Thursday, August 28, 2014


Sarah Weeks
Scholastic 2011  180 pgs.
Grades 4-6

Alice's childhood revolves around hanging out with her beloved Aunt Polly, pie baker extraordinaire.  Aunt Polly opened a pie shop in their small 1950's Pennsylvania town.  She baked for the sheer enjoyment of it and gave all her pies away.  Aunt Polly passes away suddenly, leaving a huge void both in Alice's heart and in the whole town.  At the reading of Aunt Polly's will it is determined that her secret pie crust recipe is left to Lardo, Aunt Polly's ornery cat.  Lardo is left to Alice, much to her allergic father's and crabby mother's chagrin.  Lardo turns up missing and Alice and her new friend, classmate Charlie, set out to find him.  Lardo is eventually uncovered, but he appears drugged and foul play is suspected.  Meanwhile, the whole town develops pie baking fever, trying to become the next great pie baker, including Alice's mother, who harbors inner jealousy of her sister's talents.  Alice and Charlie must find out who is after Lardo and the pie crust recipe before someone gets hurt. After several red herrings the culprit is discovered.  Aunt Polly's recipe is uncovered at last in a very fair and satisfying way.  Alice and her family may not gain fame and fortune from baking pies, but manage to find happiness and success on their own terms and with their own talents.  The book ends with Alice's life in the present day and we uncover the future of all the book's key players.

Sarah Weeks is a master at the quiet, yet thoughtful story for young people.  This simple mystery, set during an innocent time in small-town America, feels like a warm blanket and a cup of tea on a stormy day.  The characters are interesting and folksie and their quiet life styles are a welcome relief compared to our busy plugged-in presents.  I felt a personal connection to this book.  My mother was a well-known pie baker in our small upstate New York town before she passed away eight years ago.  She also made an extraordinary pie crust, of which I have never been able to duplicate, even with her recipe.  Weeks offers pie recipes as chapter headings, which I felt compelled to try.  I baked the Buttermilk Pie from the book using my mother's recipe.  It turned out great.  My family (not accustomed to homemade baked goods) happily gobbled the whole thing up in one sitting.  Pie demonstrates the way we can show love through cooking and baking. I not only was able to experience this first hand seeing my family so happy,but it allowed me to channel my late mother.  Other themes in the book include seizing the gift of doing what you are good at, happiness over success, and the importance of family.  Alice and her friends are a joy to spend time with.  My only quibble is that Alice's relationship with her mother sews up a little too easily and quickly, but kid's won't care that this is unrealistic.  They will breath a sigh of relief at the happy ending and that Alice is appreciated by her mother at long last.  I dare you to read this book and not be tempted to bake a pie of your own, or at least not run to your local bakery for a pie-fix!

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