodies is called a frightful cookbook, and rightly so!  Cookbook author Sharon Bowers creates spooky and whimsical recipes for Halloween get togethers, whether a party with finger foods (pun intended) or a sit down meal.

The recipes are imaginative and not difficult to make.  Plus, as the color photos indicate, the finished products look darn cool!  How about bringing Monster Eyeballs, Chocolate Mice and Ladies’ Fingers (not lady fingers!) to the table, or cupcakes resembling the space aliens from The Simpsons, a cake modeled on Edvard Munch’s The Scream or a Jack O’Lantern?  Maybe Eyeball Meatloaf with a side of Orange Rice or Ghostly Mashed Potatoes is a tamer menu for you!  There are even a few recipes for using leftover candy.  Bowers also provides practical advice on working with ingredients, party planning and little Halloween history.

Though part of our children’s collection, Ghoulish Goodies is probably intended for adult cooks, so the young chef will require adult supervision; pre-teens and teens with some kitchen experience should be okay with even the more challenging dishes.

Between these two books, you’ll find foods for your Halloween party that will delight and fright your guests!


Ghoulish Goodies and Roald Dahl’s Revolting Recipes are available at CCLS libraries.  Click the titles above for availability, or ask a librarian at your nearest branch.

Other Halloween cookbook books are available at CCLS.  Click here to see available titles in the PINES catalog.

O Christmas Tree: A Short Survey of Christmas Trees in Children’s Picture Books

Christmas Tree Clip Art


Recalling Allen Say’s picture book Tree of Cranes, I wondered what other children’s books there are where a Christmas tree is a central element to the story.  Below is a short survey of such books in the CCLS collection:

A Charlie Brown Christmas (Charles M. Schulz; adapted by Justine and Ron Fontes) – A Charlie Brown Christmas focuses on Charlie Brown’s struggle to find the true meaning of Christmas amidst its commercialization.  Along the way, he finds the scrawny (and now iconic) little tree for the school Christmas play.  He “kills” it while attempting to decorate it, but the tree is miraculously transformed by story’s end.  Based on the classic television special, which in turn is based on the comic strip Peanuts.

Chita’s Christmas Tree (Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard) – Chita, an African-American girl in early 20th century Baltimore, goes to the woods with her father to choose a Christmas tree, and eagerly awaits for Santa to deliver it.  Like many titles in this survey, the book reflects how Chita spends her days preparing for Christmas.

My Prairie Christmas (Brett Harvey) – A little girl tries to adjust to her first Christmas at her new home on the prairie.  But this pales to when her father goes to find a Christmas tree and does not return.

Night Tree (Eve Bunting) – A family goes to the woods to find a Christmas tree, but not to bring home!  An endearing look at an unusual family tradition.

Tree of Cranes (Allen Say) – Author/illustrator Allen Say often celebrates his Japanese heritage in his books.  In Tree of Cranes, a Japanese boy experiences his first Christmas when his homesick Japanese-American mother decorates a small pine tree with candles and paper cranes.

The Tub People’s Christmas (Pam Conrad) – The Tub People – a set of wooden toys in Pam Conrad’s series of books – have no idea what a strange man in a red suit is doing in their home, especially when he brings a tree down the chimney!

Uncle Vova’s Tree (Patricia Polacco) – Like Say, Patricia Polacco draws on her heritage for inspiration for her stories.  She describes a traditional Russian Christmas in Uncle Vova’s Tree, where a spirited uncle implores his nieces and nephews to continue his tradition of decorating the tree that he planted when he and his wife first arrived in America.

Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree (Gloria Houston) – Set in the Appalachians near the end of WWI, Ruthie awaits her father’s return from Europe, so together they can harvest a tree that they’ve pledged for the church’s Christmas pageant.


There likely are more books about Christmas trees – for children and adults – than are listed here.  Tell us any that you know of by leaving a comment below.

Find other books in CCLS and PINES by searching the PINES catalog by the author’s name.

CCLS has many Christmas themed books for children and adults.  Ask staff at your nearest library for assistance.

Published in: on December 10, 2009 at 6:03 pm  Leave a Comment  

Two Titles for Christmas Reading

It’s the time of year when Christmas themed books are hitting the shelves in bookstores as well as libraries, for gift giving or personal reading.  Here are two titles that I recommend for reading as you settle down for your winter’s nap:

I learned of the novel Mr. Ives Christmas about two years ago when correspondent Ray Suarez named it as his favorite book to read at Christmastime (read the story here).  Mr. Ives follows the life of an advertising artist from his childhood in an adoptive family to his own wife and two children.  When his teen-aged son is murdered just days before Christmas, Ives, a gentle and deeply spiritual man, questions his faith in God and the meaning of his own life, beginning a struggle for inner peace that lasts for many years.

What Suarez liked about Mr. Ives was how author Oscar Hijuelos evoked visual and sensory images of New York City’s people and places of eras long past.  While I can’t appreciate those images as deeply as Suarez, I was nonetheless drawn into that world, easily seeing it in my mind’s eye thanks to Hijuelos’ economic yet vivid description.  In this world, Hijuelos builds a character in Ives who is patient, sensitive, loving life, learning and humanity, and deeply spiritual.  Ives is a man to whom the reader can become emotionally attached, feeling his spiritual elation in his ruminations of God and his crushing pain as he grapples with tragedy.  Like Ives’ family and friends, we wonder why a good man must suffer such great loss, and hope with them that he can overcome and find peace in his golden years.

A Christmas Belle is another sequel to Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol (see my blog from December 2008 about two other sequels).  It’s Christmas Day and Ebenezer Scrooge is making amends to all the folks whom he has wronged the day before.  The Ghost of Christmas Past appears and informs him of one last wrong from his past that he must right:  His former fiancée Belle, who broke their engagement years ago in the face of Scrooge’s growing avarice.  Scrooge refuses at first: After all, it was she who left him.  But make the trial he must, lest the lessons of the night before come to mean nothing.

I was especially interested in this “little tome” because it is written by screenwriting team Claudia Johnson and Matt Stevens, both former teachers of mine.  Johnson and Stevens pay loving homage to Dickens by building on characters and situations in Carol, and quoting his text and dialogue from Carol and other writings throughout.   I must confess that I wished for less Dickens and more of their own voice:  Both writers are very insightful, and Johnson especially has a very witty style.  Nonetheless, Belle is an interesting take on Scrooge’s relationship with Belle – who was a passing character in Carol – with some surprising turns.


Mr. Ives’ Christmas is available through PINES.  Ask a librarian for assistance.

A Christmas Belle is not available through PINES currently, but can be purchased through stores and on-line vendors.

Ask a librarian about other Christmas books, both recent and older, available at CCLS.

Published in: on December 9, 2009 at 8:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

International Santa Claus Collection: New Look, New Faces

The Forest Park Branch Library’s collection of International Santa Claus figurines is on display for the holidays, and with a new look.  Previously, we displayed the figurines in a North Pole diorama. Now, the figurines – each representing a Santa or gift givers of countries or cultures around the world – stand proudly by the flag of his country.   The Santas represent countries in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. 

Sinter Klaas (l) and his assistant Black Peter of the Netherlands

Joining the collection for this year are Sinter Klaas and his assistant Black Peter, both of the Netherlands.  Sinter Klaas is closely associated with the legend of Saint Nicholas; Santa Claus of the United States is derived from him.  Sinter Klaas delivers gifts on December 6 in Holland, sailing in by boat from Spain and making his rounds riding a white horse.  At the homes of good children, Sinter Klaas orders Black Peter to drop gifts down the chimney; for bad kids, Peter delivers bundles of twigs.  Children fill their wooden shoes with hay or carrots for Sinter Klaas’ horse; in exchange, candy and small toys are left in the shoes.  The Sinter Klaas and Black Peter figurines are on loan from a staff member’s personal collection.

The collection will be on display through the month of December.


Read about Sinter Klaas and Black Peter (Zwarte Pete) at Wikipedia and Project Galactic Guide.

The web has a wealth of Santa Claus history and information.  Enter the terms “Santa Claus” and “history” in your favorite search engine.

Photos of our new display are also in the CCLS photostream (but it’s best to see the display in person!)

See photos of our former display in the CCLS photostream; then visit the CultureGrams database, accessible through the CCLS website, to read about the different countries of origin (library card required)

On Christmas Eve, track Santa’s progress around the world on NORAD Santa Tracker.

Published in: on December 2, 2009 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month With Books

Hispanic Heritage Month

Hispanic Heritage Month begins on September 15th and continues through October 15th.  During this time five Latin American countries celebrate the anniversary of independence in 1821 – Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.  In addition to these countries, other Latin American countries also declared their independence during this time. Mexico declared its independence on September 16th, 1810 and Chili on September 18th, 1810.

This is a great time to recognize the contributions Hispanic Americans made to the United States, including excellent books!  Here is a list of wonderful children’s books with elements of Hispanic culture, family, and food.  Click on the image to link to our catalog and see if it is available.

Abuela by Arthur DorrosAbuela by Arthur Dorros

Gathering the Sun by Alma Flor AdaGathering the Sun by Alma Flor Ada

Pablo's Tree by Pat MoraPablo’s Tree by Pat Mora

Chato's Kitchen by Gary SotoChato’s Kitchen by Gary Soto

I Am Latino by Sandra PinkneyI Am Latino: The Beauty of Me by Sandra Pinkney

Some suggestions for Young Adults:
Cuba 15 by Nancy OsaCuba 15 by Nancy Osa

Buried Onions by Gary SotoBuried Onions by Gary Soto

For more titles related to hispanic culture for children and young adults click here. Hispanic heritage is more than good Mexican food. Enjoy the many flavors of Latin American culture…read a book.

The 641 Project: Gingerbread

You can’t think of Christmas without thinking of cookies.  Brightly decorated cutouts; kinds with seasonal ingredients and flavorings; elaborate, fancy designs; the good ol’ classics…

photo by Stephen Hart

photo by Stephen Hart

And gingerbread.  People and houses are made from this sweet, spicy cookie, and decorated so lavishly that you’d dare not eat them!  Bakers don’t limit themselves to just gingerbread people shapes and houses, though, but use any cookie cutter at their disposal.  Ginger cookies can be are crisp as gingersnaps or moist and chewy.

Its name comes from the 13th century word “gingerbras” (Old French for “preserved ginger”) which became “gingerbread” during the 14th century.  Cooks discovered that ginger helped to preserve pastries and bread, which is probably how “bread” became part of the name.  Early gingerbread is nothing like the cookie or the moist cake that we know today.  Medieval gingerbread was a mixture of breadcrumbs, spices (ginger being one of them), and honey, pressed into molds or shaped by hand.  It was a popular treat at fairs throughout Europe, and served to celebrate special occasions and religious holidays.  It’s said that Queen Elizabeth I invented the idea of the gingerbread man:  She had likenesses of important court visitors baked up for gifts.  She was likely following the practice of other monarchs who, as early as the 15th century, had gingerbread molded into their own likeness for propaganda usage.

Gingerbread houses were being made in Germany around the early 1800s.  Historians can’t agree whether the Witch’s’ house in Hansel and Gretel was inspired by the craft of gingerbread house making or if the craft was inspired by the story, but the craft got a big boost from the Brothers Grimm tale.  German settlers took the tradition with them to the United States, especially in Pennsylvania.  By this time, gingerbread was made with flour, eggs, butter and other spices, using either honey or molasses.  The cookies were like shortbread, and the cake had developed.  Cookie cutters were probably used more than molds at that time.  Gingerbread men and animals were hung as ornaments on Christmas trees. The Pennsylvania Dutch baked and decorated very large gingerbread cookies around Christmastime to decorate the windows of their homes.

Gingerbread has a long (and yummy!) history.  It’s association with special occasions lead to its place in Christmas tradition.  (But you don’t have to wait ’til then to enjoy it!)


This blog is in no way a complete history of the delicacy.  Check out these and other sources to get a better picture:

The Food Timeline –  Scroll down to the artlce on gingerbread.

An in depth essay by Dr. Alice Ross, along with some historic recipes –

The article on gingerbread in Encyclopedia of Christmas, available at CCLS.

Gingerbread cookie, men and house recipes can be found on the internet using your favorite search engine.  My favorite gingersnap recipe comes from a December 12, 2002 Atlanta Journal-Constitution article.  Access it using the Newsbank database available through CCLS (click here).

When baking, make sure your ginger and other spices are as fresh as possible (no more than a year old) for the best flavor.

Published in: on December 10, 2008 at 6:12 pm  Leave a Comment  

Scrooge and Cratchits: What Happened After “A Christmas Carol”

Of the many themes that Charles Dickens’ explores in his novel A Christmas Carol, the most powerful is that of redemption.  Miserly Ebenezer Scrooge, a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner, is given a chance to see his past and future if he doesn’t change and endeavor to assist his fellowman.  The redemption theme continues in two novels which are sequels to A Christmas Carol that I’ve had the pleasure to read:

Mr. Timothy, by author Louis Bayard, takes very few cues from the original and creates a story with a tone and character all its own.  It’s been about twenty years since Ebenezer Scrooge made his promise to help his clerk Bob Cratchit and family with relief from poverty, and he has indeed made good.  The Cratchits have lived comfortably, and the children have done as well as can be expected.  But Tiny Tim, now an adult and cured of his crippling disease, has failed to live up to his father’s expectations, and lives as a loner in a brothel, frequenting the grimy areas of London and subsisting on Scrooge’s charity.  Around Christmastime, Timothy, as he is now called, discovers a young orphan girl with a mysterious mark on her body: a mark like that found on two dead girls he’s seen in weeks past.  Fearing her fate to be the same, Timothy begins an effort to rescue her.  But he soon uncovers a diabolical network of several nasty people, lead by a shadowy aristocrat, which preys on young girls for unspeakable purposes.  Timothy finds that his fate may be the same as that of the girl whom he’s trying to save.

Don’t expect to find the world Dickens created in A Christmas Carol:  Even Timothy isn’t the same!  Mr. Timothy is an effective thriller set against the seamy side of Victorian London, more so even than what Scrooge sees in Christmas Future.  Like his benefactor Scrooge, Timothy is haunted by a ghost – his father’s – and seeks to right the disappointments he has within and with his father.  It’s a good read for anytime of the year.

For something a bit lighter, try Scrooge and Cratchit, a sequel by Matt McHugh.  In this short story, Scrooge again has kept his promise to keep Christmas all year ’round.  Only he’s kept it a little too well:  Ebenezer has given away nearly all of his personal and business wealth to the point of bankruptcy.  Bob Cratchit, now Scrooge’s business partner, has the unpleasant task of dealing with their creditors, who threaten foreclosure if payment isn’t made immediately.

While A Christmas Carol emphasizes the responsibility of man to look after his fellowman in need, Scrooge and Cratchit examines to what extent does man need to go.  Cratchit struggles with the thought, knowing that his partner’s generosity is the cause of a predicament that’ll put him back in poverty where he started.  Scrooge is fully aware of what he’s doing, however:  He’s on a mission to not only redeem himself of his selfishness, but to atone for it, too.

Don’t forget to read Dickens’ original tale, of course!


Mr. Timothy is available through PINES, as well as other books by Louis Bayard.

Scrooge and Cratchit is available at Matt McHugh’s website, along with other short stories by the author.

A listing of  A Christmas Carol adaptations and sequels, found at Wikipedia.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens is available at CCLS in book and audiobook versions.  The complete and public reading versions can be found at various sites online, such as this one from Project Gutenberg (complete) and Gaslight (condensed).

Check out our Dickens Resource Guide

Published in: on December 8, 2008 at 6:53 pm  Comments (3)  

Goody, Goody! Forest Park’s International Santa Collection

The Forest Park Branch’s International Santa Claus collection is on display for the holidays.  The scene is at Santa’s home in the North Pole where the gift givers gather for a little pre-Christmas Eve party. (This is the final time we’ll use this diorama; next year we’ll have a new setting for the collection.)

We have no new figurines in our collection this year, but we learned something interesting about Mrs. Santa Claus.

Mrs. Santa Claus, USA

Mrs. Santa Claus, USA

Of all the gift givers of different cultures, not one has a wife except for Santa Claus of the United States.  Even he, who is descended from the Dutch Sinterklaas, didn’t have a spouse until 1889.

That year, poet Katherine Lee Bates wrote a poem Goody Santa Claus (Goody is short for goodwife), where Mrs. Claus persuades her reluctant husband to let her come along on his Christmas Eve delivery run, and proves that she is more than just a housewife!  (A few years later, Bates wrote the first draft of America the Beautiful.)

Mrs. Santa is generally portrayed as the patient, busy lady who manages the home, looks after the reindeer and the elves and makes sure that the Mr. gets his rest.  Film and television, however, occasionally show her not only as a good household manager, but as an intelligent, proactive woman, just like in the poem.  In the musical Mrs. Santa Claus, she goes to New York City and becomes an activist for women’s rights and child labor laws!

We found this bit of information while updating our collection book.  We’ve included information about each Santa’s country of origin, and Christmas customs of a few of the countries.  The collection will be on display through the month of December.  Please stop by and have a look!


 A Wikipedia article on Mrs. Claus, though brief, lists her portrayal in movies and television

The web has a wealth of Santa Claus history and information.  Enter the terms “Santa Claus” and “history” in your favorite search engine.

See photos of our International Santa collection from the CCLS photostream; then visit the CultureGrams database, accessible through the CCLS website, to read about the different countries of origin (library card required)

Read the Christmas poems of Katherine Lee Bates

Track Santa’s delivery run on Christmas Eve on Norad Tracks Santa

Published in: on December 4, 2008 at 10:35 pm  Leave a Comment