Mr. Emerson's Cook

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Weaving together reality and fiction, author-illustrator Judith Schachner has created an extraordinary book that centers around American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson prefers the warm colors of a sunset to a warm bowl of soup and professes to live by imagination alone. In fact, he cares so little for what food is put before him that he has stopped eating. Enter Annie Burns, newly arrived from Ireland, who feels up to the challenge of cooking for the great man and his household. At first, Annie...
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Overview

Weaving together reality and fiction, author-illustrator Judith Schachner has created an extraordinary book that centers around American philosopher and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson prefers the warm colors of a sunset to a warm bowl of soup and professes to live by imagination alone. In fact, he cares so little for what food is put before him that he has stopped eating. Enter Annie Burns, newly arrived from Ireland, who feels up to the challenge of cooking for the great man and his household. At first, Annie fails at her job, but she solves her dilemma by taking inspiration from the great man himself. It is only when she lets loose her own poetic imagination that she achieves the success Mr. Emerson writes about so stirringly. With lyrical language that begs to be read aloud and illustrations full of whimsy and warmth, this book extols not only the brilliant Mr. Emerson but the transporting power of the imagination. The contrast between the dreamy philosopher and his frank, down-to-earth cook makes for a wonderful read and provides a unique view into one of America’s most original thinkers. In the tradition of Michael Bedard’s Emily, it opens the world of history and literature to young readers while involving them in a story rich in character and atmosphere. Meticulously researched and painted, laced with quotes, filled with priceless caricatures of Emerson, and told with charm and vigor, the book is as satisfying as the dishes Annie creates. Judith Byron Schachner is the great-granddaughter of Annie Burns Byron, Mr. Emerson’s cook. School Library Journal called her book Willy and May a marvelous intergenerational story for all seasons.

Annie Burns answers an ad requesting an extraordinary cook needed to get Mr. Emerson to eat real food to supplement the nourishment he derives from nature through his imagination.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Schachner (Willy and May) creates a vivid introduction to the venerable New England philosopher through the eyes of Annie Burns, the Irish immigrant girl who comes to cook for him and his family. Upon her arrival, Annie confesses, "I've led many a cow to the barn, but never a philosopher to the dinner table," but she has yet to discover just how daunting her task is. Try as she might, as Annie writes to her mother, "When offered a warm bowl of soup, he chooses the warm colors of the sunset every time." But when her mother replies with a cookbook Annie wrote as a child, filled with recipes for mud pies and moon cakes, the cook's imagination soars. The next morning, her Sunrise Pie, "filled with all the colors of the morning sky," wins Mr. Emerson over--he takes three helpings. Loose sketchbook-like drawings with watercolor wash capture the details of the early-19th-century setting, spiced with comic touches; in the Sunrise Pie scene, Emerson stands on a chair holding his slice, while his wife, children, Annie and a parrot perched on his arm look on with delight. An afterword providing additional background about Emerson, Thoreau and Annie Burns (Schachner's own great-grandmother) tops off this meaty course, one part humor and one part history. Ages 6-9. (Sept.)
Children's Literature - Mary Quattlebaum
For those cold days of winter, you might relish the tale of feast-maker as in Mr. Emerson's Cook. Schachner brings her great-grandmother to life as she recounts Annie Burns' life as an Irish emigrant cook in the household of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Alas, the esteemed poet and philosopher spends so much time communing with nature that he fails to heed Annie's wonderful dishes. But Annie manages to keep her job by whipping up a concoction that tantalizes both imagination and tummy. How can Emerson resist? The warm-toned watercolors suit the gently humorous tone of the text.
Children's Literature - Susan Hepler
The author, a great-great granddaughter of Ralph Waldo Emerson's cook, tells a fanciful tale of how her Irish immigrant ancestor Annie Burns came to help Mr. Emerson pay attention to eating again. After weeks of failure to attract his appetite, she receives a childhood book of writings from her own mother in which she had written a recipe for mud pies. Remembering, she includes imagination in a breakfast cake, thus inspiring Emerson to eat (and to give Annie two of his aphorisms). It is left to the reader to sift the story's fact from fiction with the help of a note which conveys some historical background about Emerson's two marriages, his philosophy and friendship with Henry David Thoreau, and the author's family. Delightful brown line drawing in sunny watercolors lend a warm and light touch to this book, an introduction to a famous American author, or another story about the values of imagination.
Kirkus Reviews
Schachner (Willy and May, 1995, etc.) presents Ralph Waldo Emerson and his world through the eyes of his Irish cook (and the author's ancestor), Annie Burns. Upon arriving in the US, Annie answers an advertisement for "an extraordinary cook" to feed an "acclaimed poet and philosopher who has stopped eating due to an overactive imagination." When she arrives at the farm, Annie is met by chickens wearing tiny boots (the work of Henry David Thoreau), and realizes she's in for an unusual experience. The differences between immigrant Annie's tough, sensible constitution and Emerson's dreamy, thoughtful disposition are made clear, but not recklessly so: "Once I had a dream. An angel offered me the world in the size and shape of an apple. `This thou must eat,' said the angel, and I ate the world," Emerson tells Annie, who responds, "The last time I ate an apple, sir, 'twas merely an apple." Living on the Emerson farm opens up her creative side, and little by little Annie's literal take on the world changes. A token from home, reminding her of the fanciful musings of childhood, inspires her to create a dish Emerson will eat. Annie's transformation is full of poetic imagery and whirling lines; readers will become swept up in this fascinating story of self-discovery that also perfectly captures the great poet's nature. An informative afterword gives Emerson's and Annie's backgrounds. (Picture book. 6-8)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781930654273
  • Publisher: Reading Matters, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 1/1/2002
  • Pages: 32

Meet the Author

Judy Schachner
Judy Schachner

Judith Byron Schachner lives in Swarthmore, Pennsylvania.

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