Check This Out: Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack

I love featuring books on the blog, especially books written by my friends. And I couldn’t be more pleased to welcome to this space my friend and fellow Secret Gardener, the awesome Sandra Nickel, who is here to chat about her fabulous picture book, Nacho’s Nachos: The Story Behind the World’s Favorite Snack. It was published by Lee & Low Books on August 11 and illustrated by Oliver Dominguez.

   

Sandra is represented by Victoria Wells Arms. Let’s give it up for Sandra! (There will be a book giveaway at the end of the post, in case you wondered. 😁)

El Space: Four quick facts about yourself?
Sandra:
1. I adore writing picture books, absolutely adore it!
2. I grew up in a small town and still live in a small town—except the small town I live in now is in Switzerland.
3. I’ve been a colossal nacho fan since I was a kid.
4. I had the enormous honor of being taught how to make Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya’s original recipe in the birthplace of nachos, Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico.

El Space: What was your path to picture book writing? How did you come up with the idea for this picture book?
Sandra: My path to picture book writing was long and twisty. I’ve had all kinds of jobs, the penultimate of which was being a lawyer. The catalyst for change was my daughter, who asked for stories—made-up stories—whenever we were in the car. She was a ruthless muse, asking (read: demanding) that I revise on the spot. After this story-telling boot camp, I enrolled in the “Harvard of Children’s Literature,” the MFA program for writing for children and young adults at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Like most in our class, I started off writing novels, but then I discovered picture books, and there was no turning back!

About the inspiration for Nacho’s Nachos, one day I was making nachos in my kitchen and wondered, Hmm, where did these come from? I hopped online and discovered that Ignacio Anaya [below] had invented them. It was unbelievable to me that I didn’t know my favorite snack was created by a generous, quick-thinking man, whose nickname was Nacho. When I realized this culinary hero had mostly been forgotten, I decided to do what I could to tell the world about his story.


Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio

El Space: As I read it, I craved nachos! What were the challenges of writing Nacho’s Nachos? How long did it take from writing to publication?
Sandra: It’s been six years since that day in the kitchen. When I discovered the stories on the internet didn’t agree about how nachos were invented, I travelled to Piedras Negras. The families of Ignacio Anaya, Mamie Finan—the woman for whom nachos were invented—and Rodolfo de los Santos—the owner of the restaurant where nachos were invented—still live in the area and very generously agreed to speak with me.

An original nacho in Piedras Negras

What I discovered was that even in Piedras Negras, folks have different versions of the story. It made me double down on research and look beyond the internet. I found two archived newspaper articles, where the reporters interviewed Nacho himself. When I read them, I felt that I was as close as I was ever going to get to the truth. With those articles and the details I gathered from photographs and interviews, I at last had my story! Lee and Low chose Oliver Dominguez to illustrate, and the book was released in celebration of 80 years of nachos!

My nachos

El Space: What was the process of working with Oliver? How much input did you have?
Sandra: First of all, let me say that I am delighted beyond words that Oliver is the illustrator for Nacho’s Nachos! He’s immensely talented, conscientious about getting details right, and a fabulous human being.

About your question, the general rule of picture books is that the writer writes, the illustrator illustrates, and each is careful not to step on the creative toes of the other. With a nonfiction like Nacho’s Nachos, there is a bit more collaboration by necessity. The families of Nacho, Mamie and Rodolfo kindly shared photos of the protagonists and the Victory Club. I shared these with Oliver so that the details of the illustrations could be as accurate as possible. In addition, our editor, Louise May, acted as our go-between, passing on questions Oliver and I had for each other.

El Space: I’m curious: how much have nachos evolved since their creation?
Sandra: They have evolved! A lot! The original nachos weren’t the piles of tortilla chips we now see all loaded up with lots of toppings. Nacho’s original creation was pure and simple: a freshly fried tortilla quarter, with melted cheddar cheese, and a single strip of pickled jalapeno pepper.
The incredible thing about Nacho’s invention is that it has inspired others to create their own versions. I’ve seen recipes for reuben nachos, hotdog nachos, caviar nachos, kung pao chicken nachos, and s’mores nachos. And that’s just the beginning. The sky really is the limit when it comes to nachos!

El Space: You’re always so helpful to writers, Sandra. What advice do you have for picture book writers?
Sandra: The best trick I discovered for myself is to divide the story into fourteen spreads once I’ve done my brainstorming and initial draft. This way it’s pretty easy to see the narrative arc of the story. As with novels, the best picture books have a start, rising action, crisis, climax and resolution. With fourteen spreads I can basically graph out what needs to happen where and then revise. The spread divisions also help me keep an eye on the all-important page turn.

El Space: What will you work on next?
Sandra: I have two picture books coming out in 2021—The Stuff Between the Stars: How Vera Rubin Discovered Most of the Universe and Breaking Through the Clouds: The Sometimes Turbulent Life of Meteorologist Joanne Simpson. I am doing all the things that go along with that. Brainstorming marketing ideas for The Stuff Between the Stars. Revising and fact checking for Breaking Through the Clouds.

As for writing, I have a picture book coming out in 2022 about a worrywart of a bear and an adorable fish. Those two have taken up residence in my mind, and they’ve been bugging me to write down another of their stories. They’ve gotten so loud I don’t have a choice anymore!

Thank you so much for this chance to talk with you. I always love spending time with you!

Thanks so much, Sandra, for coming to chat!

Here are some great reviews of Nacho’s Nachos:

★ “Nickel’s thorough research, including communications with the descendants of the principals, brings to life the man behind the world’s favorite cheesy bites. . . . Nickel’s homage to this congenial, hardworking man and his renowned snack is a celebration of ingenuity and kismet.” — KIRKUS REVIEWS, starred review

“This tale of the humble origins of nachos, bolstered by vivid and period-specific illustrations, will whisk young readers away to a different time and place.” —BOOKLIST

“VERDICT A unique biography read-aloud title for younger kids.” — SCHOOL LIBRARY JOURNAL

Looking for Sandra? Check out her website, Twitter, and Instagram.

Looking for Nacho’s Nachos? Look for it at Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Indiebound, or your favorite local bookstore.

Or look in your mailbox, ’cause someone will receive a free copy. Comment below to be entered in the drawing. Winner to be announced on September 7.

Henry with a Yeti-size plate of nachos. He prefers his nachos with a touch of ground beef, a dab of salsa, sour cream, guacamole, and peppers.

Author photo, nacho photos, and book cover courtesy of the author. Author photo credit: Emo-Photo. Ignacio Anaya photo courtesy of Luis Anaya, grandson of Ignacio. Map showing Piedras Negras from somewhere on the internet. Picture book layout by Debbie Ohi. Henry photo by L. Marie.

Lemons

Have you ever bitten into a lemon? I did once, when I was a kid. Note the word once. I quickly realized that some fruit have a taste other than sweet.

Now, I realize that many people love to eat lemons. (My mother for instance.) And this article talks about the benefits of eating lemons: https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefit-eating-whole-fresh-lemons-4390.html

Yet I prefer my lemons paired with other things: sugar and water in lemonade; sugar, water, and tea for iced tea; or sugar, eggs, flour, and other ingredients in lemon meringue pie or lemon bars. Even the lemon candy I like is of the sweet and sour variety.

    

It’s much the same with stories. I like a mixture of sweet and sour. Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien; Sabriel by Garth Nix; Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016 movie; the novelization was written by Alexander Freed). An author who writes this kind of story has to strike the right balance between hope and hopelessness.

   

Usually I love the point in the story where things are at their worst, and you don’t think good can come out of it—but then it does, sometimes at a high cost. A thoroughly satisfying conclusion is a great reward for that kind of tension.

I also think of lemons because the sourness of life sucks sometimes. I can’t help putting it that baldly. (Yes, baldly.) Jobs are lost. People you love face health issues or are in emotional pain. These moments are the “shut the book, Dad” moments Samwise Gamgee talked about in Lord of the Rings—the moments when you’re not sure everything will turn out right. I’m in that kind of moment right now. Maybe one day, I’ll provide the full details. But I wanted to write about it in the moment—when a happy ending isn’t a guarantee—because often you hear stories of triumph after the fact, after the darkness has passed and the “sun shines all the clearer”—another quote given to Samwise, this time in The Two Towers:

I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you.

These words gives me hope when life hands out lemons. May they enable you to keep pressing on in a sour/dark time of your own.

Now I’m thinking of some words Galadriel spoke in Fellowship of the Ring:

May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.

Lemon image from freepik. Lemon meringue pie image from Pillsbury. Lemonhead image from Target. Quote from Two Towers is from the script by Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens, Stephen Sinclair, and Fran Walsh © 2002. Sean Astin as Samwise Gamgee image from Cinema Blend. Words of Galadriel and others are by J. R. R. Tolkien.

I Scream for Ice Cream

When I was a kid, one of the dearest sounds in the world was the song the ice cream truck played. Often, the tune played was “The Entertainer,” written by Scott Joplin. I wondered why, so I turned to your friend and mine—Google. According to this AVClub.com post by Joe Blevins, “Most professional ice cream distribution vehicles come complete with a music box from Nichols Electronics.” This music box has “public domain favorites like ‘Yankee Doodle,’ ‘Brahms’ Lullaby,’ and Scott Joplin’s deathless ‘The Entertainer.’”

Ooookay. Though we often had ice cream in the freezer, as my mother would remind my brothers and me, we still wanted to buy whatever the truck sold. We knew the right moment to bug Mom for money—when she was on the phone. Many times she would give it to us just to get us to leave her alone.

Why am I bringing up ice cream? Because I am resurrecting the ice cream giveaway. If you’re new to the blog you’re probably wondering what on earth I mean. (It’s been awhile since I hosted this giveaway, so even if you’ve followed this blog awhile, you might be confused. Click here for a past giveaway.) I’m giving away one pint of ice cream (or yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto, if you prefer), which will be sent by Icecreamsource.com. Again, you might be wondering why. My answer is one that many parents have given over the years: “Because.”

Why now? I love the notion of giving away ice cream outside of the usual ice cream season—summer. I’m just weird that way.

Click here to see the varieties offered. In the comments below, please name the pint of ice cream, yogurt, sherbet, gelato, or sorbetto you’d like to receive. This company only delivers to the U.S., so my apologies to any readers outside of the States. Winner to be announced sometime next week.

After a hard day, Tia Tigerlily needs a little pick-me-up. And yes, she can quit eating ice cream anytime she wants. She just doesn’t want to.

Ice cream truck from clipartion.com. Ice cream images from Serious Eats and Tasting Table. Other photo by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie doll is a product of Moose Toys.

Salad Days

Back when I was in college, back when the transportation of choice was the covered wagon, I aspired to afford the salad bar at Fritz That’s It. What’s that, you say? It used to be a well-loved restaurant in Evanston, Illinois—part of the Lettuce Entertain You chain of restaurants. Alas, it closed in 1987. Click here and here for more information on the restaurant. Today, that name is associated with another establishment.

A menu from 1973 (I was not in college at this point, in case you were wondering.)

When I was a student, I was always broke. So I shared restaurant menu items with my friends, who were equally broke. As the articles I linked to above will tell you, Fritz was known for its extensive salad bar. It even had caviar and pâté! But the salad bar was an extra cost.

A well-stocked salad bar was the hallmark of Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. Rich Melman, the founder of Lettuce Entertain You, talked about the salad bar at RJ Grunts  (the first restaurant he opened) in this post at Foodandwine.com:

Instead of just iceberg and a few toppings, I would say we started with about 30 choices, maybe more, and it just kept growing and growing.

I loved having so many choices. Those were indeed salad days! But years later, many restaurants scaled back on the salad bars. Even Wendy’s pulled the plug on them back in 2006.

Yet salad bars live on at some restaurants (like buffets) and many grocery store chains. The grocery stores in my area have salad bars with multiple options (including soup) and charge for the salads by weight. (The photo below was not taken at a grocery store in my area, in case you wondered.)

The element of choice is one many people treasure, not just in a salad bar but in other areas in life. I love going to a craft store and seeing aisle after aisle of colorful skeins of yarn of all different textures in which to choose. Many of us love to binge watch seasons of shows on Netflix because we have multiple episodes from which to choose. (Unless the show is uploaded once a week like The Great British Baking Show is this season. Sigh.) And many make purchases on Amazon because of its staggering variety of items.

Another area of choice I love involves authors with multiple books just waiting to be discovered. Many, like Jill Weatherholt, John Howell, and Charles Yallowitz, have been featured on this blog. (To discover where to purchase any of these books, just click on the cover.)

   

What authors have you discovered recently, who have multiple books just waiting to be read?

Have you visited a salad bar recently? What do you like about it?

Kitty thinks her giant veggies will net her a fortune at salad bars across the nation. But I doubt that, since most edible vegetables don’t have faces.

Fritz menu from worthpoint.com. Salad bar image from Rochebros.com. Salad items from clkr.com. Kawaii veggies from etsystudio.com. Other photo by L. Marie.

Doughnuts or Donuts, Which One Is “Write”?


Though doughnuts is the correct spelling for the wonderful ring or ball-shaped cakes many of us enjoy, donuts is the popular American spelling. Click here to find out why. So, I’m going with donuts throughout, since it is shorter. 😊

When I was around 10 or 11, on a Saturday in the summer, my older brother and I decided to make donuts for breakfast, never having made them before. But Mom had a recipe book, so how hard could it be? And my brother was around 12 or 13—the wise elder. Obviously we could handle this task. Though I have to say, his sage advice had led me to leaping out of windows with a towel wrapped around my neck like a superhero. This same brother also liked to bring home the odd snake he’d found in the grass somewhere. As you can imagine, the emergency room was acquainted with our family.

Anyway, we had all of the ingredients to make the donuts, which involved a lot of frying. We made a plain cake donut. Taste wise, they were okay. And the sizes varied, which was a little disappointing. After all, this was our first attempt.

I can still remember the way the kitchen looked after we finished our donut project—like a bomb had gone off in it. Dirty bowls, pots, measuring cups, and spoons lay everywhere. The stove top was totally covered in grease. Rest assured, we didn’t expect Mom to clean up after us (as she made us aware would not happen). We had to do that ourselves.

Of course there are many who wouldn’t touch a donut. But for those of you who do, you probably enjoy these varieties of donuts:

Cake
Glazed
Cream-filled
Boston cream (below)


Cruller
Apple fritter
Old-fashioned
Beavertail
Jelly
Cider
Potato (below)


Long John
Dutchie
Cinnamon roll
Donut holes
Malasada (below)


Beignet

And many more! Do you have a favorite?

A coffee roll from Dunkin Donuts—one of my favorite donuts

As you can see from this list, donuts come in a variety of shapes—with or without holes. If you love donuts, you’ll undoubtedly try as many as you can. (Okay, maybe I’m totally speaking of myself.)

Pondering the list of donuts makes me think of writing and all of its varieties:

• Fiction (science fiction, fantasy, romance, contemporary realistic, literary, flash, fanfiction, short stories, etc.)
• Nonfiction (narrative, persuasive, expository, memoirs, personal essays, short stories, etc.)
• Poetry
• Screenplays
• Song lyrics
• Musical composition
• Curriculum
• Picture books
• Early readers
• Articles
• Video game stories
• Graphic novels
• Advertising
• Blogging
• Podcast scripts

The list goes on and on. Looking at this list, there are two items that I haven’t tried. I’ll leave you to guess which two.

Which items on the list have you gravitated toward? What other forms of writing would you try if you haven’t already?

Tia and Henry thought it only fair that they each should receive one and a half donuts, rather than give the third to someone else.

Malasada from Wikipedia. Boston cream donut from seriouseats.com. Glazed donut from YouTube.com. Potato donut from kingarthurflour.com. Baking utensils from Walmart. Other photos by L. Marie.

Lollipops: Stick to the Old or Savor the New?

National Lollipop Day was July 20. Did you participate by consuming a lollipop? I wish I had! (Never too late to do so!)

Growing up, I was a fan of the free lollipops (which we also called “suckers”) usually given to kids at the doctor’s office or at a bank.

“Here you go, kid. Now go away.”

The freebies were usually Dum-Dums. (And no, I am not making a judgment call.) Or sometimes Tootsie Roll Pops were handed out.

       

Though I appreciated having a huge lollipop like the kind shown at the start of this post—the kind you can still find in candy stores today—I was never a big fan of them. I just liked how colorful they were, though they made my chin and fingers very sticky after eating one.

But my absolute favorite lollipops were (and still are) Charms Blow Pops. Why are they my favorites? Because of the gum inside of them. What were your favorite lollipops growing up?

Okay, those are tried and true lollipops. Here are some unique lollipops.

   

Yes, that’s right. Tabasco sauce and scorpions.

No actual chickens were harmed in the making of this.

You know you want these bacon-flavored lollipops.

I love that candy makers thought outside of the box. Would you try any of these? I would try them all, even though Tabasco sauce is not my favorite. I’ve eaten insects (grasshoppers, locusts, ants) before, so my guess is that arachnids probably would be okay too. (I can tell you are giving me a look right about now.)’

Looking at these unique lollipops, I can’t help seeing the correlation to writers who put a new spin on well-known tropes in the hope of creating a new flavor combination in a genre. 😊 Perhaps you are one such writer who feels the need do something new with an old trope. If so, my hat is off to you.

But you didn’t really come here for a discussion about lollipops, right? You came for the giveaway of The Art of Breaking Things by Laura Sibson (below left) and An Impossible Distance to Fall by Miriam McNamara (below right). Click here and here for the interviews.

        

   

The winner of An Impossible Distance to Fall is Ally Bean. And the winner of The Art of Breaking Things is Jacqui Murray. Please comment below to confirm, then send address details to lwashin301(at)comcast(dot)net.

Tia is hesitant to tell Henry that the “lollipop” he thinks matches her outfit so perfectly, is really the cap to a pencil case.

Big lollipop found at tensepresent.wordpress.com. Dum-Dums found at dumdumpops.com. Charms Blow Pops found at ebay.com. Tabasco lollipop from Oddee.com. Scorpion and bacon-flavored lollipops found at vat19.com. Other photos by L. Marie. Tia Tigerlily Shoppie is a product of Moose Toys. Squeezamals are a product of Beverly Hills Teddy Bear Company.

Perfectly Plated

I watch a lot of YouTube videos (like the Tasty and BuzzFeed Channels) and Netflix shows (The Great British Baking Show) on cooking. You’d think I would be a culinary expert by now. Naw. I’m still just an average cook.

        

When I was a kid, my parents had insisted that I learn to cook. I don’t mean throwing a frozen dinner into the microwave or oven. I mean baking a chicken, preparing rice, sautéing onions, baking biscuits—that sort of thing.

For my friends in Europe, I mean this type of biscuit.

Not this.

But I’ve never been very innovative in the kitchen. Not like my sister-in-law, who loves to experiment. (I’m going somewhere with this. Don’t worry.)

Anyway, as I mentioned, I watch a lot of videos featuring culinary artists—people who went to school to master the art of food preparation. Other than the taste of a dish, nothing showcases a chef’s artistry like a well-plated meal. What do I mean by that?

According to an article entitled, “A Basic Guide to Food Presentation” at Webstaurantstore.com (click here for it):

People eat with their eyes, and creative and thoughtful plating enhances both the look and taste of your food. Focusing on presentation also allows chefs to showcase their creations and demonstrate to guests that they’re getting their money’s worth.

The article from which that quote came from has great tips on color and contrast, choosing the right plate, etc. That’s why you’ll sometimes see chocolate drizzled on a dessert plate, or your entrée artfully presented with the vegetables tucked up nicely. (Unlike what you see in the photo below.)

My usual idea of plating. Get your grub on, y’all.

  

The real deal done by experts

I love that chefs go the extra mile to make a dining experience special and to make food preparation an art form. While I’m unlikely to drizzle chocolate on a plate anytime soon (I’d much rather drizzle it in my mouth), I am inspired to go the extra mile in what I write.

I’m not sure what the literary equivalent of plating might be. Perhaps it starts with a resolve to write the best piece you can.

Speaking of resolutions, onto the winner of Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s novel Dirt Cheap, which was discussed in this guest post.

        

The winner, according to the lovely random number generator, is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Is . . .

Laura Bruno Lilly!

Congratulations, Laura! Please comment below to confirm!

Henry’s idea of plating—just candy in a bag, baby! (I hear you, Henry!)

Pillsbury biscuits from betterbatter.org. Tea biscuits from clipartkid.com. Tasty YouTube logo from YouTube. BuzzFeed logo from siliconangle.com. Great British Baking Show logo found at thats-normal.com. Plated desserts found on Pinterest. Other photos by L. Marie.

Still Going Strong

A friend and I went to the first annual Harry Potter Festival in Aurora, Illinois. I know what you want to know: Why is this the first one when the last book debuted a decade ago? Picture me shrugging.

   

Anyhoo, we braved the crowd of around five thousand people. The Harry Potter fandom is still going strong here. The crowd would have been six times that amount had the tickets not sold out within a matter of hours weeks ago. The event planners tried to keep the crowd small (ha) since this was the inaugural event.

Here’s the festival layout.

   

A tiny Hogwarts Express

The river nearby

We headed to a Care of Magical Creatures event, sponsored by SOAR (see the yellow sign in the photo below to learn what the letters stand for), which mostly involved rescued owls. But no snowy owls. They don’t migrate this far.

   

Dickens, the great horned owl depicted on a movie poster for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Yes, this owl is old. You can read more about her here.

Directors from SOAR with tiny owls rescued by SOAR. I soooo want one. But owls make horrible pets, we were told.

Then we had to have butterbeer. It was delicious! And no, that is not my hand in the photo below.

In Diagon Alley, we checked out the wares of the many vendors hawking wands, essential oils (the potions aspect of Harry Potter), jewelry, hats, and, inexplicably, soap.

We wanted to take in a Quidditch event at the Quidditch Pitch. But everyone had to register for that before the festival. Plus, the downtown area of Aurora is pretty big. Even the library is three times larger than any other library in my area. Some of the events were several blocks away from each other and had long waiting lines. There was no way we could get to all of the events in the amount of time designated for the festival (five hours).

But of course we went to the sorting event, which was held at the Aurora Regional Fire Museum. And of course, there was a huge line for that one. Unfortunately, though I’m usually sorted into Gryffindor, this time I was sorted into Slytherin House.

Not. Happy.

A little boy burst into tears upon being sorted into Slytherin. The sorting hat was forced to choose again for him. Yep. Gryffindor.   

What I loved about this festival is the fact that so many people still love the books and love showing up to participate in activities geared toward them. I can’t think of another festival dedicated to a book series that draws thousands of people willing to walk around in the burning hot sun, some wearing hot robes.

Have you attended a Harry Potter Festival? Would you go to one if you could?

P. S. Happy birthday, Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling!

Photos by L. Marie. Movie poster from impawards.com

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.