A True Delicacy: All Four Stars by Tara Dairman

Are you interested in a fabulous middle grade novel celebrating all things culinary?!?

Today kicks off a fabulous blog tour, hosted by The Midnight Garden, for the new middle grade book, All Four Stars by Tara Dairman!

Don’t worry—the book is out on July 10th, but between now and then, enjoy visiting all the stops on the tour. Spirit of Children’s Literature is on the schedule for this Friday, July 4th, but today I share with you my review of this wonderful story. Stay tuned, however, for a special recipe inspired by the book on Friday!

There’s even more! (That’s how much I loved this book!) An interview with the author, Tara Dairman, will be live on the blog next Monday! You won’t want to miss it—it was so much fun asking Tara about her favorite desserts, her best meals eaten around the world, and a possible sequel to All Four Stars.

The first stop on the blog tour is a Foodie Tour of NYC and giveaway for the book, so go check it out!

Bon Appetit!

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All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (2014)

Suggested age range: 8 and up (Two Lions, 294 pages)

Rating: 5/5 stars

Source: e-ARC from Netgalley

Genre: Middle Grade, Contemporary Realism

The Book: Gladys Gatsby loves to cook! Her parents: not so much. Mom and Dad are terrible cooks, microwaving meatloaf and preparing gross sandwiches with too much mayonnaise. But by the 6th grade, Gladys is an amazing cook, and delights in buying special ingredients and creating gourmet dishes. Her hobby is ground to a stop, however, after a mishap with a blow torch and crème brulee. Gladys just wants to create in the kitchen—is that too much to ask? When she enters an essay contest for school, her letter accidentally lands her a position as a restaurant reviewer at the famous New York Daily Standard. She receives her first assignment: visit Classy Cakes in NYC and sample their desserts so she can complete her review. How is she going to pull it off when she’s been barred from all things culinary? Dive into All Four Stars and find out how Gladys navigates the challenges of cooking in secret, new friendships, and keeping her young identity a secret.

Spirituality in All Four Stars: Figuring out our place in the world can definitely illuminate a spiritual aspect of our lives. I thought this was an important dimension in the story—Gladys’s growing confidence in who she is. This also leads to her connecting meaningfully with other people and pursuing what she’s passionate about! A kid who visits a shop regularly for specialty ingredients and can cook far better than her parents isn’t always the norm, and Gladys certainly has her share of challenges in the story. The way she navigates them, however, makes room for meaningful discussion about what makes our hearts happy and how to approach situations that stand in the way of that.

Who Should Read This Book: I adored this book, so I’m going to go ahead and suggest that everyone read it! Young readers will love it, young adults would love it, and adults: you too! Gladys’s humorous antics and her interactions with memorable characters at school add spice to the story, resulting in a fast-paced and enjoyable read.

The Final Word: This is a delicious and delightful book that will have you cheering for Gladys as she navigates a world filled with parents who are terrible cooks, undercover baking, and a top secret job as a restaurant reviewer! I loved the way Dairman wove in delectable descriptions of food, and I enjoyed every moment of Gladys’s antics as she makes friends and strives to complete her restaurant review for The New York Standard. I closed the book with a desire to bake a dessert myself in honor of the end of All Four Stars. At the same time, I was sad the story ended. Certainly worth a re-read and strongly recommended! I’m certainly looking forward to reading more from Tara.

 

 

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Connecting with Cakes

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A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff (2013)

Suggested age range: 8 and up

(Philomel, 233 pages)

Rating: 4/5 stars

Source: Library

“Life is the grandest adventures one can go on, isn’t it?”

I love to bake and I love to read. Lisa Graff’s new book connects these two hobbies in A Tangle of Knots and I thought this book a true delight! Many characters in this story possess a “Talent,” a special ability. For Will it is the talent of getting lost; for Zane, it is spitting with precision. For eleven year old Cady, it is cake baking. She is able to bake the perfect cake for each individual she meets, and these delectable cake recipes are featured between different chapters in the novel. Will’s S’more Cake. The Owner’s Peanut Butter Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting. Miss Mallory’s Peach Cake. These are just a few. Readers could be baking and reading simultaneously if they really wanted.

There is a mystery behind Cady’s birth; she is an orphan and doesn’t know much about where she came from or about her parents. At the beginning of the story, she moves into a room above the Lost Luggage Emporium with Toby, who also has some secrets from his past. Her new home just happens to be in the same building as a family who may be more connected with her destiny than she realizes.

The perspective in the story changes from chapter to chapter. So, even though the reader might assume the point of view will remain Cady’s throughout the book, that isn’t actually how the story unfolds. The presence of the recipes gives the story texture and detail, and even gives readers something concrete to take away (if they wish!).

In addition to the perspective changes, I also liked the way Graff features both child and adult characters as important players in the story. In some ways this book reminded me of Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo as well as The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick. Both books feature children in search of identity and belonging and also reflect adults who are changed through the course of the story. The connectivity that develops among the various characters and the ideas of destiny and purpose are two ways I think this novel reflects the spirituality of children’s literature. Characters are stirred to take certain action or move in particular directions; it is as if something is driving them to do so. To be honest, I think something is driving me to bake and test “Cady’s Chocolate-Almond Cherry Cake”!

I wonder if teachers could use this novel to connect language arts and baking in their classrooms—how fun would that be?

I whipped through this book, and was sad to see it conclude, yet happy I had discovered such a gem. I think you will be too.