Last year at Comic-Con I came across Sara Varon’s Robot Dreams, which is a very poignant story about a dog and his robot. Robot Dreams is mostly wordless (with just a few sound effects here and there) but I really loved the style and feel of the book. Both my daughters really liked the book, too, despite the fact that a lot of it seems very sad and lonely.
Varon’s latest, which came out in August this year, is much more cheerful, though it still has some more serious undertones. Bake Sale is about Cupcake, who loves to bake. When he finds out that his friend Eggplant knows the world-renowned pastry chef Turkish Delight, he really wants to go meet him, and works harder to make the money for a trip.
There’s a pretty cool story here that encompasses a lot of interwoven topics: dreams and goals, jobs and hobbies, friendship. Cupcake’s intense desire to go meet Turkish Delight takes over his waking thoughts — he gives up playing drums in the band in order to work more hours, and it even begins to affect his friendship with Eggplant. Although there are some sad parts of the story, I think it’s one that I’m glad to have my kids read because it speaks about not letting some things get in the way of what’s really important. Come to think of it, that’s not a bad lesson for myself, either.
Don’t get me wrong: the book isn’t preachy, and isn’t an after school special for kids. It’s a lot about a love for baking, and Varon actually includes several recipes within the story or in the back of the book, showing how to make some of the various desserts that Cupcake creates in the story (including sugared flowers). If you like baking sweet treats, this isn’t a full cookbook by any means but you could consider that a bonus.
Bake Sale is also, I will admit, a bit weird. Whenever you get into anthropomorphized food, things can get a little funny. Like the fact that Cupcake goes to a diner run by a Carrot and orders a meatloaf sandwich with mashed potatoes. There’s a farmers’ market where a watermelon is selling vegetables … to vegetables. You see a banana holding a bunch of carrots, walking past a carrot. I mean, if you were a sentient vegetable, wouldn’t you find that a bit disturbing?
Still, it’s very cute and my kids love it. Unlike Robot Dreams, this one has a lot of text and dialogue, though there are still sections that are wordless as you watch Cupcake going about his business. Varon uses little arrows and words to indicate actions: “Pull!” “Press!” which actually is exactly what my five-year-old tends to do as sound effects.
Disclosure: First Second Books provided a review copy.