The biscuit maker by Sue Lawson
Illus. by Liz Anelli. Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781760650438.
(Age: 4+) Highly recommended. A wonderful sense of place is aroused with the biscuit maker and appreciative audience settled firmly on the front cover against a street of houses. The houses are repeated on the endpapers, several streets worth, with the houses drawn as children might draw them, without perspective. A lovely touch, I thought, and loving maps as I do, evoked an immediate response to the setting.
Eventually opening the book, after my mind trawled through the discussions I would have with the children listening to the story, I was intrigued with the direction the story took. Not just a story about grandmas and children baking, but a beautiful tale of coming together, of neighbours, neighbourhood and friendship. Benedict Stanley and his cat, Audrey Mae, say good morning and hello to the passers-by each day but they are too busy to notice and hurry past, jogging or going to work or reading a paper. So Benedict and his cat tend their garden until their legs weary and they must rest. A boy walks past telling them that the tooth fairy will visit him overnight. Benedict goes inside and cooks him some celebratory biscuits, leaving them on his doorstep. After this he cooks biscuits for many of the people in his street, and people begin to wonder who the biscuit maker is. One day, Benedict takes to his bed and the biscuits stop coming. People are concerned about what has happened to the biscuit maker, and why the biscuits have stopped. When Audrey Mae yowls outside Rory's house he realises something is wrong. He and other neighbours knock at Benedict's door, bringing food to him. As Benedict and Rory share a cake or two, the neighbours tuck into the garden, doing the sorts of things Benedict would have done if he were feeling better. The neighbourhood bustles with friendship and helping each other as they ready themselves for a New Year's Eve street party.
This wonderful story of finding friends, of communicating with your neighbours, of community, of watching out for the elderly, will warm the hearts of the readers, especially apt after the year we have had with its emphasis on helping those living nearby.
Each page shows a different facet of life in the street: kids getting ready for the grand final, a kitten falling from a rooftop, one family having triplets, a child who has lost a tooth. All happen within the neighbourhood but it is only Benedict who is aware of the range of incidents and acts upon them. Anelli offers us a crowded street scene, full of life and events, fascinating and detailed, a range of ages and backgrounds, of families and house styles, all prompting the reader to look at their own neighbourhood with renewed eyes.
Anelli's mixed media illustrations sing with friendship and cooperation, showing a disinterested neighbourhood coming to life when one person makes an effort. Benedict shows what can be done with the smallest of gestures, eliciting a response from those living next door, reviving the old community spirit that has lapsed. The book exhorts us to reignite the spirit of cooperation between neighbours. Children will love seeing the different aspects of street life, and single out the range of biscuits made by Benedict, turning to the back of the book for the recipe to try out for themselves. Teacher's notes are available.
Theme: Friendship, Neighbours, Cooperation, Community, Biscuits.