August 24, 2006

(++++) YUM!

Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich. By Adam Rex. Harcourt. $16.

A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake. By Debra Frasier. Harcourt. $16.

     These are not food books – not in any ordinary sense.  The edible stuff is just an excuse for (on the one hand) monstrously delicious fun, and (on the other) an explanation of basic astronomy.  Yes, astronomy.

     The subtitle of Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich, which is almost a chapter in itself, reads, “And Other Stories You’re Sure to Like, Because They’re All about Monsters, and Some of Them Are Also about Food.  You Like Food, Don’t You?  Well, All Right Then.”  Got all that?  The table of contents says “Menu” at the top.  Among the offerings are “The Middlewitch Witch-Watchers Club: A Club Sandwich Which Watches Witches,” “The Mummy Won’t Go to His Eternal Rest Without a Story and Some Cookies,” and “The Lunchsack of Notre Dame.”  The title story – a poem, actually; this is a book in verse, and it’s not bad, certainly not verse – explains how the townspeople threw tomatoes and potatoes and moldy bread at Frankenstein’s monster, who thanked them, made a sandwich from everything thrown at him, “and ate a big, disgusting lunch.”  Several interludes focus on the Phantom of the Opera, who keeps getting unwanted tunes stuck in his head: “It’s a small world after all./ Angry cursing fills the hall.”  “There was a phantom/ had a song,/ and BINGO was its name-o. …It bugged the phantom/ all night long./ He never was the same-o.”

     Other ghoulish entries include “Count Dracula Doesn’t Know He’s Been Walking Around All Night with Spinach in His Teeth” (he can’t see it: no mirrors in his castle); “The Yeti Doesn’t Appreciate Being Called Bigfoot” (“Some folks call him Sasquatch./ His real name is Ruth”); and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Henderson” (“Alas, the glass of Cream of Evil/ mixed with Powdered Creep/ was really milk/ the maid had laid/ aside to help/ him sleep.”  Adam Rex’s drawings are as varied as his imagination is twisted: some in color, some in black-and-white, some in comic-book style, some in scientific-illustration style, and all thoroughly weird.  This book is intended for ages 5-10, but it’s entirely strange enough to be appreciated by immature people of all ages – including, especially, adults.

     Much less weird, except conceptually, is A Birthday Cake Is No Ordinary Cake, which explains the ingredients for a proper cake: the sun, the Earth’s spin, 365 sunrises (cloudy days included), and a few other things.  “We’re traveling in a circle.  This recipe is a circle.  Enter at any point,” writes Debra Frasier.  She then takes readers through a year-long recipe.  One portion: “Find the sound of a returning red robin. …Next—stir in any two bright spring flowers. …Mix well.  At night, look up often.  You will need to add at last twelve full silver moons.”  And on and on the story goes, with the baker carrying a bowl and spoon, gathering bits and pieces of the progressing year (example from autumn: “the shadow of a line of long-necked geese, flying south”).  After 365 days of gathering, the baker adds the ingredients you would expect in an ordinary cake (flour, sugar, milk and so on), bakes the cake, licks the spoon, and says happy birthday to the world.  Real recipes at the book’s end – including “The Spinning World Birthday Cake” – add to the fun, and a final page of scientific facts is (what else?) the icing on the cake.

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