Poetry Month Kid Lit Review of “Imagine” by Juan Felipe Herrera

This autobiography in free verse tells readers about a young boy – the author – who imagined all that he could do in life. Eventually his dreams came true, as he became the first Chicano Poet Laureate of the United States in 2015.

The format is somewhat unusual. Each stanza in the two-page spreads begins with “If I,” and ends with the prompt “imagine.” For example, he writes:

“If I moved to the winding city
Of tall, bending buildings
And skipped
To a new concrete school
I had never seen,

“If I opened
My classroom’s wooden door
Not knowing how to read
Or speak in English,

“If I grabbed a handful
Of words
I had never heard and
Sprinkled them over a paragraph
So I could write
A magnificent story,

He ends his story, finally an older man:

“If I stood up
Wearing a robe
In front of my familia and many more
On the high steps
Of the Library of Congress
In Washington, D.C., and
Read out loud and signed
My poetry book
Like this –
Poet Laureate of the United States of America
Imagine what you could do.”

Juan Felipe Herrera never once mentions how hard his journey must have been, first as the young boy of migrant worker parents, then coming to a city where he didn’t speak the language, then learning how to use that new language so well that he was named Poet Laureate. For him, or for this story at any rate, it was all a matter of imagining what you could do.

The illustrator, Lauren Castillo, uses an interesting technique of ink and foam monoprint to render warm depictions of a boy who dreams and works hard to turn those dreams into reality.

Evaluation: Herrera not only tells a compelling story. His medium conveys a similar message: don’t be constrained by formula or circumstance; take risks; and be creative. Readers will also get another message: never stop working toward a better self – who knows how much you can achieve unless you try?

Rating: 4/5

Published by Candlewick Press, 2018

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April 5 – National Deep Dish Pizza Day

Alexander Lee, writing “A History of Pizza” for “History Today” tells a great story:

“People have been eating pizza, in one form or another, for centuries. As far back as antiquity, pieces of flatbread, topped with savouries, served as a simple and tasty meal for those who could not afford plates, or who were on the go. These early pizzas appear in Virgil’s Aeneid. Shortly after arriving in Latium, Aeneas and his crew sat down beneath a tree and laid out ‘thin wheaten cakes as platters for their meal’. They then scattered them with mushrooms and herbs they had found in the woods and guzzled them down, crust and all, prompting Aeneas’ son Ascanius to exclaim: ‘Look! We’ve even eaten our plates!’”

We are still eating our plates all these years later.

Another website discussing the history of pizza, “Today I Found Out,” offers the fact that in the ruins of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in August, 79 A.D., archeologists discovered shops containing equipment and tools consistent with those used in pizzerias.

That site also informs us that in the early 1500s, citizens of Naples started topping their flatbreads with not only cheese but tomatoes. Eating “pizza” when in Naples became a “must-do” activity for tourists. [And still is!] In 1889, when Italian royalty King Umberto I and Queen Margherita were vacationing in Naples, they tried pizza and loved it, with the queen especially enjoying the pizza with mozzarella, basil, and tomatoes. The pizza maker thereafter dedicated it to her, calling it “Pizza Margherita.”

King Umberto I of Italy and Queen Margherita of Italy

When Italian immigrants came to America at the beginning of the 20th Century, they brought pizza with them. The first known pizzeria in the U.S. (or one of the first) was opened in New York City. Time Magazine reports:

Lombardi’s is widely accepted as the first pizzeria in the U.S., when Gennaro Lombardi began selling coal-oven pizza out of his grocery store in Manhattan’s Little Italy in 1905. Before then, pizza was available in many Italian neighborhoods, but mainly it was homemade in kitchens or sold through unlicensed vendors. The word pizza (or “pizze” as it was then spelled) appears in Boston newspapers as early as 1903. Lombardi’s proved to be enormously influential pizza force, serving as the training grounds for cooks who went on to open celebrated pizzerias such as John’s and Totonno’s.”

Outside Lombardi’s Pizzeria in New York City

[It should be noted however that pizza researcher Peter Regas has found evidence from 19th-Century Italian-American newspapers in New York that there were actually other pizzerias on the scene before Lombardi’s came along. They were started by Filippo Milone, who sold off one of them to Gennaro Lombardi.]

In 1943, Chicago began over a half-century of rivalry with “New York style” pizzas when Ike Sewell opened Pizzeria Uno’s which served the “deep-dish” pie.

Still, pizza didn’t really “take off” until the 1950’s, when celebrities such as Joe DiMaggio, Jimmy Durante and Frank Sinatra, who all had Italian roots, were publicly seen enjoying pizza, according to “Today I Found Out.”

They add that the 1952 song “That’s Amore” sung by Dean Martin, which included the line “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie – that’s amore,” “did more for the popularity of pizza than a thousand ad campaigns could have done.”

Pizza Magazine (yes, there is a Pizza Magazine) reported that as of December, 2017, the world pizza market topped $134 billion, with the U.S. pizza market at over $45 billion.

On average, every person in the U.S. consumes around 23 pounds of pizza each year. That adds up to over 3 BILLION pizzas, not counting frozen pizzas. The top 5 pizza sales days are Super Bowl Sunday, New Year’s Eve, Halloween, the night before Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day.

Pepperoni is the most popular pizza, making up 36% of all pizzas ordered, but these days, you can get almost any topping conceivable. Sometimes Jim and I spring for “artisanal” pizza. But we have never gone so far as to order any pizza like the ones on this list of “The Most Expensive Pizza Slices in the World.” With toppings like “caviar that is pre-soaked in Dom Perignon,” “sprinkling of gold flakes,” or even “sprinkles of diamonds,” it doesn’t even appeal to us, to be honest. Seriously, what would you rather eat: cheese, or gold flakes?

And where do they eat the most pizza? Pizza Magazine reports that Pakistan is the world’s fastest-growing retail market. In terms of the number of pizza delivery and takeaway outlets, the U.S. leads the global market, followed by Italy and Brazil, according to Euromonitor International. And within the U.S., the state with the most pizzerias per capita is New Hampshire – who would have guessed!

Jim and I also consume a great deal of pizza. And we love deep-dish. Having grown up on the East Coast, I never even heard of “deep-dish” till I came to Wisconsin, where the love of cheese made for a natural partnering with deep-dish pizza. I was smitten. (My cholesterol doctor, not so much.)

Today, we live in Illinois, and while we do not live by an Uno’s, we are near another Chicago-based institution, Lou Malnati’s. Apparently Lou Malnati got his start working at Uno’s, and took his expertise out to the Chicago suburbs. He opened his first pizzeria in 1971. The website claims “Lou Malnati’s Pizzerias have stayed true to the original Chicago-style deep dish pizza recipe that Grandpa Malnati helped create in 1943 at Chicago’s first deep dish pizzeria.”

Lou Malnati’s Deep Dish Pizza

For our pizzas, we like lots of cheese. I like mushrooms and onions. Jim occasionally insists upon an add-on of sausage because he, after all, was born in Chicago. [It’s even worse! People in Chicago say “sah-sedge” instead of “saw-sidge.” Imagine!] But I require strict lines of demarcation between his half and mine so as not to get it contaminated with either sah-sedge or saw-sidge…. Here is a recipe I have used for a wonderful deep-dish pizza. It is adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks: The Vegetarian Epicure: Book Two by Anna Thomas:

Basic Short-Crust Pastry

1 ½ cups flour
½ to ¾ tsp. salt
½ cup butter, well chilled
scant 1/3 cup ice water

Sift together the flour and the salt. Slice the cold butter rapidly and drop the slices into the flour. With a pastry cutter or two sharp knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse corn meal.

Sprinkle the ice water over the flour-butter mixture and stir it in very quickly with a fork, until the dough gathers together. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in wax paper or foil, and chill it for about 2 hours.

Makes enough dough for 1 large (11 or 12 inch) quiche shell.

Preparing the shell

On a lightly floured surface, roll the chilled dough out in a circle about 2 ½ inches larer than your quiche pan. Roll the circle of dough loosely around your rolling in and unroll it over the quiche pan, centering it as well as possible. Press the sides in against the rim of the pan, pushing the extra dough down a bit to make an edge that is slightly thicker than the bottom. Trim the dough off with a sharp knife, about ¼ inch above the rim of the pan.

Crimp the ridge of dough neatly just about the rim of the pan. Prick the bottom of the shell all over with a fork, and chill the shell for ½ hr.

Prebake the shell in a preheated 450 oven for about 8 minutes, prick again with a fork, and return to the hot oven for another 4-5 minutes, or until the bottom of the shell begins to color. Allow the shell to cool slightly on a rack, then fill and finish baking according to recipe.

Cheese and Tomato Deep Dish Pizza

1 recipe Basic Short-Crust Pastry (or what the heck, buy it pre-made)
3 lbs. ripe tomatoes
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed or minced
¾ tsp. salt
½ tsp. dried basil, crushed
fresh-ground black pepper to taste
1 lbs. yellow onions
2 Tbs. butter
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ lb. mozzarella cheese

Prepare the short crust, line an 11-inch quiche pan with it, and prebake according to instructions above.

Chop the tomatoes coarsely, reserving their juice. Heat the olive oil in a large pan and sauté the garlic in it for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice, ½ tsp of the salt, the basil, and a little fresh-ground black pepper. Simmer this sauce, stirring occasionally, until it is reduced by about half. It should be quite thick.

Peel, halve, and thickly slice the onions. Saute them in the butter until they are golden and sprinkle them with the ¼ tsp salt.

Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the bottom of the quiche shell. Arrange the sautéed onion slices over it in an even layer. Cover the onions with the tomato sauce.

Cut the mozzarella in thin strips and arrange them evenly on top of the tomato sauce. Slice the olives off their pits and sprinkle the olive bits over the mozzarella cheese.

Bake the pie for 35 minutes in a preheated oven at 375 and serve hot.

Serves 6 to 8.


Happy Deep Dish Pizza Day!!


wkendcookingThis post will be linked to this Saturday’s Weekend Cooking, hosted by Beth Fish Reads. Weekend Cooking is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. where bloggers share food-related posts. Stop by her blog and see what’s cooking this week!

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Review of “The Iliad: A Graphic Novel Adaptation” by Gareth Hinds

It is an excellent idea to turn such a complicated story into a graphic novel. The Iliad is Homer’s account of the final year of the Trojan War, marked by a ten-year siege of the city of Troy (Ilium) by the Achaeans (known to us now as the Greeks). The war was allegedly started over the beautiful Helen of Troy. As the author points out:

“The Iliad . . . is considered the greatest war story of all time and one of the most important works of Western literature.”

But because it is extremely complex, Hinds’ graphic rendition makes it much more accessible.

In the last year of the Trojan War, King Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks, gets into a feud with his best warrior, Achilles. Once again, the conflict between them begins over a woman. Or more accurately, it is a conflict egged on by the gods, who play a large role in manipulating everybody on both sides.

During the course of of the story, Homer fills us in on the cause of the war and many of the Greek legends about the siege. Then the epic takes up events prophesied for the future, although the narrative ends before these events take place. In this way, however, The Iliad relates a more or less complete tale of the entire Trojan War.

Hinds does a great job keeping you apprised of who the characters are on both sides, as well as those behind the scenes on Mount Olympus, home of the gods. The story is interspersed with sidebars, aids, and maps, but it is the graphic art that makes the largest contribution. You get to “know” who the actors are not only by what they look like, but by each one’s distinctive clothes, shields, and armor. Notes at the end of the book give further illumination to the story and the background for it.

The author also refashions translations of The Iliad into simpler and more modern prose, while occasionally retaining some of the poetry from the original. In this way Hines is able to demonstrate the power of Homer’s original work, which dates from around the 8th century B.C., making it at least over 2,000 years old.

In an Author’s Note at the end of the book, Hinds answers the question, “Why do we still read The Iliad? He sums up his answer as:

“We can experience The Iliad as a timeless tale of the courage, heroism, vanity, pettiness, and mortality we all share, and as a way to understand the history of Western civilization. Either way, it’s a great story.”

Evaluation: This book would be perfect for anyone – especially those in school – having to, or wanting to, tackle The Iliad. (Recommended audience is age 10 through adult.) The dynamic and expressive pictures and understandable text may convince many readers to turn to the original. Even if not, they will get a new understanding of the many historical and philosophical issues revealed in Homer’s original epic. Hinds’ research is hard to fault, and he is well deserving of the acclaim he has received for his other graphic adaptations, including The Odyssey and Beowulf, inter alia.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Candlewick Press, 2019

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Kid Lit Review of “The Secret Cat” by Katarina Strömgård

Many children want a pet but have parents who are reluctant to oblige them for one reason or other. Lucy, the little girl in this story, has that problem, but solves it in a – literally – imaginative way. She envisions a cat named Silvring who emerges from behind her wallpaper at night. Silvring and Lucy go out on adventures, encountering other secret pets and their owners on the way.

In the morning, Silvring is gone:

“Because during the day, the secret animals sleep inside the walls, hidden behind the wallpaper.

They sleep and wait for night to come, and for someone to whisper: ‘Silvring, come out!’”

Watercolor and ink illustrations by the author ably display a panoply of emotions and are dominated by colors of pink and blue, which give a dreamlike quality to the story. But best of all are the pictures of Lucy – an adorable girl with her hair in two afro puffs who steals every frame in which she appears.

Evaluation: This book for ages 4 to 8 is bound to please any child who dreams of having a pet. The illustrations will take readers to faraway places that may inspire their own flights of imagination.

Published in the U.S. by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers, 2019

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Review of “Sins as Scarlet” by Nicolás Obregón

Note: This review is by my husband Jim.

This book is the second in the Inspector Iwata series. I did not read the first, but had no trouble picking up on the story.

Five years ago, Kosuke Iwata was working as a homicide detective in Tokyo, but there he lost his wife and young son. He returned to the United States, where he was born, and found employment in Los Angeles. He now works as a private eye, or “Professional Investigator,” the title he prefers, but he has sunk into a deep depression since he cannot forget the family he lost in Tokyo. He deploys the expertise he developed in Japan in the somewhat tawdry business of spying on unfaithful spouses.

His life undergoes a huge transformation when his former wife’s mother shows up at his door and demands that he help her find the murderer of Meredith Nichol, a transgender woman who had been his wife’s brother until he became her sister.

The LAPD think Meredith was the victim of a random hate crime, and are not very enthused about a private citizen looking over their shoulders. Without any help from the police, Iwata soldiers on, following leads into Mexico where he encounters some really bad criminals and a constabulary that is not much better. In the process of “solving” the crime, Iwata (and the reader) see up close the plight of Mexicans seeking asylum in the U.S.

Evaluation: The author serves up several plot twists and a few surprises, all the while effectively building tension. The story touches upon issues of gender discrimination – particularly with respect to transgender women; exploitation of those in need; and human rights abuses. The book is too literate to be dismissed as mere “airplane reading.” I wouldn’t be averse to continuing with the series.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published in the U.S. by Minotaur Books, 2018

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