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Nonfiction Picture Book Review for Women’s History Month – Chef Edna

 

 

CHEF EDNA:
Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis

Written by Melvina Noel

Illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera

(Cameron Kids; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Chef Edna cover queen of southern cooking edna lewis.

 

This mouthwatering, treat of a book introduces readers to Edna Regina Lewis, with illustrations that pair deliciously with the prose. I was ready to book a trip to the South to sample all the tasty cuisine mentioned in Chef Edna written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera. Just look at that inviting cover! It speaks to exactly what this picture book is all about.

 

Chef Edna int1 when Edna grew up on a farm.
Interior spread from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

Growing up on a farm in Freetown, Virginia, Edna was one of six children. She spent her childhood “cooking with her mother, Mama Daisy.” Life on a farm offered fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, and fish year-round as well as the opportunity for young Edna to learn every recipe. She made her mama’s biscuits “so many times she could make them by heart.” That and other tricks, such as listening to a cake to know whether it’s done (A bubbling sound meant it needed to cook more. No sound meant it was done.) became ingrained in Edna.

 

Chef Edna int2 making biscuits
Interior art from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

When Edna’s father passed away, she left home at age 15 to work to help support her mother and the family. She headed to New York and did a host of jobs. Her seamstress skills brought her to the attention of celebrities and soon she was “making clothes for movie stars.” One of my favorite illustrations not shown here is of Edna strolling down a Manhattan street wearing one of her own designs with African motifs and “bright, bold colors.” And, while this brought in much-needed money, Edna still yearned for the farm in Freetown, being with family, and enjoying all the delicious Southern food she was raised on.

Edna met many people through her seamstress work. She “catered events and threw dinner parties for her new friends.” Everyone appreciated her scrumptious cooking infused with a love of the South. Demand grew. It’s easy for us to forget that today, with such a variety of food available that, in late 1940s New York, a female chef, let alone a Black female chef, serving up flavors of her hometown down south, was not common on the Upper East Side where she opened a restaurant with a partner. Famous people including poets, playwrights, and even a First Lady flocked there to see for themselves what Southern cuisine was all about.

 

Chef Edna int3 simple pure ingredients.
Interior spread from Chef Edna: Queen of Southern Cooking, Edna Lewis written by Melvina Noel and illustrated by Cozbi A. Cabrera, Cameron Kids ©2023.

 

With New York now her home, Edna continued to seek out “fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and fish. Fresh seasonal farm-to-table ingredients for Southern cooking,” at Union Square Green Market. When I was growing up that market had long disappeared but it’s back again which I know would make Edna smile. Cabrera’s artwork in muted tones with brush strokes showing, conveys a thriving market of a bygone era.

In her lifetime, Edna the granddaughter of formerly enslaved people, worked at many different jobs where her creativity was put to good use whether as a window dresser, a seamstress, a cooking teacher, a cookbook author, or a chef. This “Grand Dame of Southern Cooking” worked in her later years to preserve Southern food, and was honored not only with numerous awards, but was featured on a U.S. Postal stamp in 2014! Since dates are not mentioned, readers may not always get a clear sense of the timespan in this biography but it’s clear from the art and backmatter that Edna never really slowed down noting that Edna worked “well into her early seventies.” The author has chosen an inspiring subject for this picture book that might even influence young readers to pursue a career as a chef.

After you finish the book, be sure to read Noel’s interesting Author’s Note and try your hand at Edna’s “Biscuits for Two or Three.” I know I will! Don’t forget to look under the book jacket for a sweet “undies” surprise from Cabrera.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Want to read more for Women’s History Month? Click here.

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An Interview with Nora Nickum, Author of This Book is Full of Holes

KATRINA TANGEN INTERVIEWS

NORA NICKUM,

AUTHOR OF

THIS BOOK IS FULL OF HOLES

Illustrated by Robert Meganck

(Peachtree; $18.99, Ages 6-9)

 

 
Starred Review – Kirkus Reviews

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

This book is chock full of holes—shallow and miles deep, microscopic and visible from space, human-caused and natural, mysterious and maddeningly familiar.

When you think of holes, what comes to mind? Maybe the irritating hole in your sock. Or the hole on the shelf where you plucked out this book. But did you know there are holes that suddenly devour entire gas stations? Big holes in the ocean that are visible from space? Small holes in balls that prevent a backyard home run?

A hole is a part of something where there’s nothing at all. Holes are investigated by scientists, used by artists, designed by engineers, and fixed by problem-solvers. They can be natural or human-made, big or small, plentiful or scarce, mysterious or painfully familiar. Many are important to our everyday lives, whether we give them credit or not.

 

INTERVIEW:

Katrina Tangen: THIS BOOK IS FULL OF HOLES is so fun and fascinating! You cover such a wide range of holes. How did you decide what to include and how to organize them?

Nora Nickum: Brainstorming all different kinds of holes was a fun part of the process. But the book did require a good structure so it wouldn’t be just a list. I was intrigued by the fact that a hole seems like empty nothingness, but in fact, it can be really useful, or annoying, or dangerous, or life-saving. And holes appear in all different STEAM disciplines, from engineering and ecology to music and art. I began writing about all the different qualities that holes could have, and eventually shaped it into a consistent opposite structure on every spread. Readers will find fascinating examples of how holes can be tiny or enormous, form slowly or quickly, be used to speed something up or slow something down, and so on.

 

KT: The idea of a hole is both really concrete and really abstract. For example, the idea that a hole can be closed on the bottom as well as open. I wouldn’t have said an indentation was a hole, even though there are other holes with bottoms that I do think of as holes, like golf holes. So it gets a little mind-bendy when you start thinking about what makes a hole a hole! Were there challenges in figuring out how to explain those concepts?

NN: That’s one of the things that made this topic so fun for me! I spent time researching definitions of holes, and felt like I got to a place where I had a solid one that wasn’t full of holes itself (haha). And I started the book with that definition: “A hollow place. An empty space. A part of something where there’s nothing at all.” 

 

KT: That’s such an intriguing definition! Which type of hole is your favorite? I was fascinated by blue holes and the holes in airplane windows—I hadn’t heard of either before!

NN: Those two kinds of holes were the genesis of the book! I used to travel a lot and often wondered why there was a tiny hole in the airplane window. And later, when I read about blue holes in the ocean and saw beautiful photos taken from the air, I was really intrigued and thought about doing a picture book focused on those, but it turned out there hadn’t been a lot of research about blue holes yet. Then a light bulb went off in my head and I combined them into a book about holes, which let me add lots of other fascinating examples. My favorite hole in the book is actually the seal’s breathing hole in the Arctic ice–I liked that I could make the same hole represent both of the opposing concepts, danger versus safety. And I love how Robert Meganck illustrated it with one scene carrying across both pages, with the seal and the polar bear.

 

ThisBookisFullofHoles int1 Seal and polar
Interior art from This Book is Full of Holes: Text © 2024 Nora Nickum. Illustrations © 2024 Robert Meganck. Used with permission from Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

 

KT: Wow, that’s such a fun origin story! I love it when things come together like that. Were there holes that didn’t make it into the final book?

NN: Yes, sadly. Buttonholes, groundhog burrows, swimming holes, and holes in pinhole cameras were on my list at one point or another, but ultimately cut. Some types of holes didn’t make it in because they didn’t fit the opposites structure as nicely as I wanted. Others were too straightforward to feel interesting or to merit any sidebar text. Fortunately, all of my favorites made it in! 

 

KT: I’m glad you didn’t have to cut any of your favorites! The illustrations are great and add so much humor. Did any of them surprise you?

NN: Robert Meganck’s illustrations are so creative and funny, while also being accurate in the ways that are important for a nonfiction book. The one showing a person threading a needle was his idea–I hadn’t been that specific in the manuscript, and I updated the sidebar text to reflect his art. And I love how Robert has hidden other kinds of holes in the background of several illustrations (see what you can find in the “speed something up…slow it down” spread). But the illustration that might surprise readers the most is the one they’ll find on the flip side of the book jacket–it’s a big hide-and-seek playground scene where kids can search for all different kinds of holes!

 

ThisBookisFullofHoles int2 car and wiffle ball.
Interior art from This Book is Full of Holes: Text © 2024 Nora Nickum. Illustrations © 2024 Robert Meganck. Used with permission from Peachtree Publishing Company Inc.

 

KT: Kids will love that! I think my favorite is how the front and back cover play off each other. So clever! I also love the backmatter—how did it develop? Including hole-related idioms was such a good idea!

NN: The idioms in the back matter–like “loophole” and “square peg in a round hole”–were originally in the main text, but as my editor and I worked more on the opposites structure, we decided they didn’t quite fit there. I also revised the back matter later to discuss the actual holes that those terms refer to, like loopholes in castle walls, before talking about their current usages in English. I was so eager to see how Robert would depict those idioms, and of course his fabulously quirky art there is delightful.

 

KT: Do you have any suggestions for other great picture books that could be paired with yours?

NN: Definitely! A bundle of books about holes would be a whole lot of fun. I’m excited about Skylaar Amann’s new picture book, Alone Sometimes: Everybody Needs a Hole in the Ground, which also releases in March 2024. And I love Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s funny book Sam and Dave Dig a Hole. Melissa Stewart and Amy Hevron also have a wonderful nonfiction book about animals called Tree Hole Homes: Daytime Dens and Nighttime Nooks.

 

KT: What do you hope young readers will take away from your book?

NN: Some giggles, for one thing. But I also hope it will make readers look at the world around them differently, seeing holes and patterns and making connections they hadn’t made before. It was really fun for me to brainstorm different kinds of holes with my family, looking at things in our kitchen, outside on walks, and other places, and I think kids will have fun doing the same! 

KT: I know I definitely will! Thanks for sharing with us—it’s been a “hole” lot of fun!

BUY THE BOOK:

Click here to purchase a copy and support independent bookstores via Bookshop.org. 

Visit the Publisher’s Page here for more info.

 

AUTHOR BIO:

Nora Nickum is the author of This Book is Full of Holes (Peachtree, 2024) as well as the middle-grade book Superpod: Saving the Endangered Orcas of the Pacific Northwest (Chicago Review Press, 2023). Both are Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selections. Her stories and articles have appeared in children’s magazines like CricketLadybug, and Muse. Nora also leads ocean conservation policy work for the Seattle Aquarium. She lives on an island in Washington state. Learn more about her at www.noranickum.com

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AUTHOR’S SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

IG: https://instagram.com/noranickumbooks

Author website: www.noranickum.com

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Katrina Tangen lives in Southern California between Disneyland and the beach. At Harvard, she studied Folklore & Mythology, History of Science, Psychology, and Religion, so she knows a little bit about a lot of things. This turned out to be excellent training for writing nonfiction for kids! Her debut Copy That, Copy Cat!: Inventions Inspired by Animals (Barefoot Books, 2023) was a Bookstagang Book of the Year and a Cybils Award Finalist. Find her at katrinatangen.com.

Katrina’s Social Media:

Website: https://katrinatangen.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/katrinatangenauthor

Instagram: @katrinatangen

Twitter (X): @katrinatangen 

Threads: @katrinatangen 

Bluesky: @katrinatangen.bsky.social 

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