Children's Book Review: Cooking With Grandma

Tasmanian Artist Rosemary Mastnak Creates a Winner

Cooking with Grandma book for grandparents and grandchildren
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Rosemary Mastnak follows up her wonderful 2008 publication Dancing With Grandma with this appealing tale. Granddaughter Anya makes a encore appearance, but this time there's a lovable Grandpa as well. Mastnak also introduces an element of make-believe that makes this an even more engaging tale than the first book.

The Story

"Anya loves visiting Grandma and Grandpa," and no wonder. On each day of her visit, she and Grandma cook something, and there's a make-believe adventure to go with the culinary one.

On Monday, for example, Grandma and Anya prepare breakfast. Grandma then suggests that they "have room service at the hotel." This statement is accompanied by a picture of Grandma and Anya, suitably festooned in aprons, delivering breakfast on a tray to a sleepy Grandpa.

Tuesday the pair make scones and deliver them to their "fireman" — Grandpa manning a hose out in the garden. The rest of the week Grandma and Anya have all kinds of fun in the kitchen and out until, on Saturday, Grandma helps Anya make a delicious chocolate cake. They don't eat it, though, opting instead for a visit to the fairies in the garden. The next day the reason for the cake is revealed: Daddy arrives, and a glorious impromptu party ensues.

Reasons to Love This Book

Cooking With Grandma is a terrific book for so many reasons. It's visually interesting, with watercolor illustrations that are detailed yet retain that wonderful misty watercolor quality.

It taps into children's love of make-believe. And it captures an ideal grandparent-grandchild relationship.

Then there are the pets, which are likely to be your grandchildren's favorite characters. There's a different dog and cat duo from the one in the first book. That book must have taken place at Anya's house when Grandma was visiting.

That book featured a tabby cat and a big floppy dog. This book, which takes place when Anya visits Grandma's house, includes a sinuous Siamese cat and a long-haired pooch. The big floppy dog from Dancing With Grandma does make a reappearance. He accompanies Anya's father when he comes to pick her up.

Other animals sneak into the pages. A chicken makes frequent appearances, a preview of his role in Adventures With Grandpa. Mastnak makes subtle references to her Tasmanian/Australian background with animals almost hidden in the scenery. Kangaroos can be glimpsed through the kitchen window on one page, and a pair of kookaburras sit in a tree in another. With a bit of sleuthing, the budding scientist could probably identify other bird and animal species. That may seem like a small detail, but it's typical of the love and care that Mastnak puts into her books, and it could lead your and your grandchildren iinto an exploration of the land "down under."

Also, your grandchildren may not be familiar with all the food that Grandma and Anya prepare — toast soldiers? scones? — but once again that's an example of how reading a simple picture book can be a brain-boosting activity. Cooking With Grandma could lead to vocabulary expansion, culinary conversations or even some adventures in the kitchen.

Still, the most important lesson to be learned from this book is the lesson of love.

Why Picture Books

Parents, grandparents and teachers sometimes pull children away from picture books too early, on the assumption that when children can handle longer works, such as chapter books, they should leave picture books behind, Nothing could be further from the truth. A picture book is a different genre altogether, and we never really outgrow the appeal of a outstanding example. The fact that the adult reading the book to the child enjoys it too proves that a picture book is more than a first step into reading.

To fully experience a picture book, readers must mentally blend pictures and text. They must use their powers of observation to notice what is going on in the book, and their imaginations to fill in what may not be shown or spelled out.

If the book has really lovely illustrations, readers may hone their aesthetic sensibilities and even develop an interest in art. All of these are possible for readers of Mastnak's books.

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