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Pickle Me This

April 29, 2016

Pinny in Summer, by Joanne Schwartz and Isabelle Malenfant

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I owe the most enormous debt to Joanne Schwartz. I met Joanne five and a half years ago when I started attending toddler time at the Lillian H. Smith Library with Harriet, and not only did she introduce me to The Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak (which is one of the best things a person can do for anybody), and books by Eve Rice, and Marisabina Russo, and so many others, but she actually taught me how to read a story.

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Now I am really, really good at reading stories, but my secret confession is that it’s because I totally stole Joanne’s technique. Which involves talking to children like they’re humans instead of idiots, not employing silly voices, instead a clear voice just not loud enough so that you’ve got to be engaged in order to hear it, and (and this is key) that the voice be thoroughly infused with wonder. So that it’s soothing and animated at once—the most incredible balance.

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Joanne’s own books are not so different in approach from the way she reads. She is the author of Our Corner Grocery Store, a fantastic story about a family-run shop , and also of the books City Alphabet and City Numbers, with photographs by Matt Beam, and all of these are books that illuminate the extraordinary in ordinary sights and experiences.

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Her new book, Pinny in Summer, gorgeously illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant, fits nicely into that oeuvre, and manages that same balance of soothing and animated, rich with wonder. It’s four little stories in one book, all taking place over the course of a single day—similar in structure to Frog and Toad, or Little Bear. Pinny is a little girl with a whole lot of freedom and so her day contains multitudinous adventures: she finds a wishing stone; she enjoys a session of cloud watching with her friends, Annie and Lou, and then manages to pick a bucket of blueberries before getting caught in a rainstorm. She encounters seagull, then bakes a cake, and it’s around here that it all begins to go a bit wrong—but with a little bit of ingenuity the day is salvaged. And the best thing of all as the sun goes down (and “[t]he sky changed from blue, to a deeper blue, then to dark blue”): there is going to be a tomorrow.

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Schwarz’s prose is wonderful—”the sun was shining again, making everything as warm as toast”—and so nice to put your mouth around. Pinny’s adventures are simple but lovely, and are certainly the kind that will inspire a child to dream of similar things. And the story is beautifully bought to life with Malenfant’s illustrations, with shades of blue and violet, simple drawings enlivened by wonderful texture, shadows and darkness at the edges that keep things interesting.

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And of course, Pinny in Summer inspired us too. Because I dare you not to read it and want to bake a wild blueberry cake like Pinny does. And so we did, even though our wild blueberries were not picked in buckets on blueberry hill, alas, but came from a bag in the freezer.

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All the same though, once we dumped the berries in the mix, the batter turned the same shade of purple as the pictures, which was perfect (and seeing the table set in the image above, you can probably get a good idea of why I love this book so).

The cake was delicious. We froze half for later. And we look forward to spending this summer reading about Pinny again and again.

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2 thoughts on “Pinny in Summer, by Joanne Schwartz and Isabelle Malenfant”

  1. Sheila Barry says:

    Your finished cake looks absolutely delicious!! And your review of the book is equally delicious.

  2. Melwyk says:

    I agree with Sheila – delicious way to extend this picture book 🙂 I see a blueberry theme coming on…have you ever read the vintage classic The Blueberry Pie Elf? It’s charming.

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