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A Fine Dessert: Emily Jenkins and Sophie Blackall

Book: A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Treat
Author: Emily Jenkins
Illustrator: Sophie Blackall
Pages: 44
Age Range: 4-8

A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Dessert is a picture book that will expand the perspective of kids, even as it makes them smile. A Fine Dessert describes four different families, from 1710 to 2010, each making, and eating, a dessert called blackberry fool.

The ingredients and basic steps for making this dessert don't change significantly over the years, but many other things do. The tools available for whisking cream, for example, evolve quite a bit, as do the methods used for chilling the dessert. 

The very nature of the family changes, too, as we evolve from the nuclear family with mother and daughter (and in one case slave mother and her daughter) doing the cooking to, in the final installment, a father and son making the dessert, and then sharing their dinner in pot-luck fashion with a multi-ethnic assortment of friends. 

The various differences open up many opportunities for discussion with and education of young readers. My own daughter, nearly five, enjoyed doing the math to figure out how much quicker the whisking got over time. We've also discussed topics ranging from refrigeration to slavery. She wanted to know why the mother and daughter in 1810 had to hide in a closet in order to lick the bowl, and this led me to tell her that at one time in our country people owned other people. I think it was over her head, but I won't be surprised if the topic arises again.

But it's not all seriousness. What my daughter loves best about A Fine Dessert is the way each child, across the generations, gets to lick the bowl. She seems to appreciate that something that she enjoys is universal. 

A note from the author indicates, not surprisingly, that these conversation-generating topics were intended. Jenkins also shares the dates at which certain innovations became available. Sources for more information are also included. A Fine Dessert was clearly thoroughly researched. Emily Jenkins concludes in her note:

"This book is about the connection of human beings to one another and to delicious flavors in the kitchen. No matter their circumstances, technologies, and methods of food sourcing, people have the same urge to lick the bowl!"

I knew it!

A Fine Dessert also includes a note from illustrator Sophie Blackall. She says:

"It took me a year to make these drawings, though I wasn't drawing the whole time. Before I even sharpened my pencil, I made a twig whisk to see how it felt to whip cream in 1710."

This attention to detail comes through in the illustrations. The mother from 1710 looks exhausted. The endpapers were painted with the juice of mashed blackberries. The illustrations for 1710 and 1810 in particular have an old-fashioned tone and palette. We can see so many details that change over time - hair styles (for men and women), methods of lighting, construction materials, artwork. The 2010 images are more colorful, and convey the plenty of a modern fridge, even though the boy and his dad appear to live in a fairly modest home. This is a true collaboration of author and illustration - no question. 

A Fine Dessert is a fine picture book indeed, one that I highly recommend for home, and especially library, purchase. I expect this to remain a family favorite for a long time. 

Publisher: Schwartz & Wade (@RandomHouseKids)  
Publication Date: January 27 2015
Source of Book: Review copy from the publisher

© 2015 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. You can also follow me @JensBookPage or at my Growing Bookworms page on Facebook. This site is an Amazon affiliate, and purchases made through affiliate links (including linked book covers) may result in my receiving a small commission (at no additional cost to you).