George Crum and the Saratoga Chip

This colorful picture book tells the story of the invention of the potato chip which, like so many great inventions, was discovered by accident. According to the story told by Gaylia Taylor in George Crum and the Saratoga Chip, potato chips were created by a frustrated chef named George Crum who was trying to satisfy a picky customer.George CrumThe book begins long before George’s famous culinary creation. It starts by telling of George’s childhood in the 1830s in Saratoga Springs, New York.

George was part Native American and part African American. At school, he battled other children’s perceptions that he was inferior to them because they were white. Ms. Taylor discusses this prejudice directly and describes how George fought this discrimination throughout his life.

When he was finished with school, George spent his time fishing and hunting in the nearby Adirondack mountains. One day while he was out hunting, he met a Frenchman, who happened to be an excellent cook. The Frenchman taught George how to cook what he had caught over a campfire.

This experience sparked George’s realization that “he had a passion for cooking.” He began experimenting until he had perfected recipes for the birds, fish, venison, and other game he trapped.

George wanted to show all of Saratoga Springs what a good cook he was. He decided the best way to do this was to become a chef in a restaurant. It wasn’t easy for George to get a job as a chef in those days. Most restaurant owners wouldn’t hire a man of color to be anything but a waiter. George didn’t let that stop him.

George got a job as a chef at one of the best restaurants in Saratoga Springs. He became famous for his cooking, and wealthy, prominent people traveled far distances to eat his dishes.

George found that some of those customers were difficult to please, and he had little patience for them. One day, a fussy customer came in and ordered French-fried potatoes. George was sure they were perfect, but the customer sent them back, claiming they were too thick.

George grabbed a potato and sliced it so thin that when he held a slice up to the light, he could see straight through it. He put them into a pot full of hot oil, and cooked them longer and at a higher temperature than was needed for French fries. When they were done, he piled them onto a plate and served his new creation to the customer himself.

The customer declared them to be “the most delicious potato delicacy she had ever tasted.” And the “Saratoga Chip” was born!

Frank Morrison’s illustrations in this book are amazing. Full of color and detail, they take the reader from the one-room schoolhouse where George could not count to 100, to the beauty of the Adirondack mountains, to the excitement of the kitchen in Moon’s Lake House restaurant. They are a perfect pairing to this story, and will help young readers fully engage with the tale of George Crum. Mr. Morrison’s art is featured on his website:

Have you read any great books lately?

The Valentine Express

In all of the excitement about chocolate and flowers, it wouldn’t hurt for us to stop for a moment for a lesson from the bunnies in The Valentine Express by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace.the valentine expressMinna begins the day at school learning some of the tales of the possible origin of Valentine’s Day (including the story of a man named Valentine, who was kind to children and would send notes signed “from your Valentine”). When lessons are over, the school day includes the typical classroom Valentine’s Day party.

As Minna and her younger brother Pip walk home after school, they run into one of their neighbors. Minna realizes that the grown-ups in their neighborhood might not have received any valentines. So she and Pip decide to make valentines for them.

Minna gets out her art box, filled with colored paper, glue stick, markers, scissors, string, and other crafty things. They work hard to create valentines that will be meaningful for each of the neighbors—for example, a homemade puzzle for the neighbor who they saw walking home holding a package from “The Puzzle Works Shop.”

Once they have a valentine ready for each of their neighbors, they load up Pip’s wagon and become “the Valentine Express.” They deliver valentines, kindness, and joy throughout the neighborhood.

There is so much I love about this book. There is, of course, the overall idea of Minna and Pip deciding to do something thoughtful for others to make them happy. It is such a sweet, simple way to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Ms. Wallace has done a wonderful job sharing this ideal without letting the lesson get in the way of the story.

Kindness shows up in The Valentine Express in smaller ways as well. The interactions between Minna and her brother Pip are beautiful, as Minna is always encouraging to her younger brother. For example, after Pip tries (somewhat unsuccessfully) to cut out some construction paper hearts, they have the following exchange:

Pip held something in his hands behind his back. “These are not good hearts, Minna.”

“Can I see?” Minna asked.

Pip put some of his hearts on the table and stuffed the rest into his pocket. “They are my practice hearts.”

Minna thought for a minute. “That’s OK, Pip. You were busy helping me.”

Another charming part of The Valentine Express is that Minna and Pip decide to make the valentines out of basic art supplies. In a time when it has become far too easy to stop by the store for the box of printed valentines, Ms. Wallace has reminded us all how nice homemade valentines can be (she has included a page full of them earlier in the book as well).

Finally, Ms. Wallace has shown exactly what can be done with those art supplies. Using cut paper, scissors, and a glue stick, she made three-dimensional artwork to illustrate The Valentine Express. The effect is inspiring.

Ms. Wallace has a great website at It lists all of her books (there are many!) and provides some cut-paper activities for readers to try at home. You can even make some puppets for a puppet show!

Have you read any great books lately?

Ada Twist, Scientist

Albert Einstein once said: “The important thing is to never stop questioning.” I’m sure this must be the principle that guides young Ada Marie in Ada Twist, Scientist by Andrea Beaty. For, although she did not speak until the day she turned three, once the floodgates opened, the words and questions kept tumbling out.ada-twistOn the day she turned three, from the top of a grandfather clock, her first word was “WHY?” She continued:

“Why does it tick and why does it tock?” / “Why don’t we call it a granddaughter clock?” / “Why are there pointy things stuck to a rose?” / “Why are there hairs up inside of your nose?”

She started with Why? and then What? How? and When? / By bedtime she came back to Why? once again. / She drifted to sleep as her dazed parents smiled / at the curious thoughts of their curious child, / who wanted to know what the world was about. / They kissed her and whispered, “You’ll figure it out.”

As Ada grew, her questions continued, and everyone recognized that Ada “had all the traits of a great scientist.”

One day, Ada was busy doing what good scientists do, “when a horrible stench whacked her right in the nose—a pungent aroma that curled up her toes.” The book follows her quest to discover what could have made such a terrible smell.

An observant reader will notice the source of the stink and will giggle away at all of Ada’s experiments (experiments that ultimately get her in trouble). Ada’s response to her punishment will send the reader into another round of laughter.

The rhyming by Ms. Beaty is brilliant. It is funny and is easy to read out loud to a young listener. It also celebrates and encourages the young scientists in our midst. After Ada’s parents saw one of her messes:

They watched their young daughter and sighed as they did. / What would they do with this curious kid, / who wanted to know what the world was about? / They smiled and whispered, “We’ll figure it out.”

And that’s what they did—because that’s what you do / when your kid has a passion and heart that is true. / They remade their world—now they’re all in the act / of helping young Ada sort fiction from fact. / She asks lots of questions. How could she resist? / It’s all in the heart of a young scientist.

David Roberts’ illustrations are the perfect match to this great story. He has done a fantastic job creating Ada Twist and giving her personality and life in his pictures. Mr. Roberts used graph paper to some of the illustrations, adding a unique background when Ada’s scientific and inquisitive mind raises questions.

The book contains a short Note From the Author, which I believe merits including here in its entirety:

Women have been scientists for as long as there has been science. They’ve asked questions and looked for answers to the secrets of the universe. Of soil and stars. Stalactites and seahorses. Glaciers and gravity. Brains and black holes. Of everything.

Ada Marie Twist is named for two of the many women whose curiosity and passion led them to make great discoveries. Marie Curie discovered the elements polonium and radium, and her work led to the invention of X-rays. Ada Lovelace was a mathematician and the very first computer programmer.

Thank-you, Ms. Beaty, for such an inspiring statement and a beautiful book.

Andrea Beaty is online at On her website, Ms. Beaty has teachers’ guides for a number of her books, as well as many other downloadables.

Have you read any great books lately?

Paper Wishes

When Alex finished Paper Wishes by Lois Sepahban and told me that I “HAD to read it,” he also mentioned that he had stayed up half the night just to finish reading it. We are usually pretty strict about bedtime, but since it was the long weekend and he didn’t have school, I let that comment slide. Besides, he was talking so enthusiastically about the book that I didn’t want to interrupt him!Paper WishesPaper Wishes tells the story of a young girl named Manami living in the United States during the 1940s. Manami is happily living on the shores of Bainbridge Island, Washington, when she and her family are forced to move to a Japanese-American prison camp.

When she learns that her family is planning to leave her dog Yujiin behind, Manami tries to bring him with her. She hides Yujiin under her coat, and sneaks him onto the ferry taking them off the island. When they arrive at the mainland, however, an American soldier discovers Yujiin and makes Manami leave him behind.

After traveling for two days by train, they arrive at the camp. The soldiers have told them that it will be “a village,” but Manami’s mother recognizes it for what it is: “‘It is a prison,’ she says.”

It is desolate. It is ugly. There are no trees, no water, nothing green. It is a desert.

I soon discover that if I crouch down low with my eyes next to the ground, I can pretend that the dirt looks like sand here.

If I stand tall with my feet bare, I can pretend the dirt feels like sand here.

But when I open my mouth to speak, the dirt no longer feels like sand. It sticks to my lips and tongue like red mud. It coats my throat so that I cannot speak.

I think this is what has happened to me.

I wish the dirt would cloud my eyes, too, so that I would not see this place that is and is not my home without Yujiin.

Manami withdraws from interacting with others, unable to speak for months. Through a series of events, Manami gets the idea that she can deliver messages by sending them on the wind. She decides to send messages (her “paper wishes”) to Yujiin every day until he joins her at the camp. Paper Wishes tracks Manami’s journey of healing, as well as her family’s adjustment to life in the prison camp and life without Yujiin.

Ms. Sepahban’s decision to write Paper Wishes in first person narrative makes it particularly powerful—I’m sure even more so for middle-school-aged kids like Alex. Instead of reading about a prison camp, we lived in the prison camp through Manami. We tasted the red mud coating her lips and tongue, and felt her fear every time an adult or the Warden called upon her to speak.

This compelling book introduced Alex to aspects of war that he and I had not yet had an opportunity to discuss—in particular, the prison camps, and the idea that people might be vilified simply because of where they or their ancestors were born. We had an insightful discussion about racism and why America should never let such a thing as the prison camps happen again. America is better than that.

I am grateful to Ms. Sepahban not only for the wonderful story, but also for this natural opening for the mini-history lesson and mini-humanity lesson with Alex.

Have you read any great books lately?