A Saucy Read: Tomatoes for Neela

Tomatoes for Neela by Padma LakshmiCindy: My husband rarely gets credit for his support of Bookends Blog or his suggestions for my to-read list. He saw an interview with the host of Top Chef and Taste the Nation, Padma Lakshmi, on this Today Show segment about her new picture book, Tomatoes for Neela (Viking, 2021) and told me he wanted to read it and that I should consider it for the blog. Now, I’m not a fan of “celebrity author” childrens books, but this one, illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Juana Martinez-Neal is an exception. I am a fan of any food books that encourage healthy eating and that promote families spending time cooking together. Lynn found the book at the public library and read it and then handed it off to me the day I had spent the morning canning tomatoes and tomato sauce! Perfect timing.

IMG-2622Young Neela loves to cook with her amma (mother) and copies their recipes in her own notebook just like her amma and her paati (grandmother) have always done. To Neela, these books seem magical, like a wizard’s spell book. A trip to the green market that day is highlighted by a stunning display of tomatoes in all sizes, shapes, and colors. I could hang that spread on my tomato red  kitchen wall and never tire of looking at it. The acrylic and colored pencil illustrations beautifully showcase the the fruit and the love between Neela and her amma and their joy in purchasing such treasures in season.

In addition to the lessons on making the sauce and dishes using the sauce (recipes included), the story is infused with family tradition, Indian culture, and information about tomatoes and the farmworkers who bring those fruits to market. The backmatter includes more information including a list of books for children about Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta.

I wish I’d read this gorgeous book before canning this year, as I didn’t fry my garlic before adding it to the sauce, nor did I know to cut x’s in the bottom of my tomatoes before boiling them to loosen the skins, but I will try both next year. I learned to can tomatoes from my mother but it became a tradition my father and I did together every August while my mother was selling antiques on the weekends. 

It is one I continue with my husband as I spend the day thinking of my father and enjoying the satisfaction of putting away a bit of summer to enjoy in the cold days of winter. 

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Picture Books about SCARY Appetites

Stories about scary appetites seem especially fascinating to kids – and if it is all a little gross all the better! Just think for a moment about how many fairy tales you know that have eating terrible things at their center? Remember the witch in Hansel and Gretel, fattening up Hans for the oven, the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk who is going to eat men’s bones or the troll under the bridge who wants the 3 Billy Goats Gruff for breakfast? We’ve recently found two terrific new picture books that take the theme of scary appetites and run with it.

Lynn: Hungry Jim (Chronicle, 2019) by Laurel Snyder is a tale about Jim who wakes up as a lion one morning AND a beastly appetite. When his mother calls him for breakfast, Jim discovers she looks delicious! He didn’t want to eat his mother but… and she WAS delicious! But he was still hungry and the more he ate, the hungrier and wilder he gets until he meets something as big and wild as he is.

This is a hilarious story about the hungry beast we sometimes wake up as and a wonderful tribute to Maurice Sendak who first understood about the wild beast inside all of us. Laurel Snyder’s text is pitch-perfect with an opening sentence that will grab the attention of every kid in the room! Chuck Groenink’s illustrations are equally terrific using lots of 2-page spreads, warm tones, and different perspectives. There is definitely a wild-things feel to the book but it is also very definitely it’s own creation.

Wonderful to use with a group or as a lap book, to use as a discussion starter or writing prompt or simply to enjoy!

Cindy: Families, food, and storytelling combine in this wild tale about Octopus Stew (Holiday House, 2019) by Eric Velasquez. Based on a family story of the time that Eric’s father had to rescue Eric and his grandmother from an overflowing octopus pot, the character Ramsey puts on his superhero cape and finds a way to defeat the ginormous octopus that has his grandmother wrapped in its tentacled arms. The text is infused with Spanish phrases, listed in a glossary in the back. Velasquez’s vibrant action-packed scenes and crazy adventure move the story along quickly, although a foldout spread adds a new dimension to the storytelling. The book jacket blurb presents the option of opening these fold-out pages or skipping them. The choice is yours, but, really, who could resist? The yellow endpapers with white octopus slice rings are a nice touch to the package. (The octopus might not agree!) The back matter also includes an author’s note encouraging the sharing of food and stories and the recipe to try making your own Octopus Stew…grab your copy now and switch up the turkey leftovers with something different!

Cindy and Lynn: As we publish this food-rich post the week of Thanksgiving in the U.S., we want to extend our thanks to our readers who followed us to our new blog home here at Bookendsblog.net. We’re also grateful for those of you who have found us recently. If you find our posts valuable, please share our link with a friend, a teacher, a librarian, or a parent who might enjoy them as well. Thanks!