Good Eats by Alton Brown (2009 -2011, Abrams)
Nonfiction this week is another deviation from politics. Good Eats is a cookbook… in a way. It’s actually a mixture of a number of different styles of book, which is wholly appropriate for the show from whence the book developed.
Good Eats was a cooking show on Food Network which focused on a single food each episode. The show would be presented with a short story arc, typically parodying some famous story or showing Alton with a sitcom-style dilemma. He would then present the history of the food before showing recipes (typically three). As he would demonstrate the recipes, he would explain the science behind the food’s preparation. The science would be targeted at about an eighth grade level… complex enough to educate viewers, not so detailed as to lose them in unfamiliar terms and concepts.
The books – thick tomes all – are designed to provide similar information. The best of the recipes, often tweaked even beyond what was presented on the show, are here; so are the food history and the explanations of cooking science. The stories which kept the show engaging are replaced by production details; this gives the reader the story of how an individual episode was constructed, adequately supplanting the clever arcs of the show.
There are a few great cookbooks available. There are few with as much attention paid to narrative flow. The one great drawback to the books is the lack of a ready index; people with favorite recipes are likely to find themselves dog-earing pages or affixing post-it notes.
Hamster Princess : Harriet the Invincible by Ursula Vernon (2015, Dial Press)
Ursula Vernon made an impact on the children’s book scene with her Dragonbreath series that featured Danny, a young dragon attending a school for reptillian children. They were excellent, but as one of the primary conceits of the book focused on Danny’s inability to breathe fire and another on one of his friends not believing his claims of dragonhood, once both of those were addressed it was time to move on from the series.
She shifted to Harriet. Harriet is a hamster who is afflicted with the curse well-known from the Sleeping Beauty story; she is fated to fall into a deep slumber on her birthday, as she enters her teenage years. It’s such an incredibly strong curse that no powerful magician or witch can break it.
Harriet sees this as an opportunity. Knowing that no matter what happens, she’s to fall asleep on her birthday, she spends her youthful years engaging in such activities as cliff-diving, swordfighting and defeating ogrecats. With the spell protecting her from all death, maiming and significant wounds she becomes one of the most experienced warriors in the world. Then comes her birthday, and the witch who returns to watch her plan unfold is surprised to see just who is waiting for her….
It’s a clever twist on the traditional fairy tale, as are the subsequent stories which deal with works like “Rapunzel”, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” and “Jack and the Beanstalk”. The stories are certainly ones of female empowerment, but they’re focused on telling all kids that they can be the masters of their future even as they continue to respect their parents.
Aimed at grades 3-5, both they and the Dragonbreath series are strongly recommended, as are her stand-alone books Nurk and Castle Hangnail, written for 6-8 grade and early high school, respectively.
For teens and adults, there’s an award-winning webcomic she produced, Digger, long since ended.