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: 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.

Darla’s Dents: Picture Book Read-Alouds That Have Made a Favorable Impression

Dogfish, by Gillian Shields

I am doing a new story time for the childcare center kids I read to this month, entitled “New Books I Want to Share with You”.  While searching for picture books that would inspire me, I found Dogfish, by Gillian Shields.  I started laughing almost from the first page.  The illustrations, by Dan Taylor, are as descriptive as the words themselves.  From the shopping list posted on the fridge (with “a dog” added by the main child character), to the “hypnotizing eyes” of the boy and fish, these comic images will hook (excuse the fishy pun) you right along with the written narrative.  This story tells about a boy who desperately wants a dog. His mother comes up with all the practical reasons this cannot happen, with some ingenious responses from the boy. What I enjoyed was how the author would pause and have us view what “hopeless expressions” look like; for example, and “blissful happiness,” at the end.  Even the pet fish is a fully developed character, complete with expressive facial and body language.  This is a picture book I wish I could share with my own children, although they are both nearly grown.  I may do it, anyway.  I recommend this book to be read aloud to anyone who has a sense of humor and imagination of any kind. In other words, I suggest that kids and grownups of all ages find a way to embrace this book to the fullest!  I know I did, and continue to do so as I more closely examine the illustrations on each page.

Darla’s Dents: Picture Book Read-Alouds That Have Made a Favorable Impression

A new picture book that was just recently added to our children’s collection is one that I highly recommend as a part of any story time.  The book is entitled Topsy Turvy Bedtime, by Joan Levine and illustrated by Tony Auth.  I used it as part of a “Sleeping Animals” story time.  I told the children that some animals sleep all winter, contrasting them with other animals that sleep only nightly or daily, like us. 

Topsy Turvy Bedtime completely captivated me. From the first page, I loved the little girl, Arathusela. Her name is unique yet fun-to-say.  The children laughed just at the sound of it.  I have to admit I liked the sound of it rolling off of my own tongue, too.  Her short stature makes her appealing, but her personality and strength of character is not to be overlooked, despite her smallness.  This dynamo of a girl grabs you from the start of the story and doesn’t let go. 

The best part of the story is that there is a reversal in roles. Arathusela gets to be the boss when it comes to bedtime.  Without being preachy, it helps kids to relate to some of what their parents may go through when trying to get THEM to go to sleep.  The parents responses to Arathusela’s directions are hilarious.  There is a real lesson to be learned here, but the story itself is so much fun that it wouldn’t matter even if there weren’t!

This is a picture book that made a wonderful impression on me.  The illustrations are endearing:  long, lean and tall parents looking down at a small ball of energy that is the main character, without ever being demeaning.  The dialogue is just right, too.  It’s smart but understandable, and the words are recognizable as some any parent might say to their child.  There are not too many words, which I find to be a real downfall in many picture books.  Let the kids fill in any blanks with their imaginations! Everything doesn’t need to be spelled out. 

 This is a book to be shared with every kid you know–no matter the age. It makes for a humorous and delightful listening experience for both the reader and the audience.  The visuals, as I’ve said, are warm and engaging, as well.  This is a story I recommend as a part of any story time, no matter the theme.

Published in: on January 22, 2010 at 3:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

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  

Blue Jesus

I first heard mention of the book Blue Jesus on WABE back in April.  I was intrigued by the storyline, and after waiting eagerly for its release and wrapping up some other reading,  I recently finished the book.  My anticipation was rewarded.

Blue Jesus is a story of Buddy and Early, two pre-teens living in a small town in the North Georgia mountains.  Buddy is a sensitive type, viewed by many as a “sissy” and suffers indignities from his schoolmates because of it.  Early belongs to a group of “blue people,” whose skin has a blue tint instead of pink, and live apart from the townspeople as outcasts.  Things change for the boys when they find an infant’s body in the town dump.  Early picks up the child and appears to bring it back to life.  On hearing this, the townspeople hold up Early as a miracle worker, and he and Buddy become instant celebrities. 

The story centers on the friendship between the boys.  As each boy faces challenges at home and in the community and to their own characters, their mutual loyalty protects and sustains each other, even more than the love and support of family members.  Buddy looks after Early’s emotional and physical well-being during the frenzy of his newfound fame, while Early encourages Buddy’s spiritual growth and healing as he deals with the death of his mother.

Early and his family are based on an actual group of blue-skinned people who live in the Appalachian Mountain regions of Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.  The blue people’s appearance is due to a blood disorder called methemoglobinemia, a hereditary trait.  Isolation and intermarriage has kept the trait largely within a single community in the Appalachians.  Rather than be viewed and treated as curiosities, the blue people live in apart from general society.  Their detachment and the prejudice of the townspeople are a basis of conflict in Blue Jesus.  Both of these attitudes are tested when Early’s supernatural abilities are revealed and desired.  Early finds a way to use his power to bring the diverse peoples in the town together.

Blue Jesus is the debut novel of Atlanta writer Tom Edwards.  The book is not available in CCLS as of this writing, and the only copy in PINES is not yet available for request.  The book is available in stores and from online vendors, and is worth seeking out.


This article discusses a brief history of the blue people, methemoglobinemia and the doctor who discovered a cure.

Published in: on September 28, 2009 at 9:46 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 – Julia Child

In light of the new movie Julie and Julia, the internet and other media is abuzz with renewed interest in Julia Child.  The movie combines Child’s memoir My Life in France with Julie and Julia, Julie Powell’s anecdotal account of the year she attempted to make every recipe from Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  The movie parallels the two women’s journey to self-discovery, finding themselves in their passion for cooking.

Child’s own journey began in Pasadena, California in 1912.  A member of a well-to-do family, Child attended a prestigious college before working as copywriter, and later a spy for the Office of Strategic Services!  She met Paul Child, who also worked for OSS, whom she married in 1946.  She went with him when he was assigned to work in Paris, France.  It was there that she developed an appreciation for French cuisine.  She enrolled in the Cordon Bleu culinary school, and developed the skill that changed her life and the culinary world.

Child went on to author several cookbooks, including Mastering the Art of French Cooking (co-authored), and host a number of celebrated cooking shows on the Public Broadcasting System, the first being the landmark series The French Chef in 1962.   I don’t remember any of the episodes that I watched as a kid (only Dan Ackroyd’s parody on Saturday Night Live), but I recall a moment from a later series where Child observed a chef preparing a decadent chocolate pastry.  Upon sampling a bite, Child was overcome with ecstasy and burst into tears.  It was a moment that demonstrated Child’s genuine love of good food:  Pure joy without pretense and conceit.  Through her shows and writings, the 6 ‘ 2” woman with an easy going manner and funny accent brought a style to the kitchen that made the techniques of fine cooking accessible – perhaps demystified – for the home cook, with humor and fun to boot.  Over a career lasting over forty years, Child’s single-handedly changed the way we think about food in the US (, 2004)

Child’s influence was not lost on the professional chef, either.  Mastering the Art of French Cooking is considered a standard guide for the culinary community (, 2004).  She was a member and founder of several professional organizations, and received numerous awards and recognitions for her work in food preparation and knowledge.  At her death in 2004, many Food Network celebrity chefs testified to how she influenced their decision to pursue culinary careers.

Readers and foodies are rediscovering and embracing one of the world’s most influential chefs and best known cooking show personality.  Five years after her death, and at a time when Americans are seeking safer and more wholesome foods for the table, Child is poised to mold more generations in the way to cook and the fun in making a good meal.


Julie and Julia opens in theaters on August 7, 2009.

Check out Julia Child’s PBS site devoted to her cooking series.

While she declined offers for a series on Food Network, Child made appearances on its shows, and was appreciated with an episode of the Chefography series.  Watch the episode here.

View her kitchen from her Massachusetts home, which she donated to the Smithsonian Institute in 2001.

Read Julie Powell’s Julie/Julia Project blog on the web (Warning:  Contains profanity)

More information on Julia Child, including biographies, news articles, blogs and video clips, can be found on the world wide web.  Simply search her name in your favorite search engine.

Find cookbooks by Julia Child in CCLS and PINES by searching “Child, Julia” in the PINES catalog.

Published in: on August 8, 2009 at 5:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

The 641 Project: Jeff Henderson

jeff and kids

At age twenty, the only cooking Jeff Henderson knew was to make crack cocaine.  Some 10 years later, he had learned to cook dishes worthy of fine dining restaurants with a skillset that rivaled any culinary school grad’s.

Henderson tells his story in his autobiography Cooked.  Henderson was one of many at-risk kids growing up in South Central Los Angeles in the 1970s.  He came into a life of petty crime at a young age; in his teens, he was taken under the wing of a drug dealer, who mentored him in the world of drug trafficking.  Henderson quickly rose from peddler to cocaine dealer, making a name for himself in the trade and making hundreds of thousands of dollars per week.

It all came to a crashing end when, at twenty-four, Henderson was convicted of drug trafficking and sentenced to twenty years in federal prison.  He spent his time in lockdown in reflection and self-discovery, and discovered a passion for cooking.  Using his penchant for learning and perfection that made him a success in drug dealing, Henderson learned how to cook and rose through the ranks of prison kitchens, eventually heading a kitchen in a Las Vegas penitentiary.  After his release, Henderson again worked his way up through the kitchens, this time in gourmet restaurants and five star hotels under the tutelage of some of southern California’s best chefs, acquiring skills and knowledge often learned only in culinary schools.  The ex-con cook eventually landed the executive chef position at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas – the first for an African-American – and later at the Bellagio.

Cooked is an entertaining and engaging read.  The intriguing rise-and-fall-and-redemption story also gives perspective into the personality of a working chef.  Henderson shows – at least for the non-schooled chef – the kind of drive and dedication needed to succeed in the culinary world.  In doing so, he gives a glimpse into what goes on in the kitchens of fine dining restaurants: The competition, politics and reasons for the high turnover.

Cooked is not just the story of the rise of a great culinary talent, but a redemption story.  As Henderson sees his true potential and realizes the harm he has brought to his community, he aspires to become himself a better man.  It’s not an easy journey, as he often falls back on his “street” habits to earn respect in competitive kitchens.  But Henderson transforms from a man in pursuit of ill-gotten gain to a man who earns respect – despite his past – through a pursuit of excellence in the kitchen. 


Cooked: From the Streets to the Stove, From Cocaine to Foie Gras and the cookbook Chef Jeff Cooks are available through PINES.  Ask a librarian for assistance.

Learn more about Chef Jeff Henderson and his activities at his website.

Read or view an interview from the Tavis Smiley talk show.

Try some of Chef Jeff’s recipes from the Good Morning, America website.

Published in: on May 14, 2009 at 7:07 pm  Leave a Comment