CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 20. . . . June 6, 2003
Annie imagined serving a snow pudding that shimmered beneath a cloud of vanilla custard. Four little women sat side by side at Mr. Emerson's table.
"Delightful," said the one named Louisa.
The more they ate, the colder it grew. Frost etched patterns on their crystal goblets, and snow began to fall from the ceiling. All the while summer hummed like a bee outside the window.
Annie Burns, newly arrived from Ireland, takes a job as a cook for the Emerson family in the town of Concord. Her mission is to make dishes so tantalizing that they will entice Mr. Emerson to eat. Mrs. Emerson is concerned because her husband would rather get his "nourishment" from communing with nature than from food. However, no matter what culinary delights Annie puts before him, her employer continues to eat like a bird. Over the next few months, Annie writes home to her mother several times, explaining her dilemma. One day, she receives from her mother a package containing a cookbook which Annie had made as a small child. In the cookbook are recipes for mud pies and moon cakes and the like. Perplexed as to how her mother thinks this cookbook could possibly help, Annie sets it aside until bedtime. Later, as she reads it, she begins to understand Mr. Emerson's way of thinking and his comments about the importance of imagination. She lets her mind wander, imagining surreal scenes in which she is surrounded by broccoli trees and soup ponds. In her daydream, she is serving delectable dishes such as comet tail stew and shimmery snow pudding. The next morning, she opens her cookbook to the recipe for Sunrise Pie and bakes birdsong and sunbeams into her cinnamon-apple pie. Drawn to the kitchen by the wonderful aroma, Mr. Emerson eats not one, but two helpings of the pie. From then on, he eats Annie's meals with gusto.
Schnachner, who is actually Annie's great granddaughter, takes some poetic license as she blends fiction with a bit of her family history. She engages readers from the very first page with language that is lyrical, yet simple. She infuses Annie's character with warmth and humour, while Mr. Emerson is portrayed as a brilliant, albeit rather strange (but likeable) dreamer. The watercolour illustrations are whimsical and delicate, rendered in pastel colours and capturing the mood of the story and its historical setting perfectly. The afterword provides a brief biography of Ralph Waldo Emerson, citing his longtime friendship with Henry David Thoreau and explaining the author's relationship to the main character.
A heart-warming and endearing story that not only gives readers an insight into a man who was well known as a philosopher and poet, but also celebrates the dreamer in everyone.
Gail Hamilton is a teacher-librarian at Bird's Hill School in East St. Paul, MB.
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