Have Your Cake

If I were making a list of things that make me happy, childrens and YA books would rank pretty high. And so, of course, would cake. Who doesn’t like cake?  And thanks to the magic of people who make astonishingly detailed cakes and post pictures of them on Flickr, I’m able to bring these two things together today.  I hope you’re not hungry!

thegrinchIf we’re talking about children’s book authors who have inspired bakers to greatness, the conversation begins with one man: Dr. Seuss.  His books have been the jumping off point for some awe-inducing cakes, like this terrifyingly life-like Grinch.  Many of the man’s greatest hits have been celebrated in cake form, from The Lorax to a very tasty plate of Green Eggs and Ham.  But when it comes to Seuss cakes, one book dominates them all.  With striped hats, angry fish, and piles of chaotic red-and-white, there is no shortage of gorgeous cakes based on The Cat in the Hat.

MAndrake Cake, CC Licensed by Flickr user SantosFor fans of everyone’s favorite boy wizard, I’m pretty sure that Hogwarts and everything in it has now been made into at least one cake. Hop on the train at Platform 9 3/4 – don’t forget Hedwig and your spell books!  Grab a treat on the train, and wait for your first view of the castle.  Once you make it to Hogwarts, the sorting hat will put you into a houseGrab a broom and head out to the Quidditch pitch – maybe you’ll be the first the catch the golden snitch.  While you’re at Hogwarts, watch out for basilisks and dementors, books that bite, and giant killer chess sets.  And don’t forget to read the books!  For you, readers, I tried.  But sadly, there are no Voldemort cakes on Flickr.  This is a grievous omission in the world of Potter cakes, and somebody out there needs to get baking!

I have to say, the cake creativity for YA phenomenons pales next to the kidlit cakes.  But I can hardly ignore the Twilight books (looks like New Moon got passed over by the cake bakers).

Comic books and manga are well-represented in the world of amazing cakes.  If you’re looking for traditional comic book heroes, you’ll find them all: Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, the Hulk, Batman, and my personal favorite, this hysterical Wolverine from the X-Men.  For you manga fans, cakes range from Dragon Ball Z and Shin Chan to Fruits Basket and Death Note.  Yes, that is a cake of L from Death Note, and yes, it will make you giggle.  Look at those angry, delicious eyes!

Winnie the Pooh CC licensed by Flickr user SchmishIt’s easy to find beautiful cakes from deep in the Hundred Acre Woods, but almost all of them are of the Disney-fied Pooh.  Kudos to Guernseybabycakes, the maker of this sweet classic Pooh cake.  Of course, before we move on from AA Milne, it wouldn’t be right to leave out Eeyore.

Cakes from the once upon a time world of folk and fairy tales also tend to be Disney-fied – although the books make it into some of them.

Mr. Milne isn’t the only classic children’s author to have a cult cake following.  Beatrix Potter cakes are going strong, with Peter Rabbit leading the way.  But if you look closely, you can find a few daring bakers who have gone beyond Peter’s popularity.

Other popular picture books have their own cakes, too.  Curious George is an especially big choice with the picture book cake-making crowd.  Eric Hill’s Spot and the Rainbow Fish each make an appearance.  And my personal favorite picture book cake is from Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.  (Another note for bakers –  where are the In the Night Kitchen Cakes? Come on – “Milk in the batter!  Milk in the batter!  We bake cakes and nothing’s the matter!”  It’s calling out for a cake representation.  I might do this one myself!)

Paddington Cake CC licensed by Flickr user SchmishAmong the chapter books, the winner out of the gate is Alice in Wonderland,  with the Narnia series coming up close behind.  Beloved characters like Paddington Bear and Pippi Longstockings have some pretty impressive cakes, too.  This Roald Dahl cake, featuring many of his characters climbing out of a tall stack of books, is an absolute beauty.

Hope that’s enough cakes for you.  As for me, I’m going to go find something sweet to eat.  If you have a favorite book-related cake, I’d love to see a picture!  Especially if anyone finds some YA book cakes.  They must be out there somewhere.


The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness


This review contains spoilers.

Being able to hear everyone else’s thoughts sounds like it could be a pretty good deal. You’d hear the answer to every question your teacher asked, and you’d know exactly what to buy your mother for her birthday. The downside is that everybody else can hear your thoughts, but even that has its positives. You would never have to get up the guts to tell your boss that you deserved a raise, and your mom would already know how much you wanted a pony for Christmas.

A virus has been released in Prentisstown that makes men’s thoughts audible. And since every resident of Prentisstown is a man, everyone knows what every other resident thinks. It is called the Noise, and it is definitely not a good thing.

“There ain’t nothing but Noise in this world, nothing but the constant thoughts of men and things coming at you and at you and at you, ever since the Spacks released the Noise germ during the war, the germ that killed half the men and every single woman, my ma not excepted, the germ that drove the rest of the men mad, the germ that spelled the end for all Spackle once men’s madness picked up a gun.” (page 13)

Todd Hewitt goes through his life hearing the nastiest, most salacious thoughts of his neighbors. Todd is the last boy in the town, and as he approaches his manhood it becomes clear that the men have been keeping a secret from him. While Todd hunts for apples in the swamp outside of town, he discovers something that shouldn’t exist: a patch of silence in the Noise. The silence leads him to a girl – something else that doesn’t exist in Prentisstown. And the girl leads him to constant revelations. The things he had believed to be true in his life are unraveled one by one. After his discovery of Viola in the swamp, Todd’s world “keeps getting bigger” (page 100) as he runs from the lies of Prentisstown and from the violent and controlling men who perpetuate those lies.

This book was excellent enough for me to overlook the fact that it features no less than three of my personal literature pet-peeves: phonetic spelling, a cliffhanger ending that doesn’t complete the story arc, and the death of a beloved pet. That’s right, this is a book where the dog dies. Despite that, the story’s constant action make it difficult to put this book down. The reader makes every new discovery about Prentisstown’s past along with Todd, and each new piece of information adds to the urgency of Todd’s escape.  For me, this was a major part of the reason that Todd is so easy to relate to, which in turn makes the scenes of violence feel so immediate and terrifying.

The language of Noise in The Knife of Never Letting Go are worth an in-depth look – both Todd’s voice and the constant overwhelming voices of the Noise surrounding him. The way Ness illustrates the Noise, with fonts and text sizes changing and overlapping, paints a vivid picture of the chaos of words that has surrounded Todd his whole life. It is easy to accept other people’s noise as the truth, but as Todd learns over the course of the book, the truth can be covered up and twisted even in men’s Noise. Todd notes that Noise is not truth, but “what men want to be true, and there’s a difference twixt those things so big that it could ruddy well kill you if you don’t watch out” (page 23). Voices of animals are used creatively and often humorously, and even some plants get in on the action. The most effective use of the animals voices is Todd’s dog, Manchee. At first Manchee’s voice is comic relief – as Todd notes in the book’s wonderful opening sentence, “the first thing you find out when your dog learns to talk is that dogs don’t got nothing much to say” (page 1). But both Todd and the reader change their opinion of the dog, and he becomes a moral center for the book. While Todd’s connection to Manchee grows stronger because of his Noise, the connection between Todd and Viola is made difficult because of her lack of noise – Todd feels cut off from her because she is not constantly telegraphing her thoughts and emotions. At first he doubts that she can be thinking or feeling at all. The effect of the Noise, even on those who do not have it, is profound.

I was delighted to see Lisa Chellman’s recent post on the relationship between Ben and Cillian, Todd’s adopted family.  I also read them as a gay couple, although there is no explicit discussion of their relationship in the story.  I highly suggest reading Lisa’s thoughts on how they are portrayed in the book, and how their portrayal should be celebrated.

Though stylistically they are very different, this might be a good recommendation for readers who loved The Hunger Games. Both feature young characters growing close while trying to escape a violent dystopian society, and both have constant action that keeps readers engaged.

An earlier version of this review is cross-posted at The Well-Read Child.

Patrick Ness on the web

The Knife of Never Letting Go on the web

Weekend Links

  • Self-censorship in book purchasing is something we all need to think about as often as possible.  Thanks to David Levithan for his moving reminder of why.  (Hat tip to Persnickety Snark)
  • Over at YPulse they’ve summarized an interesting report on the possibilities of using mobile devices for classroom learning.
  • The Gray Lady on the Wimpy Kid Phenomenon.  Did everybody love the new book?  I haven’t read it yet – it was snatched out of my hand by an eager patron.
  • Once again, Shannon Hale has a really well thought out post up on literacy and reading.  I think I’m going to start printing these out and handing them to parents who insist on pulling their kids out of the Graphic Novels section. Along with a copy of Rapunzel’s Revenge.
  • Ever wonder what goes in to making a book?  The Digital Marketing Team at MacMillan have an informative (and tongue-firmly-in-cheek) video for you! (Hat tip to Big Bad Book Blog)
  • Jennifer Lynn Barnes has calculated the number of hours that have been spent on Twilight.  And that’s her low-ball estimate.  Unbelievable.
  • Did you all see that Paramount is making a movie based on Jake Wizner’s hysterical Spanking Shakespeare?  I’m intrigued.  (Hat tip Fuse #8)
  • Is it wrong that I’ve added every single book from this roundup to my to-read list?
  • Katsa’s stubborn ability to remain true to herself in the face of society and even love is one of the many reasons that Graceling is a great book. Some people believe that Katsa’s choices make Graceling anti-marriage. Kristin Cashore talks about those assumptions on her blog.
  • And finally, to all those people who told little-kid-Laura that I read too many books and should go make some real friends: Ha! Reading was teaching me social skills and increasing my empathy all along!  I feel so vindicated.

The Brothers Torres by Coert Voorhees

Frankie Towers is a good kid. He helps out at the family restaurant, he’s a loyal friend to his buddy Zach, and he idolizes his big brother Steve. But lately Frankie’s had to cover up for his brother more and more – Steve’s been staying out all night and coming home with black eyes and bruises. Steve’s street cred may be rising, but Frankie’s getting concerned about his brothers’ choices. Frankie’s romantic life is getting complicated, too. He’s been pining over Rebecca for years now – and just when she seems to notice him, the most popular senior in the school is suddenly hanging all over her.

Frankie’s problems are as realistic as the spot-on teen voice used in Coert Voorhees’ novel. Steve’s increasing desire for the “respect” of the local gang, Frankie’s growing relationship with Rebecca, and his need to stand up for himself and his friends are all a catalyst for Frankie’s growth over the course of the story. The small-town New Mexico setting is vibrant, and lends the novel its own language. The realistic language includes frequent casual swearing, but that it is absolutely a contributing factor in the success of the novel’s voice.

Voorhees’ characterization is the strongest aspect of this novel, which one exception. While most of the characters are very well-rounded and show both strengths and weaknesses, the novel’s “bad guy” is almost a caricature of the YA mean jock. Not only does he graphically beat up Frankie and go after his girl, but his very rich family is trying to buy up and homogenize the entire town. He is the one character who is not given a well-rounded personality, and it makes him stand out in the world of the novel.

Great cover art and a story with high teen appeal will make this an easy sell.  Engaging characters, an honest voice, and a classic coming of age story will make teens stick with the novel.

Coert Voorhees on the web

The Brothers Torres on the web

Weekend Links

  • Max Paper Toy!  Yes, it’s a foldable paper pdf of Max from Where the Wild Things Are.  And yes, it’s already on my desk.  (Hat tip Fuse #8)
  • With all the recent chatter about the Newbery Award, I most appreciate A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy‘s response.  Not accepting the study about Newbery diversity at face value, she went straight to the source and compiled her own figures about past award winners.
  • In other goofy Twilight-related articles, can you ever have enough Twilight-themed food ideas?  I don’t have any Twilight parties planned, but that’s not going to stop me from making blood-filled vampire cookies! (Hat tip Reviewer X)
  • Big thanks to Black Threads in Kids Lit for pointing out the lack of coverage of the Coretta Scott King Awards.  Her picks for the award are listed here.  I think the print of Low and Away hanging in my living room is a pretty clear indication of my favorite pick!
  • Shannon Hale’s delightfully named post Let Them Eat Pictures re-emphasizes the importance of learning visual literacy.  More importantly, it reminds us to let kids read what they love.
  • Library Voice shares a thoughtful post on the ways we organize Children’s Rooms as her new library opens.
  • This might be the greatest shower curtain in the history of mankind. (Hat tip Kid Lit Kit)
  • The wonderful Justine Larbalestier is using the month of January to give out free advice on writing.  I highly recommend reading!

Hell Week and Highway to Hell by Rosemary Clement-Moore


A few short months ago, Maggie Quinn defeated the seriously evil demon that was trying to take over her senior prom. Now Maggie’s back in Hell Week, and she can’t even crack the staff of the Bedivere College newspaper. What gives? But Maggie’s luck suddenly changes when she goes undercover as a pledge to Sigma Alpha Xi, the campus’ most popular – and most secretive – sorority. Her Phantom Pledge articles are a hit, and that’s not the only place where Maggie’s life has taken a turn for the lucky. It’s not long before Maggie starts to question whether there’s something supernaturally lucky about the Sigma Alpha Xis – even beyond their abnormally perfect hair.

In Highway to Hell, which will be released in April 2009, Maggie and Lisa take off on a totally demon-free roadtrip. They’re going to spend Spring Break on the beach at Cabo San Lucas – ironically, of course. But thanks to a middle of the night encounter with a dead cow in the middle of a deserted Texas highway, the girls are stuck in a tiny town with some very unusual characters. (Luckily, one of those characters is a devastatingly gorgeous real-live cowboy.) Things quickly take a totally unsurprising turn for the supernatural, and once again Maggie is hot on the trail of some unusual demonic activity. After making inquiries at the only bar in town about what animal could have gruesomely killed the cow that totaled their jeep, Maggie and Lisa are becoming more and more sure that the mythical chupacabra is very real – and very nasty.

The second and third books in the Maggie Quinn: Girl vs. Evil series stay true to the super-sarcastic, laugh-out-loud funny voice of Prom Dates From Hell. But now Maggie’s well past her early skepticism. She’s accepted that there are demons hanging out in her neighborhood, and that as the local psychic investigative journalist with a spellcasting best friend and a love interest who studies supernatural mythology, she’s the one who’s going to have to deal with all the evil beasties that pop up in her area. And as Maggie acknowledges her psychic powers and begins to learn how to use them, they no longer feel like a tacked-on plot point – they’re an integral part of both books.

These books start to dig further into the how and why of the demons and magic that are popping up around Maggie Quinn, and the mix of folklore, religion, and superstition are a strength of Clement-Moore’s. Maggie’s boyfriend brings the theoretical knowledge, and her sorcerer friend Lisa brings the practical application. It’s Maggie who pulls it all together, using both her natural curiosity and her psychic Spidey-sense. Highway to Hell brings some traditional brujas into the picture, as well as the intriguing addition of a priest-in-training to their crew of demon-battlers. The young priest is a great foil for Lisa the sometimes-evil sorceror, and he also has his run-ins with Maggie, whose relationship with religion is pretty well summed up in Hell Week:

“Facing Evil with a capital E makes a convincing argument that somewhere, in some shape or form, there was Good with a capital G, too, and I wanted no mistake about which side I was on.

I’m not saying team Father, Son, and Holy Ghost is the only team in the G league, but it’s what I defaulted to when I needed to get my spiritual ducks in a row. Even so, I’m not exactly what you would call a reverent traditionalist.

‘Okay, God.’ I stared up at the dark ceiling. ‘Maybe you could throw me a bone here. I’m going in circles and could really use a signpost.’ I paused, trying to sound at least a little supplicant. ‘So. . . anytime you’re ready, that would be great.'”
Hell Week, page 166

The question of where God falls in all this mix of magic and mayhem is a welcome addition to the world of the books, and I hope that the priest character will be back in future Maggie Quinn adventures.

hellweekWith their fast-paced action, sharp tongues, and quick wit, Maggie and her friends are a great match for any teenage Buffy fans in your life. They potentially have some appeal to readers of the Twilight books – but you might want to make it clear that if Maggie Quinn runs into a vampire in her biology class, that vampire’s going to have a stake through his heart sooner than he can say “I’m madly in love with you!” The teen-friendly covers make these books a pretty easy sell, but it’s the bitingly funny characters and their smart take on some implausible situations that will keep readers coming back. As Maggie puts it, “‘Yes, we’re in over our heads… Maybe there’s someone in the world who actually understands how all this works, who’s fully equipped with the armor of righteousness and the flamethrower of smiting or whatever else is in the arsenal of Team Good. But unless they’re hiding behind a mesquite tree somewhere, me, my freaky brain, my sorcerous friend, and my paladin boyfriend are all that stands between Hell and Texas'” (Highway to Hell, page 293).

This review is cross-posted at The Well-Read Child.

Snitch by Allison van Diepen


Julia Devino has always steered clear of the gang trouble that surrounds her at school, despite having friends in each of the major gangs. But at South Bay High, sometimes it’s easier to join up than to stay out. When Julia meets Eric Valiente, a seriously hot tranfers student who has big plans for his life and shows no interest in getting jumped in, she falls hard and fast. And when he gets jumped into the Flatbush Junction Crips without telling her, she finds herself thrust into the middle of all the gang action, and is soon labelled a snitch by the Bloods-associated RLB.

First off, the cover of Snitch has enormous teen appeal, and it flies off the shelf here at my library. And while the writing starts off a little choppy, once Julia’s relationship with Eric gets off its feet the book really rolls along. It paints a convincing picture of the many ways that teens can get pulled into a gang lifestyle even when they have no interest in joining. Julia’s loneliness when she’s been ostracized is palpable, and you can feel her relief when she finds a new group of friends (and protectors) in the FJC. And while the beginning of Julia’s time with the FJC is not exactly rosy, it’s not so awful either – the book doesn’t shy away from showing the good things about having a group of people watching out for you.  As Julia sees further into the power-struggles and politics of her new gang it is clear to both the reader and to Julia herself that she has made a decision that could destroy her future.

The absence of adult involvement really struck me in this book. While Julia’s dad and her teacher Ms. Ivey both clearly cared about Julia and were concerned about her, neither one of them made much of an attempt to reach out, and they certainly didn’t take any steps to help her.

Julia’s character is a strong, independant young woman, but she is sometimes incredibly naive for a person who’s grown up with gangs all around her. The most compelling characters to me were Eric and Black Chuck – two young men who are smart and funny and full of potential, but have been pulled into gangs because of family involvement.  Eric’s back story, which is hidden from Julia for most of the story, adds both a wonderful twist to the story and additional depth to van Diepen’s novel.