[Review, Author Chat and Recipe] Time for Cranberries by Lisl H. Detlefsen and Jed Henry



No holiday table would be complete without beautiful festive cranberries. Whether you like your cranberry sauce fresh or from a can, there’s just something about that deep red color and distinctive tartness that speaks to cherished tradition and good times.

Maple Orange Cranberry Sauce via Kitchen Treaty

Alongside the magnificent gobbler and tricked-out starchy sides, cranberry sauce is like the pampered guest who knows it was invited to dinner just as much for its prettiness as its flavor. Not snobby in the least, cranberries enjoy being appreciated for their good looks.

In the past I’ve made lovely cranberry wreaths for the front door, strung garlands of it with popcorn to adorn our Christmas tree, baked them into muffins and breads, and made a delicious relish with grated orange rind. Often, if I’m asked to bring a side dish on Thanksgiving, I’ll make a cooked cranberry gelatin mold — one part retro, two parts jiggle. :)

I would venture to say that what most of us know about picking cranberries is limited to those entertaining Ocean Spray commercials. We know a lot of water is involved, along with plaid flannel shirts and cool waders. It looks like such fun to wade through that ocean of red — nature’s jewels!

Now there’s a brand new picture book called Time for Cranberries (Roaring Brook Press, 2015) by Lisl H. Detlefsen and Jed Henry, and all I can say is, “It’s about time!”

All art copyright © 2015 Jed Henry.

The picking machine is called a harrow.

This charming story is told from young Sam’s point of view. He’s finally old enough to help his parents harvest the cranberries on their marsh. The beds have already been flooded for picking, so Sam’s father drives the big picking machine down the length of the bed to loosen all the berries from their vines. Next comes booming — using long foam-filled floating spools to collect the berries so they can be corralled into a big bunch called a pot. After the “spinning paddles push the cranberries to the suction pump and into the cleaner,” the good berries are piled into the delivery truck to be taken to the receiving station.

Lisl has done a wonderful job of describing the entire process in her engaging narrative. We can feel Sam’s enthusiasm and how much he loves helping out, even when he falls into the bed and must change into dry clothes. As Sam and his parents “shlip” and “shlerp” in the mud, huff and puff as they lasso the cranberries, and splish and splash each other, we can’t help but wish we could join the fun. We can also relate to Sam’s eagerness to eat the berries, our lips puckering right along with his as he finally gets a taste. Best of all, homemade cranberry pies for Thanksgiving!

(click to enlarge)

Jed Henry’s detailed, realistic drawings of harvesting equipment and the step-by-step process are set against a lustrous backdrop of vivid autumn colors. He’s also captured the warmth of family and the joy of working together, making the story feel very personal and accessible. I also liked seeing Sam’s grandparents sitting on the porch and wildlife like deer, foxes, and geese roaming about the farm.

Time for Cranberries, Lisl’s debut picture book, is a welcome addition to the stockpile of pumpkin and apple Fall books, especially since it was written by someone who knows all about cranberries from the inside out. Lisl and her family live on Whittlesey cranberry marsh in Wisconsin, where cranberries have been cultivated for five generations.

Her book, which includes two recipes, an Author’s Note and a Glossary, heightened my appreciation for one of North America’s few native fruits, and made me even more thankful for the small farmers who help bring good quality food to our tables.

So, what’s it really like to live on a cranberry bog? Is there anyone in her family who doesn’t like to eat cranberries? What were some of the challenges of writing a factual story that would appeal to young children? I thank Lisl for visiting today to tell us more and share some cranberry pie. :)

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How does it feel to have your first picture book out in the world? What’s been the best part of this experience so far?

Having my first book out in the world is so exciting! It’s also a little bit nerve-wracking, of course, to send your “book baby” out into the world and get the reactions of everyone from friends to reviewers. The best part of the experience has been seeing how the cranberry community has embraced it. I’ve received such positive feedback from parents and kids who live on marshes and are excited to see their own lives reflected in a book. And I know cranberry growers who are showing the book to friends and family members who live far away and have never totally understood before what it is we do at harvest. I’m very honored to help tell the story of a group of people who are so close to my heart.

The “hooks” appear in early June.

The plants are in full blossom from the end of June to early July.

Please share a few things about growing or harvesting cranberries that might surprise the average person. Do the beds remain flooded throughout the year? What’s the marsh like in winter, spring and summer?

It’s a common misconception that cranberries grow in water– the cranberry vines need oxygen like other plants and are only in the water for a short time during harvest. They actually don’t need to be in water for harvest, either, but using this “wet harvest” method allows us to take advantage of the cranberry’s ability to float. Inside each cranberry are four pockets of air that cause them to bounce and float. Once picked, it is easier and quicker to remove the floating berries from the cranberry beds and get them to the receiving station, as described in my book.

Berries in late July. They will begin to turn red in August and continue to grow bigger and redder through September. By October they will be ready to harvest.

Cranberries are a perennial plant and the vines are dormant during the winter. They “wake up” during the spring thaw and blossom in late June. Their beautiful blossom looks like the head and neck of a sandhill crane, which is how the fruit got its name, originally CRANE-berry. The berries then grow all summer, from a tiny pinhead to a larger, greenish berry. Once the berry reddens, it’s time for harvest!

Lisl with her husband Robert and their sons Jasper and Wesley.

Which part of Fall harvesting do you like most and why?

While not technically part of the harvest process, I love the COLOR! I have a background in art, which perhaps makes me more inclined to notice beauty in my everyday surroundings. The first time I saw harvest, I felt like Dorothy stepping into Oz. The color is so vibrant, featuring the primary colors of the brilliant red berries bobbing on the water, the vibrant yellow leaves fluttering down from the trees, and the blue of the water and sky. Even the tire tracks from different types of equipment form interesting patterns in the mud on the dams and roads. Every year, the incredible color astounds and delights me.

Hand-raking berries, an old fashioned method Lisl’s family still uses to harvest fruit for their personal use.

What was the most challenging part of writing this story? Did you do many revisions?

Oh my goodness, SO many revisions! I have at least 28 different drafts of cranberry stories, saved under eight different titles on my computer–and those are just the drafts I saved! This book began as a strictly non-fiction photo essay told in third person past tense. The published form is still process-based, but it follows a fictional family through the harvest process and is told in present tense from the main character’s perspective. Ultimately, the biggest challenge was keeping the process of harvest clear and accurate while balancing it with the emotional journey of Sam, the main character. Luckily, I had the help of my amazing editor to guide me through that!

How long did this project take from initial idea to published book? How did you find your agent?

No beginning writer wants to hear this, but it took ten years from the very first draft to the sale of the finished project. Of course, in that time I wrote many other stories, did other work like freelance writing, and had two babies, too. While it was a long journey, it was definitely worth it to have the right version of the book find the right publishing home.

I found my agent several months after the sale of Time for Cranberries. I’ve been a member of SCBWI for a long time, and attended SCBWI-Wisconsin’s Agent Day workshop in the spring of 2014. Later that year, I signed with one of the four agents who presented at that workshop, and I couldn’t be happier. Working with her has made it clear to me how important it is not just to have an agent, but also to have the RIGHT agent for you. My agent is editorial, thoughtful and very organized—all very important qualities to me. I think it can be hard to get a feel for agents through research alone, so attending Agent Day was a great opportunity to meet four agents at once and hear them all speak. And of course, finding my agent in this way is one of the many reasons why I am a huge advocate of being a member of SCBWI!

Any tips for turning real life experiences into fiction?

I just gave a presentation on this very topic at an SCBWI-Wisconsin event! Thoughtfully examine when you need to strictly follow how the experience truly was and when you’re allowing “how it really happened” to get in your way. (This advice is strictly for writing FICTION, of course!) True details that help make your story feel authentic and accurate are important, but sometimes your real life experience lacks a satisfying ending or has too many unnecessary characters. Whether your personal experience creates the initial spark or is responsible for the bulk of your story, it shouldn’t keep you from doing necessary research and has to have universal appeal.

Did you provide reference photos for the illustrator? Which is your favorite spread and why?

I did provide photos and video references for illustrator Jed Henry since he doesn’t live in an area where cranberries grow. He did such beautiful work on the book that in my opinion he’s earned the title of honorary cranberry grower!

My favorite spread is the last one of harvest, which is an aerial view of the marsh. You can see all the steps of harvest at once—from picking to the fruit going into a delivery truck—along with the beauty of fall. Jed even included the appropriate wildlife, too, which I adore!

Picking in the top bed, booming in the middle bed, corralling, cleaning and sorting in the bottom bed. (click to enlarge)

Delivery truck on the left, cleaner in the middle, trash truck on the right.

What do your husband and sons think of the book? How do your boys participate in the harvest?

I am extremely lucky–my husband has been supportive of my writing dream every step of the way. He has more than earned the dedication in the book! And there is no greater gift than one of my boys asking me to read the book to them again.

My boys love to put on their waders and walk out in the flooded beds during harvest. Since he’s not in school fulltime yet, my youngest is especially fond of riding in the back of his Dad’s pickup truck, watching the harvest equipment and eating fresh, raw cranberries by the handful (like Sam in the book!)

Does everyone in your family like to eat cranberries? Besides making cranberry sauce and pie, have you found other creative ways to use cranberries in your cooking or baking?

We’re all pretty die-hard cranberry lovers, but we vary in our recipe preferences. Cranberries are so versatile, in baking or cooking. My family loves smoothies, so I often toss a handful into the blender with other berries, ice, coconut milk and yogurt for a quick breakfast. Baked goods made with cranberries, like scones or muffins, are hard to beat, but my mom makes a delicious cranberry-glazed pulled pork, too. Right now we’re on a cranberry bread kick at our house. Sometimes I even use it to make cranberry French toast.

Lisl with her mom, whom she says is largely responsible for her love of writing and books, at a recent booksigning.

What’s next for you?

I’m very excited about my second picture book, “If You Had a Jetpack,” due out sometime in 2017 from Random House/Knopf.

In terms of works-in-progress, I always like to juggle several projects at once. My literary true love is picture books, so I always have a number of those in various stages, from first draft to being out on submission. My other big project right now is revising a novel that’s close to my heart.


For Lisl’s launch party, the pie (usually made in regular round pie dishes) was baked in 9×13 pans and cut into bite-size pieces.


  • 3 cups of cranberries, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup of brown sugar
  • 1 pie crust for a 10-inch pie pan
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of white sugar
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of melted butter
  • Aluminum foil

Mix the cranberries and brown sugar together and spread evenly in the bottom of the unbaked pie crust. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs well. Add the white sugar and beat until well combined. Mix in the flour and melted butter, adding a little of each at a time. Spread the batter (it will be thick) over the cranberry mixture in the pie crust. Cover the crust edges with aluminum foil and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes. Then place the foil over the whole pie, turn the oven down to 350 degrees, and bake for 45-50 minutes. Remove all of the aluminum foil and bake uncovered for the last 5 minutes, or until the batter is set and the top is golden brown. Serve plain or with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Happy Cranberry Pie Thanksgiving!


written by Lisl H. Detlefsen
illustrated by Jed Henry
published by Roaring Brook Press, September 2015
Picture Book for ages 3-7, 32 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note, Glossary and 2 Recipes
**A Junior Library Guild Selection

♥ Visit Lisl’s website for a comparative view of her family’s marsh and Jed Henry’s illustrations.


*Interior spreads from Time for Cranberries posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2015 Lisl H. Detlefsen, illustrations © 2015 Jed Henry, published by Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

friday feast: David Booth’s Head to Toe Spaghetti and Other Tasty Poems



Time to put on your best bib and lick your chops. There’s a new foodie poetry book in town!

In Head to Toe Spaghetti and Other Tasty Poems (Rubicon, 2015), Canadian author, poet, educator and literacy expert David Booth serves up 59 toothsome gems culled from his writings of the last 40 years. These delectable delights are presented in five mouthwatering courses and are sure to “tickle your lips, tangle your tongue, tease your imagination, twist your sentences, and tenderize your heart.”

(click to enlarge)

Begin by wrapping your lips around 10 Fast Food Rhymes featuring kid favorites like “Fish and Chips,” “Chicken Fingers” and “A Dangerous Drink” (burp!). Move on to tasty Snackers and Crackers (“A Thin Slice of Cake,” “A Dumb Plum,” and “Blueberry Lips”). Still hungry? With Food Daze we’re invited to celebrate the “Sounds of Beautiful Food” (courgette, almondine, radicchio, buttermilk), relish the hidden goodness in “Gift-Wrapped” natural foods (coconuts, bananas, oranges), or wiggle, jiggle, and swiggle with glee like a “Jell-o Fanatic.”

Then with Knife, Fork, or Spoon it’s time to tempt our palates at “A Seaside Bar,” succumb to “Pancake Fever,” or share an ant sandwich with our teacher. :) If you’ve still got room (oh, yes you do!), chow down on some lively Family Fare, including “Four O’Clock Tea” with Grandma, some “Wok Trouble!” with Mom, Dad’s anchovy obsession (“A Slice of Life”), and if you dare, explode-in-your-mouth fiery sauce barbecue from “The Sauce Boss.”

The mostly rhyming verses explore common, relatable experiences like using chopsticks for the first time, spilling a drink on your first airplane ride, cringing at a double chip dipper, a younger sibling always spilling milk, or an older sibling drinking straight from the carton. Poems featuring sushi and curry add spice to the mix, while the cautionary “Life Cycle” reminds us in a lighthearted way about the consequences of eating too much junk food.

(click to enlarge)

Of course there are the usual anti-vegetable poems and the always reactionary yucky food poems. I felt like Len and I deserved a special badge of honor after reading “Prohibited Food,” since between us we have eaten everything listed: “Tail of ox/Legs of frog,/Head of fish,/Feet of hog./Liver of calf,/Brain of sheep . . . ” Add rattlesnake, tripe, beef heart, alligator, crocodile, gazelle, beef kidneys, Rocky Mountain oysters, ostrich, gazelle, and wildebeest (sorry, Irene), to the list. I’m thinking of going vegan. :)

Most poems are garnished with a fetching pen-and-ink drawing by Les Drew (yes, that’s really his name :D) to ramp up the fun — everything from jogging hot dogs and cymbal clashing broccoli to a plier wielding lobster and a grinning blueberry pie. Lots of giggles packed inside this sunny bright collection that is sure to delight poetry-loving munchkins who don’t mind a strand or two of spaghetti wiggling out of their noses.

Today I’m happy to serve up a mixed platter of sample poems with a few drool-worthy virtual treats. Just because it’s my birthday, everything is cake. Bon Appétit!

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“Hamburger, Hotdog and Fries” Cake by Katherine Hill (Charm City Cakes)


Fast food
Hamburg to go!
Carton of fries,
Shakes overflow.
HONK that horn,
We’re in the mood —
No time to waste!
(Automatic food!)



No time for lunch!
A stomach in need
Of food food food
With speed speed speed.

The hot-dog man
Right at the curb,
All set to go–
Just say the word.

One fat wiener,
One warm bun,
Add the ketchup

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via Cake Central


The rink goes round,
The skaters glide,
The snowflakes fall.
I wait inside.
Cold nose is out,
Hot chocolate’s in.
I love to wear
A skater’s grin.

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Apple Cupcakes from What’s New, Cupcake?


Hidden in the leaves
Waiting to be found
Shake the branches,
Cover the ground.

Pippin, Russet
Courtland, Snow,
Heavy laden,
Branches low.

Red Delicious
Northern Spy,
Branches high.

Choose your menu
Row on row,
Apple orchard —
Crunch to go.

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My brother loves
The Sandwich Stop.
Bread on the bottom
Bread on the top.
Nothing in the middle,
Nothing in between,
An empty sandwich,
Is his routine.

Now my favourite sandwich
At the Sandwich Stop is
“A French fry sandwich
With ketchup on top.”

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Sushi Cake via Pearles Specialty Cake Co.


At a sushi bar
The food is gift-wrapped.
Each tiny morsel
Designed by an artist
on a lacquered tray
So symmetrical
You hesitate
to break the spell

Barbecued eel,
Raw tuna chunks,
Fresh yellow tail,
Juicy pork gyoza.
Steamed giant shrimp
Teriyaki sauce
Marinated mushrooms
A seaweed toss.
Tiny quail eggs,
Avocado spears,
A meal complete

When rice appears.

We choose our dinner
As if at a jewellery boutique
And carry our treasures
Into the rainy night
To be devoured in our car.
Such a disgrace
To the spirit of sushi.
But our stomachs growl
the perfect offering.
Then we wipe our lips
Ever so delicately
With the backs
Of our hands.


Sushi Cupcakes via Brit + Co.

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written by David Booth
illustrated by Les Drew
published by Rubicon, Fall 2015
Poetry Collection for ages 5+, 48 pp.

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Please send your snail mail address to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com so we can get your winning copies out to you right away!

Thanks for entering, everyone. You are beaucoup beaucoup beaucoup formidable!

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poetry fridayThe lovely and talented Tricia Stohr-Hunt is hosting the Roundup today at The Miss Rumphius Effect. Skip on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodies on this week’s menu.



wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your best bibs and aprons, and come join the fun!


*Spreads from Head to Toe Spaghetti posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2015 David Booth, illustrations © 2015 Les Drew, published by Rubicon. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

hotTEAs of Children’s Literature: Iza Trapani



When I immigrated to America from Poland at age seven, I learned English with the help of a Mother Goose collection. Little did I know that someday I would extend many of those nursery rhymes and have a successful career as a children’s book author and illustrator. I am currently at work on my 26th book.


☕ CUPPA OF CHOICE: I drink all kinds of teas. Lately, I’ve been enjoying hot cinnamon spice from Harney & Sons. It’s lightly sweet and zesTEA :-). Looks like Teddy would like some too. Should I offer him a cup?

☕ HOT OFF THE PRESS: Old King Cole (Charlesbridge, August 2015). Forthcoming: Gabe and Goon (Charlesbridge, July 2016).

☕ FAVE FOODIE CHILDREN’S BOOK(s): Tops and Bottoms by Janet Stevens (Harcourt, 1995), Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss (Random House, 2002), Pumpkin Soup by Helen Cooper (FSG, 2005), and Split Pea Soup (from the George and Martha stories) by James Marshall (HMH, 1974).

☕ Visit Iza Trapani’s Official Website and blog, In and Out of My Studio.

☕☕ JUST ONE MORE SIP: Old King Cole Book Trailer !

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☕☕☕ CAN’T GET ENOUGH: Iza’s Twinkle Twinkle Little Star read by ESA Astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti aboard the International Space Station!! Far out and too cool. :)



Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

Indie Artist Spotlight: Robyn Hood Black of artsyletters (+ a giveaway!)



Today I’m especially delighted to welcome back author, poet, artist and dear online friend Robyn Hood Black. You may remember her last visit as a Poetry Potluck guest several years ago, when she shared a spooky poem and one of her gorgeous relief prints.

That was an especially noteworthy visit, because she also brought along a batch of her favorite Jam Bars, which she aptly renamed “Oatmeal Jama Bars.” :) Naturally Mr. Cornelius and I decided on the spot that they should become the “Official Alphabet Soup Cookie.”

In the years since, we’ve not only continued to marvel at Robyn’s literary achievements (her work has been published in several more anthologies, prominent haiku journals, and most recently in Lee Bennett Hopkins’s Lullaby and Kisses Sweet), but also her artistic ones.

Handpainted Bookmark

Scrabble Tile Magnets

Vintage Illuminated Letter T Under Glass Cabochon Pendant Necklace

If you like letters, words, books, and reading (all of us, yes?), then you’ll love Robyn’s Etsy shop artsyletters. There, she sells wonderful prints, cards, typewriter key jewelry, mixed media collages and other gift items with a cool vintage vibe.

A girl after my own heart, she has a keen eye for found objects (scrabble tiles, skeleton keys, metal letters, watch parts, text from antique books), and beautifully accentuates them with her pen-and-ink drawings, calligraphy, and relief prints.

Her handmade treasures represent a lovely connection with the past, and a nod to the unique charm of each and every letter of the alphabet (*swoon*), inviting us to appreciate words anew as visual art.

I know you’ll enjoy opening the door, peeking into Robyn’s studio and learning more about artsyletters. Let the awesomeness begin! :)

Altered Book Door Collage

Altered Book Door Collage Interior

*   *   *


photo by Jane Abrams

Name of shop or business: artsyletters

Year established: 2012

Items you make: Literary art with a vintage vibe… drawings and hand-pulled prints, note cards and bookmarks, mixed media art celebrating words, letters, & found poems, and typewriter key jewelry. Among other things!

Studio Location: Tucked away upstairs in a historic building (1889) in downtown Beaufort, SC.


Etsy Shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/artsyletters

art blog: http://artsyletters.com

author website and blog: http://www.robynhoodblack.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Artsyletters

Twitter: @artsyletters

Three words that best describe your art: bookish, vintage, serif-friendly

Self taught or formal training?  Both! I was obsessed with oil painting lessons when I was six or seven. At Furman University, I took many art classes while getting my English degree. I’ve taken several workshops as an adult, but much of what I’m making now I’ve learned from books or video tutorials – and lots of trial and error.

Tools of the Trade: I have amassed a ridiculous amount of art supplies.

Some favorites: printmaking tools/knives, snappy black ink, Stonehenge paper, crow quill pens, vintage books and texts, typewriter keys, flourish-y bits of antique metal hardware, letterpress blocks (wood or metal), lamp black paint, and dreamy acrylic colors I can swirl. On a daily basis I use: my fingernails (really – they are super-strong!), tiny prospector tweezers for positioning text, etc., or retrieving jump rings for jewelry, and wine corks, which make terrific miniature brayers for tight spaces in collages.

Inspirations and influences: As a child running wild in Orlando, I loved my Disney storybook albums, which I still have. When old enough to ride my bike, I’d circle the lake to the Maitland Art Center. I enjoyed the exhibits, but its natural beauty and gardens fed my young artist’s soul. I’ve always felt God’s presence in nature.

I’ve taken workshops with some amazing folks, including Caldecott medalist Eric Rohmann, illustrator Melanie Hall, and calligrapher Peter Thornton. I never met Holly Meade in person, but her work inspires me at a deep level. I love Ashley Wolff’s work. And I know I’m among many Julie Paschkis fans around here! When I started making mixed media pieces, I found Seth Apter’s work and tips helpful.  

Three significant milestones in your career: Though I’m an empty nester now, I feel like I’m still early on career-wise(!) – but here goes:

1. The publication of my first book, SIR MIKE, a Scholastic Rookie Reader, in 2005.

2. The first time my poetry appeared in an anthology for children – two found poems in Georgia Heard’s THE ARROW FINDS ITS MARK (2012). This spurred an obsession with found poetry as art, too.

 3. The first time a complete stranger ordered one of my items on Etsy!

Food that inspires your best work: I’m fueled by granola, but good coffee and dark chocolate are also necessary.

Bestseller: My note cards featuring a relief print image of a wren on vintage books seem to be a favorite. (Original inspiration for these came from friend and former editor P.J. Shaw’s “Wren Cottage” writing business, whose logo features a gorgeous painting with a similar theme.)

For a reference for my original piece, I set up some old books beside a flower pot that housed baby wrens just outside our back door. I hunkered down across the patio with a camera for about 45 minutes waiting on just the perfect shot as Mama Wren flew back and forth feeding those babies. She finally perched on the books.

What is your earliest memory of being creative? What is the first thing you ever made as an “artist”?

I don’t ever remember not being creative. Creativity was highly valued in our house growing up – entire villages of pipe cleaner people, elaborate Halloween costumes and haunted houses, and variety-show “productions” thrust on longsuffering adults who had to be the audience.

One of Robyn’s early paintings.

The first thing I made to sell as an artist were little natural sculptures – I painted rocks into birds and glued them onto pieces of pine bark, and coated everything with acrylic gloss (a habit I haven’t outgrown). My sweet mom patiently took me around to gift shops to sell them!

With artsyletters you’re able to combine two lifelong passions: writing + art. Any plans to both write and illustrate a book someday? If so, would it be something for adults or children?

That’s been a lifelong dream. I have a picture book-type project in the works that has received some interest, but I need to finish polishing the dummy and executing finished sample pages. I’d also like to try some haiga (haiku with art), since I fell under haiku’s spell a few years ago.

Whether it’s calligraphy, relief printing, making collages or typewriter key jewelry, each must have its own challenges and rewards. Do you have a favorite art form, and how does it stretch you as an artist?

That’s such a kind way to describe my inclination to do way too many things! I love them all. My favorite is whatever I’m working on at the moment. ;0)

I have deep wells of curiosity and wonder, so I enjoy the challenge of exploring various forms. Assembling a piece of art (or jewelry) for me is like composing a poem – it’s all about selection and connection. Juxtaposing a broken brass remnant and a clipping of 100-year-old text to create a certain effect is much like trying out certain words and sounds together in my writing. I want to include everything, but I can’t, so choosing just the right individual elements (or words) uses up a lot of my gray matter.

Book Nerd Gift Pack

Have you always been a vintage junkie? What types of items set your heart aflutter?

I grew into my vintage obsession as an adult but came by it honestly. My mother’s mother, who could stretch a penny from one side of Arkansas to the other, frequented “Sales.” She bought and sold items at flea markets, and I remember loving to visit her humble little house – cluttered to be sure, but to an imaginative kid, an endless treasure chest!

I think of her as I treasure hunt now. At the Salvation Army Store, I recently bought a small brass measuring pitcher with some kind of stamping on the bottom and a partial alphabet across the top rim (how perfect is that?), and the word “2 deciliter” on the handle. It was 99 cents and will be a great prop for Etsy photos. Prowling Ebay, I discovered it’s likely German, and one was listed for 12 British pounds, so I got a bargain to boot.

 Things like that set my heart aflutter, as do any bits of brass or iron or pewter with some seductive curve or scroll, or the warm heft of a well-used wooden letterpress block, black with years of ink, or, of course, an old book – especially if it has deckled edges and contains poetry. Even better if it gives up some small clipping or handwritten note from a century ago, tucked secretly into its pages. I always wonder who handled this book, who wrote these words, read these words?

For “The Poet” piece, one of Robyn’s first and favorites, she used a text clipped from JOURNEYS THROUGH BOOKLAND (Vol. 6) compiled by Charles H. Sylvester and published in 1922. It’s the first page of a story called “The Poet and the Peasant” by the 19th Century French novelist Emile Souvestre.

Finished “Poet” piece.

I love how you make collages with altered book pages and found items. Could you tell us a little backstory about one of your favorite pieces?

Since my favorite thing is always what I’m working on at the moment… I was recently asked by a poet friend to make a mixed media piece as a birthday gift. My friend and I had enjoyed the harvest moon together, and since the recipient has a fall birthday, I knew when I found a short Amy Lowell poem called “Wind and Silver” in a 1928 anthology that I wanted to use it. It can take me a long time to find the right words and elements for a piece.

“Wind and Silver” mixed media piece

Sometimes I make a found poem by covering words with acrylic washes to reveal a short phrase, and sometimes I use a literary excerpt intact. I do clip the actual text. Yes, I’ve gone to the dark side. But I want the authentic little snippet of history that someone read a century or so ago; I want to share this actual item with my viewers or customers.

Among my old watch parts, I found a gorgeous watch face. The backside was shiny with gloriously etched details, and I discovered the watch was manufactured between 1897 and 1902. It took center stage as the “moon,” and I used other vintage watch parts and brass elements in the piece.

Please take us briefly through the steps of making one of your relief prints.

Printmaking definitely challenges the control-freak aspect of my personality, because the results can be serendipitous! I start with a pencil drawing on thin paper (love my Ebony pencils), then lightly coat the finished sketch with graphite to transfer it onto a block of wood or a carving block (softer to cut and easier on the arm and hand). I simply sketch over the lines from the reverse side, and the graphite transfers the sketch in onto the block.

Then, it’s carving time! I leave the lines alone and cut away the surface around them. Ink is rolled onto the block with a brayer, and then I place my paper – carefully – on top. I hand rub the paper with a flat round tool called a baren. The paper is gently pulled back, and – Voilà! The print is revealed, back to its original orientation after being reversed.


You recently moved to Beaufort, South Carolina. What is the art community like there and how has living in this new environment inspired your work?

I couldn’t be happier. This small coastal town has a thriving art community, with several galleries downtown. You can always find a literary event or play or music. I’ve met some fellow creatives here who have welcomed me more warmly than I ever could have imagined. Beaufort has a very friendly vibe.

The natural environment, with its stunning waterways and Spanish moss dripping from live oaks, envelopes me. It takes me right back to my childhood days exploring the scrubby woods and teeming lakes of Florida.

Robyn’s daughter Morgan models vintage typewriter key rings.

Being an alphabet freak, I especially like all the framed letters you offer in your shop – some are printed, some are metal letters mounted on old dictionary pages, while others are handpainted illuminations. What’s your favorite letter, and why do you like it?

Mmm…. As a child, I remember LOVING a capital, cursive L – it’s so curvy and elegant and inviting. But then there’s that kicky “K,” and the “M” is simply majestic, don’t you think? Of course, “J,” as in Jama, is so very fun to write…. [This preoccupation with letters must have started a long time ago – I remember actually giving a cursive “demonstration” on the chalkboard in second grade.]

photo by Jane Abrams

This illuminated “S” is hand-painted in the Ottonian style, with green and pale violet-blue gouache accents and generous 23 kt. gold leaf on hot-press watercolor paper.

Please describe your studio. How have you fashioned your work environment to enhance creativity and maximize productivity?

My studio has high ceilings, old wood floors with decades of character, and great natural light through two large windows. Which is good, because the fluorescent lights might take an hour or two to all come on, depending on their mood and the weather. A built-in cabinet with glass doors stole my heart when I first saw the space.

I do have a lot of stuff everywhere! But I have to pick up on occasion when I open as a shop to visitors. The palette knives I had as a small child are handy, along with my first easel. I share the space with lots (and lots) of books – many become fodder for my projects and even jewelry, and then I have art books for inspiration and techniques. I do love the vintage metal cabinets and flat files which house my bits of treasures, most of which are organized in old printing trays. I love those trays, too!

My Pandora stations include folk rock, Bach, U2, Sting, and George Winston. I usually have something playing, unless I’m writing or super-concentrating. When I’m carving and making prints, I MUST listen to Celtic music! It’s both lively and haunting, and I like the effect it has on the lines in my prints.

How do you chart your growth as an artist? How do you define success?

I have so much yet to learn! But it’s nice being at a stage in life in which I’m less concerned with what others think. I want happy relations with family, friends, and customers, of course. But I trust my own tastes and intuition to a much greater degree than I could in my younger days, and I think I’m more discerning.

Success? Doing what you love. Leaving some light in your footprints.

“Discarded Stanzas” is a little dark, with a found poem from page 47 of A LITERARY PILGRIMAGE, Seventh Edition, by Dr. Theodore F. Wolfe, J. B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia: 1896. (Such a lovely laid texture on those pages!)

What do you like best about the creative life?

Opportunities for timeless moments in the midst of busy days. Blake’s “World in a Grain of Sand,” Wordsworth’s “meanest flower that blows” and Issa’s “dewdrop world” all speak to me – probably why I’m enamored of shards and scraps, small things that hold larger stories.

I need time alone to make and ponder, but I also love spending time with creative folks – in person or among fellow bloggers. I think there’s a synergy that attracts creative people to each other.

Any new projects you’re especially excited about?

I’m trying to incorporate more haiku into my art – miniature art boards, glass cabochon necklaces, etc. I’ve been using my own published poems but might add some from the masters, too. I’m also adding more old typewriter parts and other odd bits into jewelry, and that’s fun.

Mini art panel with haiku

Shift Key Necklace with Vintage Levers

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I’d like to thank you, Jama, for being an elegant cheerleader for indie artists, me included! And I’d like to thank so many in the blog world who have supported my little business.

Upcoming events/appearances/shows:

I’m having a Holiday Open House at my Studio the afternoon of December 5. Online, folks can use Coupon Code TAKE5 for five percent off in my shop any time!

Thanks so much, Robyn!

Everyone, Robyn has generously offered a $20 gift certificate to her Etsy Shop for one lucky Alphabet Soup reader!! Please leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EST) Tuesday, November 24, 2015 for a chance to win.

And there’s more! She’s also offering 10% off anything in her shop for all Alphabet Soup readers. Just enter the special code JAMA10 at checkout. Happy Shopping!! :)

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heart tree edit

Click to read more Spotlights!


Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

[review + recipes] The Little Kids’ Table by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle and Mary Reaves Uhles



The holidays are here and you know what that means: fun and “interesting” gatherings with family and friends, a time when we’re especially happy to hear these two little words: LET’S EAT!!

When all your favorite dishes magically appear on the table, where will you sit?

I love when we visit my grandma Mabel.
I get to sit at the little kids’ table!

The young narrator in this hilarious new rhyming picture book, The Little Kids’ Table, couldn’t be happier. After all, he knows he and his cousins are in for a rollicking good time. Unlike his parents, who must sit at the grown-ups’ table (“so shiny and fancy,/and has pretty flowers from my aunt Nancy”), they will, among other things, get to fiddle with their flatware:

Next to our forks we have spoons at our places.
We try to get them to stick to our faces.

First you breathe on the spoon, then press it on tight.
It’ll hang from your nose if you do it just right.

Sound familiar? :)

But, uh-oh.

When the dreaded broccoli casserole makes an appearance, munchable mayhem becomes the order of the day, prompting unanimous yucks, goofy faces made with plated food and ketchup, hysterical laughter, chewing with mouths open and milk squirting from noses. Once grandpa’s dog comes bounding into the dining room, all hell breaks loose as Daisy only-too-willingly takes her place at the little kids’ table too.

None of the adult tsk-tsking or warnings to behave fools the kids one bit. They all know that deep down, the grown-ups would gladly trade their fancy dishes for a chance to sit at the table that always has the most FUN!

Mary Ann McCabe Riehle’s lively rhyming couplets are suitably seasoned with lots of humor, action, warmth, and spot-on child-centric commentary. The reader is immediately pulled into the middle of the all-too-familiar chaos, aptly described in these lines:

Giggle, gulp, clatter, and munch.
Icky, sticky, crash, and crunch!

Mary Reaves Uhles captures all the palatable pandemonium in delightfully diverting, laugh-out-loud, highly emotive illustrations. Her pictures are quite a study in comical facial expressions, from all those tongues sticking out in protest of icky food, to wide eyes displaying bewildered horror at the thought of eating it, and the cuckoo cross-eyed expressions that are part and parcel of going completely wacko.


Even the stern looks of the adults with fingers pressed to their lips hold no sway over these rambunctious eaters, since we all know who’s really calling all the shots. The mischief-making twin girl cousins are especially enjoyable to watch, for they are champion silverware balancers, ketchup decorators, and peas-in-the-milk pranksters.

Ultimately, the unbridled joy of this multiethnic family gathering proves contagious, as both Riehle and Uhles do a convincing job of portraying this universal experience. You can take that spoon off your nose now. :D


As it sometimes always usually happens when I read a good book, I get hungry and wonder about the foods mentioned in the story. I was intrigued by the infamous broccoli casserole and asked author Mary Ann Riehle if this was a dish that was actually served at her family gatherings, and if so, would she please share the recipe with us. She generously agreed, and sent not one, but two! The first was included in a collection of recipes she received from her fellow teachers as a wedding gift some 30 years ago.

Broccoli casserole just seemed to me to be one of those dishes that might be disliked by children at first glance…before they even took a bite…and if one kid said it was “gross” then, of course, the other kids were not going to give it a chance. We have had it at family dinners but it’s not the most popular side dish at the kids’ table. We all love a frozen cranberry gelatin and pretzels with whipped cream “salad” though! Go figure :)


Put 2 large bags of chopped broccoli, cooked and drained, into a medium size buttered casserole dish. Grate 8oz. of Velveeta cheese on top. You may also add one small chopped onion…or not. Crumble and mix 35 Ritz crackers with 3/4 stick of margarine. Put on top of casserole. Bake 45 minutes at 325 degrees.



Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook according to package directions 3 boxes of frozen broccoli spears. Drain.

In a mixing bowl combine 1 can of cream of celery soup, 1/2 cup of milk, 1-1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese and 1/2 teaspoon of marjoram. Mix with a fork.

Place broccoli in ungreased casserole dish, then layer with cheese mixture. Top with 1 can of Durkee onion rings. Repeat layers and add some extra grated cheese and onion rings on top.

Bake for 25-35 minutes. Yields 6-8 servings.

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So, do you dare make one of these casseroles and serve it to the little kids’ table on Thanksgiving? And have you decided where you’ll be sitting? I kind of wish I could shrink myself small enough to join Mr. Cornelius and his friends, who have mastered the fine art of mealtime fun.


written by Mary Ann McCabe Riehle
illustrated by Mary Reaves Uhles
published by Sleeping Bear Press, September 2015
Picture Book for ages 5-8, 32 pp.

*Read an excerpt at the publisher’s website

*Check out Coloring Pages for this book

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poetry fridayThe lovely and talented Bridget Magee is hosting the Roundup at Wee Words for Wee Ones. Skip on over and check out the full menu of poetic goodies on today’s menu. I wonder if she likes Broccoli Casserole? :)


*Interior spreads from The Little Kids’ Table posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2015 Mary Ann McCabe Riehle, illustrations © 2015 Mary Reaves Uhles, published by Sleeping Bear Press. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

hotTEAs of Children’s Literature: René Colato Laínez



René Colato Laínez is an award winning Salvadoran author of many multicultural books. He is a graduate of the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children & Young Adults. René is a bilingual elementary teacher at Fernangeles Elementary School, where he is known by the students as “the teacher full of stories.” He lives in Los Angeles.


☕ CUPPA OF CHOICE: Hot chocolate.

☕ HOT OFF THE PRESS: ¡Vámonos! Let’s Go! illustrated by Joe Cepeda, (Holiday House, Fall 2015).

☕ FAVE FOODIE CHILDREN’S BOOK: Too Many Tamales by Gary Soto (J. P. Putnam’s, 1993)All of Jorge Argueta’s un poema para cocinar (cooking poem) books: Sopa de frijoles/Bean Soup (2009), Arroz con leche/Rice Pudding (2010), Guacamole (2012), Tamalitos (2013), Salsa (2015).


VI Festival internacional de poesía infantil “Manyula”del 16 al 20 de noviembre de 2015 en la Biblioteca Nacional “Francisco Gavidia”, El Salvador.

VI International Children’s Poetry Festival “Manyula”, November 16-20, at the National Library “Francisco Gavidia,” El Salvador.

☕ Visit René Colato Laínez’s Official Website


Hot Chocolate Poem

Uno, dos, tres cho
Uno, dos, tres co
Uno, dos, tres la
Uno, dos, tres te
chocolate, chocolate
bate, bate el chocolate

One, two, three cho
One, two, three co
One, two, three la
One, two, three te
chocolate, chocolate
stir, stir the chocolate


Copyright © 2015 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.