Bake Sale, written and illustrated by Sara Varon, 158 pp, Reading Level 3
I fell in love with the works of Sara Varon when I came across her first graphic novel Robot Dreams a couple of years ago. I was very new to graphic novels at the time and her wordless story of friendship was charming and just a little bit haunting as well, her illustrations simple, sometimes silly and always deeply descriptive. And I love robots. Now, with Bake Sale she covers another favorite of mine, food!
As with Robot Dreams, the copy on the jacket flap of the book captures the essence of the story better than I could. "Cupcake's life is pretty good: He's got his bakery, his band and his best friend. Things aren't always so easy, though. Sometimes Cupcake could use a little help. But is he looking for it in the wrong place?"
Over dinner at Eisenstein's Sandwich, Eggplant shares a new cookbook written by his Aunt Aubergine, who is Turkish. While flipping through the pages, Cupcake is astonished and thrilled to learn that Eggplant's aunt is good friends with food guru and celebrity, Turkish Delight, Master of Confections. Cupcake gushes and Eggplant suggests he join him when he travels to Turkey to visit family and help his aunt launch her book in the spring.
Cupcake decides to take a break from his beloved band so that he can devote more time to baking and making money to pay for his trip. Inspired by the thought of meeting turkish Delight, he whips up some amazing treats of his own. Cupcake makes sugared rose petals - the recipe is included in Chapter 3, complete with lovely illustrations - and uses them on top of a batch of cupcakes he sells in the park. The bake sale goes on with zucchini bread and pumpkin squares at the Farmer's Market, marzipan cats and dogs (also with illustrated recipe) to sell in front of St John the Divine on St Francis of Assisi Day when people bring their pets to be blessed, dog biscuits in front of the Westminster Kennel Club Annual Dog Show and heart cookies on Valentine's Day.
Chapter 2 shows Cupcake and Eggplant going to the Turkish Baths in preparation for their trip, leaving when Cupcake's wrapper embarrassingly begins to peel. While dreaming of sparking a fruitful friendship with Turkish Delight when he finally meets her, Cupcake finally earns enough money to buy a plane ticket and join Eggplant in Turkey. At the same time, Eggplant loses his job and can no longer afford to go. Cupcake makes a difficult decision and is despondent for a while. But, when Eggplant returns from his trip with a special surprise for him, inspiration is sparked and their friendship is renewed.
Besides the fact that the plot of Bake Sale is just plain fabulous, Varon's illustrations add an extra-special dimension to the story, like the cherry on the top of the (cup)cake! As the story unfolds you forget that you are reading about characters that are items of food because their interactions are so engrossing. However, from time to time Varon will slip in little touches that can be slightly jarring and thought provoking. Like a can of soda ordering baked goods (above) or two limes waiting in line with their pet hamster in a plastic ball or a box of raisins walking two dachshunds. Your brain may start to wander leaving you with questions like, "Is it ok for a carrot to eat carrot cake?"and "Do potatoes really lack rhythm?" But, the fate of Cupcake is ultimately so absorbing that those thoughts are quickly pushed aside in favor of finishing this delight of a book. Best of all, Bake Sale ends with MORE RECIPES!! "Cupcake's Repertoire" includes recipes for everything that he baked throughout the book - including the dog biscuits!
Cupcakes are pretty popular these days, from cookbooks and television shows to dedicated bakeries, clothes and stationary. Despite this, you know that Varon must have made Cupcake a cupcake for more important reasons than popularity alone. Whatever they are, they make for a perfect character and a delightful treat.