You “Knead” to Try Anyway

Recently, my nephew got me hooked on The Great British Baking Show, which I watch through Netflix. Have you seen it? This show has been on for years, and I just learned about it. If you’re unfamiliar with the premise, it involves amateur British bakers competing in three baking challenges each week.

Their efforts, at least in season 1, were judged by Mary Berry, who writes cookbooks, and Paul Hollywood, a well-known chef. I wasn’t familiar with either person. They both frighten me. Paul has a piercing stare. Mary Berry makes me think of the “prunes and prisms” comment of Mrs. General in Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens.

The judges and hosts (Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc) of The Great British Baking Show

Each week, one person is voted off. Standard reality TV stuff. Twelve started the show. I’ve watched several episodes of season 1, so I’ve seen several people voted off.   

If you decide to watch the show, I would advise you to have some baked goods on hand. Otherwise you’ll be extremely hungry.

What I love about the show is the fact that the bakers are told to bake something within a time limit, but aren’t given any other instructions. Like one week, they were told to make a Swiss roll. Another week, they had to make a “self-saucing pudding.” I would have stood there, staring stupidly at the hosts. But the bakers rose to each challenge using their creativity.

One week, one of the bakers threw a slight temper tantrum after a mishap with his dessert. Instead of showing the judges what he had, he tossed his dessert in the garbage, rather than present something flawed. The others watched, horrified, as he stalked away.

Actually, I can see why he did that. The judges never hesitate to tell the bakers what’s wrong with their creations. “This is a mess.” “This tastes burnt.” “You should have left it in five more minutes.” But because the bakers love to bake (and love to be on the show), they willingly put themselves out there.

I can’t help thinking of the process of writing. A writer sits down to write without being given any instructions. Oh, there are tips here and there on world building and creating memorable characters. But a tip can’t really guarantee that a book, a screenplay, or a poem will turn out well. After completing the work, he or she then might show the work to a beta reader or an agent or an editor and run the risk of scathing criticism. But a writer puts himself/herself out there, hoping someone will love his/her creation.

Have you ever thought about writing something totally outside of your comfort zone—like many of the challenges the bakers faced on The Great British Baking Show? You might fail or you might succeed. But does failure mean you shouldn’t try, even if you’re not sure about what you’re doing?

Like the baker who threw away his presentation, I’ve thrown away whole novels, because I thought their flaws were too great to fix. But with one novel at least, I’d like to start over with new characters. I still like the basic idea of the novel.

Watching The Great British Baking Show reminds me of the value of taking risks and trying something new, instead of always playing it safe. Even if I don’t exactly know how to do something, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try it.

How about you? Facing a challenge? What will you do?

Kitty thinks she could have been a contender on The Great British Baking Show. For obvious reasons.


Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Judges and hosts photo from pbs.org. Cake images from badartbistro.com. Pie image from clipartbest.com. Swiss roll from youtube.com. Composition book from dreamstime.com.

Check This Out: How The Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea

With me on the blog today is the always lovely Kate Hosford. She’s here to talk about her latest picture book, How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea, which was illustrated by the amazing Gabi Swiatkowska. This book, published by Carolrhoda Books in March 2017, is too delightful for words.

  

Check out the book trailer:

Now, let’s talk to Kate!

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Kate: (1) I love the tea set that my grandmother left me.

Kate’s grandmother’s Spode china

(2) When I studied in India during college, I loved drinking chai on trains.

Indian chai at the launch party at Books of Wonder in New York

(3) This summer, I got to drink tea at the Buckingham Palace Garden Café, where they have really nice paper cups.

Fancy to-go cups

(4) My new favorite place in New York is the Japanese tea house, Cha-An, where they have wonderful Matcha and a great selection of desserts.


Matcha with something sweet at Cha-An

El Space: How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Kate: At first, I simply had a vague idea about a queen going around the world and drinking tea with children from different cultures. But after several revisions, the story became about a lonely, pampered Queen who thinks she is searching for the perfect cup of tea, when she is actually searching for friends and meaning in her life. In the final version, tea still has a multicultural function in the story, but it is also a metaphorical device for tracking the Queen’s emotional state. Gabi Swiatkowska did such a great job showing the Queen’s many emotional states not only as she learns to make tea, but as she learns how to do other things as well, like snuggle a kitten.

El Space: This is your second collaboration with illustrator Gabi Swiatkowska. What was your process for working with Gabi? How long was the process from writing to production?
Kate: Gabi and I met in an illustrators’ group in 2000, back when I was doing illustration. We were good friends before we became collaborators, which was probably helpful. This book has a complex emotional arc, with the Queen making a bit more progress in each place she visits, but then backsliding to her old haughty ways at the beginning of each visit to a new place. Gabi did an amazing job of conveying all the emotional complexity in the book. Sometimes I offered opinions that Gabi took, and other times, she would stand her ground. I have learned that when Gabi stands her ground, she is always right!

Gabi and Kate at their launch party at Books of Wonder

I started this book with my faculty advisor, Uma Krishnaswami, in 2009, when I was getting my MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. I sold it to Carolrhoda Books in 2013, and it came out this spring. In my original drafts, I had the children in each country giving the Queen little gifts, and acting deferential. Uma encouraged me to “turn colonialism on its ear,” and create child characters that are completely unimpressed with royalty. This is when the book really came together. When the children treat her like a normal person, the Queen begins to evolve emotionally.

Interior illustrations © 2017 by Gabi Swiatkowska

El Space: Favorite tea? What, if anything, do you take in your tea?
Kate: I drink a lot of peppermint tea and honey, lemon tea and honey, green tea, and chai.

El Space: In a discussion of why picture books are important, Kwame Alexander said

Picture books are the great experience equalizer. We don’t have to leave the comforts of the beds in the rooms of our houses, and yet we can still travel through time and place and circumstance.

Erzsi Deak said

Picture books are also the groundwork for understanding innately how Story works, as the reader anxiously turns the page to see WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

Why do you think they’re important?
Kate: Oh there are so many reasons! I agree with everything that Kwame and Erzsi said, and here a few other reasons as well:

Picture books can create intimacy. Often picture books are read out loud, either by a teacher or parent. This sort of intimate experience allows the child and adult to bond over the book together, which then gives the child yet another reason to continue reading.

Picture books hone a child’s ear. When picture books are read out loud, they allow children to hear the rhythms and cadences of beautiful language, which hopefully makes them want to read more.

Picture books are good for the brain. The child who is seated next to a picture book reader is synthesizing the words on the page, the language of the reader, and the illustrations. The constant toggling back and forth between these elements is stimulating and complex, forging the neural pathways that are essential for increasing intelligence in a young child.

El Space: Name a favorite picture book from your childhood. Why was it a favorite?
Kate: Probably my favorite book was called Alexander and the Magic Mouse by Martha Sanders and Philippe Fix. It is a gorgeous, eccentric book about an old lady who lives on the top of a hill with a Magical Mouse, a Brindle London Squatting Cat, a Yak, and an alligator. One day, the Magical Mouse predicts that the town below will be endangered by thirty days of rain. It is then up to Alexander to make the treacherous journey into town to warn the mayor about the rain. The book’s illustrations are just spectacular, and I loved the fact that this eclectic group of animals lived with the Old Lady.

The cover where the Old Lady is serving tea

Strangely, I didn’t realize until I just reread the story that tea plays a rather important role in the book. The Old Lady gathers her friends every day in the drawing room for tea, she nurses Alexander back to health with ginger tea when he returns from warning the mayor, and at the end of the book, when the mayor comes to honor the Old Lady for saving the town, she gives the medal to Alexander instead, and invites the mayor and her animal family to tea.

  

The Old Lady, nursing Alexander back to health with ginger tea (left); the mayor, having tea with the Old Lady and her friends at the end of the book

El Space: What will you work on next?
Kate: A poetry collection about how brilliant the octopus is! I read Sy Montgomery’s incredible book, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonders of Consciousness. and then was lucky enough to meet Sy and interact with her namesake, Sy the Giant Pacific Octopus at the New England Aquarium. I also want to do something funny related to the life of a classical musician. This is a bit of a challenge since most of them had really difficult and tragic lives. However, Jonah Winter was able to do it in his fabulous picture book, The 39 Apartments of Ludwig van Beethoven, where he tries to figure out how Beethoven could have moved five legless pianos to 39 different apartments. It’s such a unique topic, and his treatment of it is wonderful.
I’m also very excited about a picture book I have coming out next spring with Abrams called Mama’s Belly. It’s about a little girl waiting for her sister to be born, and wondering if there will be enough love to go around. (Spoiler alert: There is!)

    

Thanks, Kate, for being my guest!

And thank you to all who visited this blog. You can find How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indiebound.

Want a curriculum guide for How the Queen Found the Perfect Cup of Tea? Click here.

You can find Kate at her website, Twitter, and Facebook.

One of you will find her book in your mailbox or tablet. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. You could name your favorite tea as you comment. The winner will be announced on May 1.

Kirstea, the tea-loving Shoppie, gives Kate’s book five stars!

Book covers, author photo, interior illustrations, and book signing photos courtesy of the author. The Soul of an Octopus, Surf’s Up, and Pumpkin Time covers from Goodreads. Kirstea photo by L. Marie. Kirstea Shoppie doll by Moose Toys.

“More Tea, Please”

Yes, that is a teacup on Kirstea’s head. She is a tea-loving Shopkins™ Shoppie doll. And yes, her name is Kirstea.

I love hot beverages, even in the summer. Seventy percent of the time, I’ll go for coffee. The other 30 percent is divided between tea (20 percent) and hot chocolate.

The post title is a quote from one of my favorite animated characters of all time—Uncle Iroh from the Avatar: The Last Airbender series. He’s known for his love of tea.

There are certain tea flavors I enjoy. Mostly I love a robust tea. But my tea tastes have changed over the years.

Do you have a favorite tea? If so, let me know through this poll or in a comment below:

When I was a kid, my mother always had a box of Lipton tea around. That was the only tea we had. Good old, reliable Lipton black tea. Back then, I was not a big fan of tea. I only drank it if I had a cold or some other illness. So, Lipton tea was the extent of my tea knowledge at the time.

When I was a freshman in college, I discovered Earl Grey, and drank it like it was water. I can’t help thinking of Captain Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation, who loved that tea. But after my freshman year, I dropped tea, and began mainlining coffee until someone introduced me to Constant Comment—another black tea.

I went through a berry tea phase briefly (like Wild Berry Zinger by Celestial Seasonings), before moving to peppermint tea. After that, I fixated on Lemon Zinger by Celestial Seasonings for a time.

While in Shanghai earlier this century (sounds weird to write earlier this century), I discovered green tea. Drank a ton of it, especially at Starbucks, which served green tea lattes long before they debuted in the U.S. But in the last few years, I’ve gravitated toward chai, rooibos teas, and this one, which I’ve written about before.

I started this post thinking I would just talk about tea. But I can’t help equating tea with fantasy books. Many times, when I’ve mentioned that I’m writing or reading a fantasy book, I have received one of two responses:

“I hate fantasy books. Always full of names that are hard to pronounce.”

“Not my cup of tea. They’re too long and boring.”

You see why I equate fantasy books with tea? Now, if you’ve mentioned either of those statements to me, please don’t think I’m putting you down. Many people, even strangers, have told me the same thing. But for me, fantasy books are like tea, because there are so many different varieties—from historical epics to contemporary urban thrillers. Yes, there are books with names that are difficult to pronounce. But Harry Potter, a kid in a fantasy book, has a name that’s easy to pronounce. And Ursula Le Guin has at least two fantasy books under 200 pages in length.

These are older editions. Wizard ends on page 199.

If you don’t like fantasy books, I know I won’t convince you to come to my side of the fence. I’m not here to do that. After all, I don’t like licorice, and wouldn’t want anyone to try to sway me to like it. Instead, I’ll continue to enjoy the rich flavors of the fantasy books that come my way.

A good article on the most popular tea flavors is here.

Uncle Iroh from medievalotakuwordpress.com. Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard from startrek.com. Bigelow Constant Comment tea from Wikipedia. Lemon Zinger from the Celestial Seasonings website. Lipton tea from chromedelivery.com. Kirstea Shopkins™ Shoppie doll and book covers photos by L. Marie.