In Louisiana, as well as many cities around the world, Carnival time begins on January 6th and ends with Mardi Gras on February 9th this year. This celebration was an enigma to me prior to my moving to Lake Charles, but the longer I live here, the more I learn. There are some things I will never quite understand (i.e. chasing chickens on horseback!), while other traditions have become very close to my heart. In this edition, I will share some of the things I've learned to appreciate about this season, including recipes, books for children (and grown-ups!), and even a website or two.
In my initial blog, I promised to focus on authors that I personally know, first and foremost, and then toss in a few that I consider worthy of your consideration (and that I personally LOVE!). Since this week's theme is Carnival Time, many of you (especially those who have roots in Louisiana) may be familiar with James Rice and his Cajun books, including Gaston Goes to Mardi Gras and the Cajun Night Before Christmas (which is a traditional read on Christmas Eve for many of my Louisiana friends). However, you may be missing some of the best Cajun-themed stories if you limit your reading to his books. I would like to introduce you to three books and authors you may not have discovered. The first two are authors I have personally met, and the third is one that I would LOVE to meet in person.
First, my friend Dianne De Las Casas is a well-known and award-winning children's picture book author from New Orleans with many titles to her credit. One that particularly fits the theme for Carnival is Dinosaur Mardi Gras. In this story, dinosaurs want to party. It's full of rhythm and culture and would appeal especially to boys, which is not always the case in children's reading materials. Culture is woven throughout the story and illustrations.
And if you like this book, you'll love other books by Diane. Her books are filled with humor that will make your entire family laugh. My particular favorite is her book, The Little "Read" Hen. I'll share more about this book in a later blog on teaching kids the writing process. You can learn more about Diane on her website, http://diannedelascasas.com.
Another Louisiana writer, who also hails from New Orleans, is Keila V. Davis. Her book, King Cake Baby, is a takeoff of the classic Gingerbread Man tale. With its cute cartoon characters and colorful Cajun language sprinkled throughout the story, children will learn about this traditional Carnival Time dessert while enjoying the baby's experiences. There is a bonus for mom...a traditional King Cake recipe is included! Bake it (or the one I've included in this blog) and share the tastes of this colorful season while you read the story together. Check out Keila's website at www.keiladawson.com.
Last, one of my all-time favorite author/illustrators is Ruth Heller. She has published dozens of children's books, many of which I have used when teaching parts of speech to children in fourth through sixth grades, although they are so good they could be used with any age group! Her illustrations are spectacular and she has even published several coloring books that would sooth the savage beast of any stressed out adult. To continue the Carnival theme, check out her books Behind the Mask and A Cache of Jewels for inspiration and a review of prepositions and nouns. (For a follow-up activity, I always had my students make their own "parts of speech" books. It was amazing to see what they could come up with once they were familiar with Ruth's concept.) The illustrations in these two books simulate Carnival in a vivid way. As for content, Ruth makes learning a rather dull subject fun (Ooh! Dare I use that word in an educational setting? :) All of Ruth's books are available on Amazon and in most bookstores that feature children's literature.
ActivitiesAfter reading these books, teachers and home schoolers might enjoy creating Mardi Gras masks. Directions for making these can be found on Pinterest and other websites. I especially like the one located at www.dltk-kids.com. Check it out!
Recipes: Laissez les bons temps rouler--Let the good times roll!
It would not be Carnival time without a King Cake, trust me. The truth is, until I moved to Louisiana in 2008, I had never even heard of a King Cake, let alone tasted one. I remember my first experience...my husband and I had joined a Bible study group from our church. At one of our weekly meetings, a member brought a King Cake for dessert. I confess, my curiosity got the best of me. I had to find out the story behind this delectable pastry. I learned that this cake was served as festive means during the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras. Hidden inside the cake was a tiny plastic baby. The person who found the baby in his or her slice of cake was responsible for bringing the King Cake to the next soiree. I did not find the baby, but the individual who did graciously let me have the precious little guy to take home. I am allergic to cinnamon, which normally makes me decline any food product containing this spice. But that night I risked a bout with hives in order to taste a sample--and was it ever good! I determined to find or invent a cinnamon-less recipe that I could enjoy without worry. By the way, my friend who brought this cake to our Bible study also made it himself. He owns Delicious Donuts in Lake Charles. The good news is that he also ships King Cakes all over the world! So, if you would like to order one ready-made for your family, contact Lucas Verrett at http://www.deliciouskingcakes.com/. You'll be glad you did!