The Australian Women's Weekly, as every Australian knows, isn't just the publisher of a long-running women's magazine. They also produce a range of in...more The Australian Women's Weekly, as every Australian knows, isn't just the publisher of a long-running women's magazine. They also produce a range of inexpensive but reliable cookbooks, and the new ones out this year are a great sight better-looking than the ones of three or even two decades ago (more in line with the ABC's delicious. magazine, for instance).
When I was growing up, my mum had this book, The Big Book of Beautiful Biscuits. As a young teenager, I often made things from this book on the weekends, and have pored over it so many times I not only know every page, but it also brings my childhood and adolescence vividly to life. Funny the things that can be triggers. This is the book that has the Gingerbread recipe I still use, not to mention the one for Monte Carlos and Melting Moments, among others. It's such an utterly 80s book, though, that I never expected to have the chance to get my own copy (unaware as I was to the fact that AWW had reprinting it multiple times since 1982, including in 2003, though it looks quite different).
[caption id="attachment_18938" align="alignleft" width="300"] The original edition, left, and the new collector's edition, right.[/caption]This year, though, after thirty-one years, AWW reproduced it in its ORIGINAL copy, complete with daggy brown photographs with uncorrected white balance exposure and some very interesting crockery. It is the original reproduced with a nice "Vintage Edition" label on the cover, a "Collector's Cookbook" in all its glory.
Going through it again, it all came rushing back. All the recipes I'd tried, all the ones I'd wanted to make but never did. The measurements are in grams and cups, and the oven temperatures are in the old style: slow, moderate-slow, moderate, moderate-hot, hot. Luckily, I grew up with this and I know what these words correspond to: moderate is your standard 180ºC - though if you didn't, there is a Quick Conversion Guide in the back which also now includes the British "gas mark" settings. The ingredients lists are straight-forward, the methods as well. There's none of the Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson-style "talk", no additional information, calory counting or "ideal for freezing" notes. They have edited the methods, though, I noticed when comparing my mum's old edition (which doesn't have a date, so I don't know what year it is) with the new one. There's also a glossary in the new edition, and the index is more thorough and cross-references.
The cookbook loosely divides the recipes by ingredients, in alphabetical order: Almond, Apricot, Bran, Cheese, Cherry, Chocolate, Coconut, Coffee and so on. Hence, savoury and sweet are mixed together, though some types of biscuits are isolated: shortbread, meringues. There are only a few recipes per category, and 126 in total (unless I miscounted, which is always a possibility!). There are several different kinds of truffles and about 26 slices. It has classic oldies like Coconut Ice and Chocolate Crackles, the staples of many a school fair, and of course choc-chip. There're brandy snaps, cheese sticks, fancy biscuits and easy-peasy biscuits. It's one of those go-to cookbooks that every kitchen needs, and I'm so glad it's still in print.
When my brother (who is five years younger than me) was little, he had this book - a much earlier edition, of course, with slightly different illustra...moreWhen my brother (who is five years younger than me) was little, he had this book - a much earlier edition, of course, with slightly different illustrations (different compositions, some of the details are different). I loved it, as I loved so many of his picture books, so I was full of excited nostalgia to read it again - and introduce it to my boy.
It's Christmas morning. Morris is a young rabbit with three older siblings: Victor, Rose and Betty. Victor gets a hockey outfit for Christmas. Rose gets a beauty kit, and Betty gets a chemistry set. Morris gets a bear. Victor, Rose and Betty have lots of fun with their presents, and when they've had a turn they switch:
All Christmas day Victor played hockey and Rose made herself beautiful and Betty mixed acids.
And then Betty made herself beautiful and Victor sorted test tubes and Rose played left wing.
And then Victor made himself beautiful and Betty played goalie and Rose invented a new gas.
Morris wants to play, too, but they say he's too young and too little and too silly to play with their things - and no one wants Morris's bear. His parents try to console him but he sulks and won't join them at dinner. While they're eating, Morris notices an overlooked present under the tree. In it is a disappearing bag. Morris climbs in side and disappears. His siblings can't find him anywhere, but when he comes out they all want a turn.
Victor, Rose and Betty all disappear inside the bag, and Morris plays with the hockey gear, the chemistry set and the beauty kit until bedtime.
This is one of my favourite picture books, and I'm so glad it's still in print. It's one that really makes me laugh, with jokes that I got as a kid and still delight me as an adult (I just love the line, "and Rose invented a new gas"; there are others just as funny). As one of the younger kids in my family, I could certainly identify with Morris who has older, more sophisticated siblings who won't let him play with their sophisticated toys. And I could certainly relate to Morris when he sits in the corner, sulking, and then crawls into a bag to disappear.
At its heart, it is of course partly about sharing, and being nice to people. But like all good picture books, it's so much more than basic messaging. The illustrations are really engaging too, not precise or too realistic, but bold and colourful and with a hint of childlike two-dimensional simplicity. I don't want that to sound in the slightest way negative. It's interesting, actually, comparing this contemporary edition with my brother's older version, and seeing how much Wells' illustrations have been fine-tuned and improved. The style is the same, but the lines are more confident and the composition better. Paired with the engaging story, this is truly a delightful book.
Incidentally, I remember back in Toronto on the kids' cartoon channel (what was it called, Treefrog? something like that) there was a cartoon that I didn't like very much, about two rabbit siblings called Ruby and Max. It was only while I was looking up this book that I learned the cartoon is based on other books about those two characters by Rosemary Wells. I should have recognised the style of drawing, but I had forgotten all about this book until I had it in my hands again just recently.(less)
This story has the feel of an old fable - the kind of story brought over by your grandparents when they immigrated - but it is in fact made up by the...moreThis story has the feel of an old fable - the kind of story brought over by your grandparents when they immigrated - but it is in fact made up by the author, Tomie dePaola, and first published in 1975. It reads like a fairy-tale, of the classical kind, and has strong moral messages - ones about how you reap what you sow, and going behind someone's back, and meddling in what you don't understand, and being greedy, and so on.
Part of what gives it that old-world (read: old-Europe) feel are the wonderful illustrations, also by dePaola, which somehow remind me of stained-glass windows.
Strega Nona is an old lady who lives in the town of Calabria, a long time ago. The name, "strega nona", means "Grandma Witch", and Strega Nona helps the local townspeople with their troubles - even the priests and nuns of the nearby convent, because she has such a magical touch.
She advertises for someone to help her around the house and garden, and soon employs Big Anthony, a strong young man who doesn't pay attention. He's very helpful, but when he hears Strega Nona saying a magic spell over her pasta pot, he gets greedy. Strega Nona has a magic pasta pot, and when she says the right words, it produces a potful of pasta ready to eat. She must say certain words to make it stop, too, and bow three kisses, but Big Anthony doesn't pay attention and doesn't hear that part.
When Strega Nona goes away to see her friend, Strega Amelia, she leaves Big Anthony in charge, with the stringent warning not to touch the pasta pot. But of course, as soon as she's gone, Big Anthony goes and tells everyone in the town about the pasta pot. They don't believe him, so he decides to show them. Only, once the pasta pot has started producing pasta and everyone has had a bowlful, he can't get it to stop. Soon, pasta is overflowing and rushing out the door and flooding the town. It's a disaster, and only the arrival of Strega Nona can fix it - and she has the perfect punishment for Big Anthony.
I have vague memories of reading this as a kid, and it really holds its own well. I love the illustrations, and the story too, which is both fun and meaningful. It's one for older children, around five or six, but certainly any child would enjoy this tale.(less)
This was given to Hugh when he was born, a gift from friends of my husband's parents (I only know/remember this because they inscribed the book, somet...moreThis was given to Hugh when he was born, a gift from friends of my husband's parents (I only know/remember this because they inscribed the book, something I wish more people would do when they give books as gifts!), and up until that moment I had completely forgotten all about this story. It came back to me quickly when I saw the distinctive illustrations and read the story again after all these years. I read it quite a lot as a kid, I loved it so. It's a sad story, yet positive too.
First published in 1939, it speaks to the change of eras, the death of the old and the celebration of shiny new things. Mike Mulligan is a construction worker who, along with his steam shovel (a steam-powered excavator) called Mary Anne, has dug canals, and cut through mountains for railways, and levelled hills for highways. He's always been sure that Mary Anne "could dig as much in a day as a hundred men could dig in a week, but he had never been quite sure that this was true."
But then it gets harder to get new jobs because of "the new gasoline shovels and the new electric shovels and the new Diesel motor shovels" that were taking over. Mike didn't want to sell Mary Anne for junk like all the other steam shovel drivers were dong. "Mike loved Mary Anne. He couldn't do that to her." He had taken good care of her but no one wanted them anymore. Then they hear that the nearby town of Popperville was going to build a new town hall, so they head over and offer their services. Mike makes a deal with one of the selectmen, that if they can dig the cellar in a day they get paid, but if they don't they won't.
Mike and Mary Anne start the next day as the sun is coming up, and they work super fast. As more and more people gather to watch, Mary Anne digs faster and faster. They manage to dig the cellar in a day - a job that would have taken a hundred men a week to do - but then realise that there's no way to get Mary Anne out of the hole she's finished digging. A little boy has a bright idea: why not leave her in the cellar and build the town hall above her? "Let her be the furnace for the new town hall," he says. So that's what they do, and Mike Mulligan and Mary Anne live in the cellar and everyone goes to visit them and tell stories.
Even as a kid I found this story sad, even a bit depressing, though I also loved it and kept coming back to it (I may have been a girl, but I was more interested in cars and tractors and things like that, than dolls - in fact, I had no interest in dolls at all, especially those horrid baby ones that wee when you feed them, I thought that was a useless, boring idea for a doll and I didn't like the way toy companies were trying to make my into a mummy at the age of four! Yes, I really did think that when I was little). Even the illustrations ratchet-up the nostalgia factor, not just because they're 30s style (and the details clearly show that in-between-eras problem, with cars alongside horse-drawn wagons), but because the picture of the town hall being built above Mary Anne and Mike Mulligan looks an awful lot like a prison. Or a cage. Or a museum exhibit. Perhaps the latter, and intentionally so.
There's a lot of text to this story, but two-year-olds can sit through it (prepare to be interrupted by a lot of questions that are hard to answer, though!). Older kids, kindergarten age and older, would get more out of the story but there's lots here for younger ones to enjoy too. Bit too long and involved for the attention span of a kid younger than two though. (less)
I think this book and Seuss's Cat in the Hat are his two most famous books, and I'm pretty sure this is one (maybe the only one) I did read as a kid.
F...moreI think this book and Seuss's Cat in the Hat are his two most famous books, and I'm pretty sure this is one (maybe the only one) I did read as a kid.
For the adult reader (reading aloud to kids, no doubt), it's a repetitive, long, and obvious book: Sam offers some green eggs and ham to his grumpy older friend (who remains nameless), and this friend gets angrier and angrier the more Sam tries to convince him to try them (and you can't blame the angry one: green eggs and ham? Sounds utterly disgusting, like they've gone off or something). Until finally he does try eating it, and discovers that he does like them after all.
It's enlivened by the silliness of Sam's suggestions: would you eat them in a box with a fox, or in the dark, or with a goat. The wording does change, going through the various grammatical options: would you, could you, will not, could not, do not like etc. It's a surprisingly entertaining battle of wills and for as obvious as the message is, it's a message that all parents spend a great deal of time and energy getting across to their kids ("Try it! Just try it, how do you know you don't like it until you try it?!"), so it's always nice to have a popular book reinforce it.(less)
This is a classic Australian picture book, that every school library has tattered copies of. It has been around since the 70s and is still very much i...moreThis is a classic Australian picture book, that every school library has tattered copies of. It has been around since the 70s and is still very much in print. It definitely has the feel of an older style of picture book, as the illustrations - pen cross-hatchings and water colour - as well as the story itself have a more mature feel, not at all feel-good or cartoony.
This is the story of Rose, a widow, who lives with her dog, John Brown. They have a quiet but lovely life together, one of routine and companionship. When a cat turns up outside at night, that life is threatened - for John Brown, anyway. Rose tries to befriend the cat, but John Brown is jealous and pretends not to even see the cat. When Rose becomes sick and doesn't want to get out of bed, though, he finally realises that the midnight cat can bring new life to his beloved companion.
It's a very sweet story though laced with undertones of sadness - I think this is why it wasn't a favourite of mine as a child. I was a very sensitive child and the story was too upsetting for me - in a good way. But I still avoided it, going instead for upbeat picture books like my favourite one, Quentin Blake's Mister Magnolia. But it's not a story you can forget, so I got a copy of this recently to add to the collection, for it is a wonderful story, a thought-provoking story, and kids love it with good reason. (less)
Does anyone else remember this book from their childhood? I read it many times in, oh, grade 1 I think. Maybe Prep. You'd think a book about a mouse d...moreDoes anyone else remember this book from their childhood? I read it many times in, oh, grade 1 I think. Maybe Prep. You'd think a book about a mouse dentist, complete with illustrations of teeth extractions (with blood drops) would be off-putting for a child. Instead, the opposite was true: I was fascinated by the pictures and loved the story. I was browsing one day in the children's section and saw it - I had forgotten all about it but instantly recognised it.
Doctor de Soto is, as I said, the story of a mouse dentist and his assistant wife, Mrs de Soto. He's an excellent dentist, with nimble hands, and extra-large patients like him because, with the help of a winch and his wife, he can hoist himself right into their mouths to work! But "cats and other dangerous animals are not welcome". (Today we would exclaim, "Discrimination!")
When a fox turns up one day, in great pain with a toothache, and begs for Dr de Soto's help, the good dentist decides to accept him as a patient. The fox is grateful, but can't help thinking what a tasty morsel the mice would be. So, before his return visit when the dentist will fit a new gold tooth in the fox's mouth, Dr de Soto and his wife come up with a plan to ensure they won't be eaten.
It is very much a tale of the small, vulnerable one besting, with wits, the bigger, more powerful one. Outwitting dangerous foes rather than resorting to violence is a common theme in children's books, especially in the 80s it seems. The fox was going to take advantage of the dentist, have his toothache cured and a new gold tooth fitted and then betray him. You could say it is a reflection of capitalist society as much as anything else. But it is also about helping others despite feeling threatened, and not pre-judging.
It all came flooding back as I re-read it, and saw again those familiar illustrations (done by the author). Suddenly, my childhood and my present self were so much closer, almost touching, though memories of the past have been supplanted by new ones. It has new life. Especially as my husband Adam has taken to using "doctor de soto" as an adjective for, well, anything. "I feel very de-sotoed" we'll tell each other, or "It's very doctor de soto" - it means nothing and everything and is a private joke between us. And so a childhood book retains its nostalgia while also taking on a new place in the present!(less)
One of my favourite books from years ago, I finally picked up a copy for myself the other day. This beautifully - and cleverly - illustrated children'...moreOne of my favourite books from years ago, I finally picked up a copy for myself the other day. This beautifully - and cleverly - illustrated children's book is just as much fun when you're an adult. Each page or double-page spread conjures a letter of the alphabet with rhyming alliteration and illustrations full of things starting with that letter. We used to have races to find and list as many words as we could from the pictures, and we had a jigsaw puzzle of the Crimson Cats page. Endless fun for kids and a great way to learn new vocab.(less)