Tag Archives: picture books 2014

little elliot, big city + PB & J cupcakes from cake over steak!


Little Elliot, Big City by Mike Curato.

Elliot is a tiny polka-dotted elephant. Are you in love yet?

Mike Curato’s dedication is: “For anyone who feels unnoticed.”

Are you in love, now? You must be, right? I know I am.

LittleElliot_mirror(click image(s) to enlarge)



Elliott lives in the big city where he goes unnoticed. Even with those charming pastel spots. What a crazy world it is when we don’t notice him.


“Elliot’s design is partially based on a little stuffed elephant that I had as a little boy.

He was white with blue ears, and a wind-up lullaby.

He is also partially based on the polka-dotted elephant from the Island of Misfit Toys in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”

                                                     —Mike Curato

To me, this picture book captures the downside of being a child.

“He had to be careful not to be stepped on.”

“He had trouble opening doors.”

Elliot loves cupcakes, but goes unseen when he tries to buy one.



Curatos’ illustrations are realistic, somber, and have a 1940s feel. They perfectly convey retro New York. But not Elliot. He sticks out—his lightness and joy. At least to us attuned readers (and one little girl on a middle spread).

And then, Elliot meets someone even smaller than him. Someone who needs a little bit of help. And that makes Elliot feel like a giant.



Mouse and elephant have found each other. Two small, unnoticeable creatures with a lot in common. Like, for example, cupcakes!


p.s. Curato’s favorite cupcakes come from Cupcake Royale in Seattle and Brooklyn Cupcake in NYC.

p.p.s. There will be more Elliot books! And, he’s now a plush doll!

Thanks to Mike Curato for images!


I am so delighted to team up with Sara from illustrated food blog Cake Over Steak (great name, right?!)! Not only has she come up with a perfectly creative cupcake to pair with Little Elliot, but she’s an artist herself. That’s right, she’s a food blogger who ILLUSTRATES her goodies. Plus, she loves picture books! Win, win, win.

Her blog is full of yummy recipes, illustrations of her morning commute (they’re gorgeous), and other cool stuff she shares. (Her podcast post is a favorite of mine. Also, dessert sushi!)


Over to Sara from Cake Over Steak:


When coming up with a recipe inspired by the book, I clearly had to make a cupcake. I remembered the stereotype of elephants always eating peanuts, which led me to peanut butter. It turns out that’s kind of a myth; elephants will eat peanuts, but they don’t love them or anything. However, they do eat a lot of fruit. I decided to run with the childlike myth of elephants eating peanuts and came up with these peanut butter and jelly cupcakes. Plus, what could be more childlike than peanut butter and jelly? Personally, I ate those sandwiches almost exclusively from age 3 to 19. And, as it turns out, those flavors make a darn good cupcake.




The batter for the cake itself is obnoxiously simple; it’s essentially a quickbread recipe. Mix your dry ingredients together, mix your wet ingredients together, and then combine the two. No stand mixer required – just two bowls, a whisk, and a spatula. You’ll probably want a stand mixer or at least a hand mixer for the frosting, but just dump all of those ingredients in the bowl and let the mixer do the work. Before you frost the cupcakes we’re going to cut them in half, slather on your favorite jam and put them back together like a little cupcake sandwich.



I can imagine that making these cupcakes would be a fun activity to do with small children. And then you could read the book together while you eat one.



Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes
For the cupcakes:
1 3/4 cups (230 g) all purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 g) granulated sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 cup milk (preferably whole)
1/2 cup canola oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/3 cup smooth peanut butter
2 1/2 tbsp tahini

For the frosting:
3 sticks unsalted butter (at room temperature)
1 cup smooth peanut butter
3 tbsp pure vanilla extract
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 tsp kosher salt

For the filling: 
jam of your choice (I used blackberry)


Prepare the cupcakes:
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a standard muffin pan with cupcake liners or parchment (or spray with cooking spray).
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, canola oil, vanilla, vinegar, peanut butter and tahini until smooth.
4. Add the wet mixture to the flour mixture and mix gently with a spatula until just combined and no more flour lumps remain. Do not overmix.
5. Spoon the batter into the muffin pan, dividing it evenly between the 12 cups. They should be basically full.
6. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until lightly golden brown on the edges and a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Make the frosting:
1. In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the butter, peanut butter, vanilla, powdered sugar and salt. Start on low and work your way up to medium (#4 on a KitchenAid). Stop to scrape down the sides a few times.
2. Whisk until the mixture is thoroughly combined and smooth.

Assemble the cupcakes:
1. Once the cupcakes are completely cool, take them out of their liners and cut them in half from top to bottom. Spread one side with a layer of jam and put them back together like sandwiches.
2. With an offset spatula or a piping bag, top each cupcake with a generous amount of the peanut butter frosting. Decorate with sprinkles. Enjoy!
3. You might have leftover frosting, which would be fantastic on a pan of brownies …



They look so scrumptious, right? And to see Sara’s illustration of these PB & J cupcakes, head over to her post!




my six favorite picture books of 2014

I give you, my six very favorite books of 2014 and why.

(Please remember I haven’t read every book published this year—how I wish Viva Frida and The Farmer and the Clown were at my library—sigh.  So do tell me your favorites in the comments for us all to check out when we can!)

(Please also remember that I was selective. Hugely, massively, almost impossibly selective.)

I’m choosing just the books that really wowed me. Me as a particular reader. And me as a particular writer who took inspiration from these, some because they’re exactly what I’d like to create and some because they’re exactly the wonderful kind of thing I never ever could.

Here goes.


Sparky by Jenny Offill & Chris Appelhans.

I can’t believe I haven’t blogged about this book. I was being selfish with it, it’s true. (Though the main character did once get a fashion shootout for best homemade costume!) The girl’s narration is pitch-perfect. Hilarious. Insightful. Childlike and sophisticated, that coveted combination. It will make you laugh and then melt your heart at the end.




Hug Me by Simona Ciraolo.

What is this book honest about? It’s honest about Felipe the Cactus’s prickly family. Of course all families aren’t prickly, but to portray one that is that way, I find truthful and daring. Authentic and helpful. And yet, it’s fun!  Not mention how adorable Felipe is or the way he journeys to finally find kinship.



Fox’s Garden by Princesse Camcam.

This picture book really packs a punch. Incredibly beautiful cut-paper scenes and then the quiet, touching heart of the story: A little boy who is kind to a fox. And the fox’s gift in return. A story for winter and kindness and slowing down to look.


THE-RULES-OF-SUMMER-2014Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan.

It’s impossible for me not to like one of Tan’s books. This one showcases his bizarreness at its finest. Not only that, it’s a portrait of a complicated sibling relationship between two brothers. There are layers to look at and puzzles to contemplate. All in the most enjoyable, poignant way.




Beekle by Dan Santat.

Beekle is so adorable that I had to craft him out of marshmallows. I think this is a character that will stick around. He’s brave and good and you just want to give him a squeeze. Plus, he’s the charming star of a magical story of imagination and friendship. There’s a friend out there for everyone, if you just believe. This picture book reminds me a whole lot of a couple of my very favorite books ever.



Happy Birthday Madame Chapeau by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts.

This book is beautiful and stylish and heartwarming. But what sticks out most to me is what a fabulous example of writer and artist collaboration it is. Beaty and Robertst are so clearly a team and they’ve created a collaborated quilt of loveliness and detail and surprise.



Cheers to another year of exuberantly wonderful picture books and another yet to come!

(p.s. Here are 10 that took my breath away last year.)