Monday, May 30, 2022

MMGM- Cookies & Milk, Omari McQueen's Best Bites Cookbook

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday
and #IMWAYR day 

Amos, Shawn.Cookies & Milk
May 17th 2022 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

At the end of fifth grade in 1976, Ellis is hoping to have the best summer ever with his friend Alex, even though his mother has moved away and his father is living in a bungalow near other divorced fathers. Instead, his father has a plan to open a store selling nothing but cookies, and has obtained a run down location on Sunset Boulevard. The two need to clean the building, perfect the cookie recipe, create a customer base, and open the shop, all in five weeks! They have problems with the equipment, which Alex's father is able to fix even though he has problems with Parkinsons, and Ellis' grandmother visits frequently to keep them in line. Ellis is allowed to travel the area by himself, getting chocolate chips at the grocery and meeting local characters along the way, like Hershel, a homeless man who helps him fix a shopping cart and later becomes a valuable employee. He also meets a local DJ, Wishbone, who has a mysterious connection to his family. Wishbone motivates him to perfect his Afro, start to wear a dashiki from one of his father's failed business ventures, and to get his father to stop calling him "Little Man". There is some time for fun, and he and Alex spend time listening to old jazz and blues records, especially enjoying Muddy Waters' music. As the business opening draws near, the group paint the parking lot in vivid colors, hand out lots of free samples to get customers interested, and work with Wishbone to get some radio advertising as well. Will Sunset Cookies be a hit?
Strengths: This was a fascinating fictional look at life in Hollywood, based on the real life experiences the author had with his father, who founded Famous Amos cookies, the first store to seel ONLY cookies. The process of setting up a business was interesting, and I loved that Ellis was given so much freedom to go places and interact with people in order to build the business. There are good period details, like Ellis' Afro, his zip-necked terry cloth shirt (that right there made the book for me!), and the interesting business on Sunset Boulevard. Of course, there are also details about the racism the family faced at the time, since they are some of the few Black people in the area. It is great to see that Alex and his father don't seem to care about this,and interesting to see Ellis' reaction when he goes to Wishbone's radio station, where most of the employees are Black. There are some slapstick moments of mishaps, adventures riding down hills in the shopping cart, and meeting some surfers, and the story moves briskly with a lot of heart and humor. Think of the historical fiction you've read involving Black characters-- how many of those books cover Black joy? Not very many. Despite the challenges they face, Ellis and his father not only experience joy, but do their best to spread it through cookies!
Weaknesses: There is a tiny bit about the Bicentennial, but it isn't explained very well. During the summer of 1976, Ellis would certainly have seen a lot more of this celebration, and young readers will have no idea how ubiquitous it was. More details would have helped. I also found it a little difficult to believe that Ellis managed to cause destruction to cookie ingredients more than once; wouldn't his grandmother have been there, waving her cane and saying "Not today, Satan!"? (Which might well be my new catch phrase, at least in my  mind!)
What I really think: While the writing isn't as smooth as it could be, this was a vivid trip to a specific and vibrant place and time peopled by fascinating characters and scented with chocolate and pecans. I only wish that there were a good middle grade book detailing Wally Amos' exploits, because those are even more fascinating and would make for a highly readable biography. I'd love to see more of Ellis' adventures, and will definitely be buying two copies of this humorous but gently philosophical title. 

McQueen, Omari. Omari McQueen's Best Bites Cookbook
June 7th 2022 by BuzzPop
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

I've never heard of this young British vegan cook, but he must have quite the following! While this is a vegan cookbook, and has a lot of great food that doesn't rely on animal products, it's quite simple to substitute mainstream ingredients in the recipes. Omari's family is of Caribbean descent, so the recipes have a strong (and very hot!) flavor of that region-- again, it's not necessary to purchase ghost peppers in order to make the recipes. This is good, since I'm pretty sure there is not a single ghost pepper in my entire neighborhood! This does put a different spin on some of the recipes; the hummus, for example, did not involve cumin, and the salsa is made with canned tomatoes. 

There's a nice range of recipes, from Light Bites to hearty lunches and dinner, with a few side dishes and deserts to round things out. I made the Jamaican patties with ground turkey instead of meat substitute, and they came out very nicely and smelled really good when I warmed them up the next day. The curry powder in the pasty-type dough is inspired. The sweet potato and spinach bake is one I might try next, and the lentil bolognese reminds me of my college days when I made a lot of Hamburger Helper with lentils.

There were a fair number of ingredients that were a bit difficult to find. I happened to be near my favorite Saraga market after reading this, and they did not have ackee or callaloo, although I could have gotten jackfruit, and have bought bulk tumeric there on a number of occasions. My area has more Latinx, Asian, and African  immigrants than Caribbean ones, so it will probably depend on your location when it comes to obtaining ingredients not usually available at the neighborhood Kroger. 

The photo illustrations are colorful and fun. I buy far more cookbooks than I should, so I may pass on this one unless I have a lot of students asking for vegan recipes; this would then be the top of the list to purchase.

Ms. Yingling


  1. Both new to me, sound fun, Karen. Thanks for your reviews!

  2. I love the food theme in both of these books, Karen, and they both sound excellent! I love that the first book is loosely inspired by the author's experience of his father founding Famous Amos cookies—it's sort of strange to see an MG novel based around such a well-known brand, but it's also intriguing too! Also, I noticed Wikipedia says that the book is apparently getting a Disney animated series, so I imagine you might be on to the next trending book!

    The cookbook you discuss looks like a lot of fun as well, and I love that you actually tried out some of the recipes from it. Thanks so much for the wonderful reviews, Karen!

  3. Both books sound like fun! I'm always looking for books about Black Joy, so I will try to find a copy of Cookies and Milk. Have a great week!

  4. Cookies & Milk sounds great, I was thinking a shop only selling cookies is sure to be a disaster - I should have known better!! I've never heard of Famous Amos cookies, of course, but I love that the story is based on true life! My cooking skills (and taste buds!) sadly are far too lacking to ever invest in a cookbook, but it sounds a good one! Thanks for the review

  5. The cookie one sounds very interesting! Hold placed at the library!