Holiday Baking with Wild Boars

Have things been left to the last minute?  Can the holidays be perfect without that special treat that your grandmother, mother, or aunt made every year?   There’s still time today and tomorrow to roll up your sleeves, cream the butter, chop the nuts, sift the flour, sling the cookie sheets into the oven and dust the perfectly browned beauties with confectioners’ sugar.  The more ambitious influencers among readers can make fondant in perfectly matched colors for the cut-out decorations.

Or does family tradition demand fruitcake or Christmas pudding instead of cookies?  The Wild Boars Boris, Horace, Morris, and Doris are here to show the way to a perfect bake—messy, sticky, gooey, chewy, and massive.  Have you met before the Wild Boars who are dirty smelly,  bad-tempered, and rude every day all day?  They figure if Paul Hollywood can be a star in the culinary firmament, there’s plenty of room for them.  Who needs steely blue eyes when you’re got tusks?First, it helps to be starving when you are deciding upon a recipe.Second, a recipe is a guide to creativity in the kitchen.  Feel free to improvise: if one cup of sugar is good, then ten are divine.  Maybe the pan can’t accommodate dozens of donuts or five hundred chocolate-covered chocolates, but you’ll never know until you try.Third, no concessions to health.  Broccoli in a dessert served up at the most wonderful time of the year is unthinkable.Fourth, make any last minute additions before stirring the batter with abandon.  Bananas are always appreciated, but squid will make your guests sit up and take notice.Fifth, plate it beautifully, so all your hard work can be admired by the diners.Sixth, it’s probably a waste of time to remind merry-makers of their manners.  Look the other way if everyone is chewing with open mouths, no one has napkins on laps, the biggest piece was not politely offered to the guest of honor, or a Labrador retriever could not have eaten the whole thing faster.Seven, repeat.Eight, leave the clean-up to someone else.Author Meg Rosoff, who says she is old and crabby, and illustrator Sophie Blackall, who pretends to be nicer than she looks, should be ashamed of themselves for creating such bad examples for children to imitate, I mean avoid, in their Meet Wild Boars (2005) and Wild Boars Cook (2008).  The least they could have done was given the real recipe for the massive pudding…


Henny Penny and Friends Reimagined: “What’s Fair is Fowl, What’s Fowl is Fare”

Stories don’t get much sillier than Henny Penny.  The plot is set in motion when a chicken gets beaned on the head by an acorn.  The nitwit jumps to the conclusion that the world is ending and the king must be told.   On her way, she meets a series of birds, each of whom asks permission to accompany her on the mission.  That question—and its response–is always posed to the group, not its leader Henny Penny, which requires the repetition of all the characters’ silly rhyming names in the order in which they joined.  Galloping through the list in the correct order without mistakes takes concentration and a straight face.  The number of feathered delegates to the king would have increased until the castle gate was in sight, had not a fox helpfully offered to show them the short cut via his den.

The pictures of the birds in Paul Galdone’s classic picture book version plays it straight, putting all the pressure on the reader to keep things moving along to the inevitable conclusion. To Leonard B. Lubin, an artist who liked to imagine animals in elaborate historical costumes,  the cast of barnyard fowl posed an irresistible challenge. Where Beatrix Potter hesitated to dress up birds in her illustrations, he plunged in and designed exquisite eighteenth-century robes with appropriate headgear for a chicken, rooster, duck, goose, and turkey.  The only concession made to reality was to give them human feet that would look daintier than webbed ploppers in high-heeled slippers and pointed buckled shoes.When our flock of beribboned, furbelowed, and flounced birdbrains come barreling down the road, who should they meet but the fox, gentlemanly and helpful as can be, dressed for a day’s shooting in the countryside.  How they were picked off and plucked for the platter is left entirely to the reader’s imagination, but not a whisper of hope is offered that any escaped the fate of being eaten in one greasy sitting.

Jane Wattenberg’s retelling lovingly blows up the old story with wild photocompositions full of sly verbal jokes and a text stuffed with jaunty puns, vivid verbs, cool apostrophes, and emotive type setting. It’s unapologetically and deliciously over the top from the copy on the front flap “Come flock along with Henny Penny and her feathered friends flap around the world in search of…  King Kong?  King Tut?  Or is it Elvis…  But when they meet up with that mean ball of fur Foxy-Loxy, their plans suddenly go a-fowl” to the back cover illustration of Henny Penny  captioned “Was it REALLY all my fault?”

Wattenberg’s poultry wear nothing but their feathers and combs, but they talk like no other birds in picture books—“Shake, rattle, and roll!  The sky is falling!  It’s coming on down! Henny-Penny saw it and heard it and it smacked her on her fine red comb. We’re full tilt to tell the king.”

In a picture narrative where the pace never lets up, it is seems just right that the ending doesn’t mince words or dial back the jokes about the mayhem  in Foxy Loxy’s cave.

Leaping gizzards!  What a skanky prank!  For with a Gobble-Gobble-Gobble! That sly Foxy-Loxy wolfed down poor Turkey-Lurkey.  With a Squonk-Hiss-s-s-s-Honk! That fleazy Foxy-Loxy gobbled up Goosey-Loosey and Gander-Lander.  With a Quack@  Don’t Look Back! That cunning cad Foxy-Loxy wolfed down Ducky-Lucky and Drake-Cake.  With a Cock-a-Doodle-Doo!  What I Do to You?  That greedy grunge of a Foxy-Loxy gobbled up poor Cocky-Locky.

The darkness is softened by the way the fox’s treachery is underscored with each gulp and allowing Henny Penny, the unwitting perpetrator of the carnage, to escape.  The last one waiting outside the killing room, she figures out what is going on and runs away as fast as her little three-toed feet can carry her, squawking that she’s got to get home and lay the daily egg.There’s nothing like justice in the tale of Henny Penny and her unfortunate friends, but it isn’t the way of the world to look out for the gullible, whether the sky is falling or not…  Perhaps that’s why the story continues to be retold and we cry with laughter with every one.