This children’s book stuff is a blast.
It’s a welcome diversion. I have written 10 books over the past 12 years. Six of them were cookbooks and three were non-fiction. This newest book is a children’s book and I have been having the time of my life on the road touring schools, bookstores and libraries with my mother the illustrator.
The book is called “Fred the Red Frog” and was written for three to eight-year olds and based on stories I told my children when they were that age.
So my mom and I have been spending a lot of time with hundreds of kindergartners, first graders, and second graders in school gymnasiums, lunchrooms, classrooms and libraries. It’s an easy crowd. At that age it’s not that they’re grateful to be getting out of class for a few minutes, they’re just up for anything.
In the book, Fred, the main character (as you might have guessed, a red frog) is always in search of his favorite treat, chocolate covered flies. We have a mascot that travels with us— a giant six-foot tall red frog— he is the focus of today’s column.
Before I start reading the book I tell the kids that I have a very big surprise for them if they stay quiet and pay attention to the story. They always do. Once I have introduced my mother, and after I have read the story, I ask them if they would like to meet Fred the Red Frog. By that time they are usually worked up into a frenzy and I get them to start chanting, “We want Fred! We want Fred!” Then Fred the mascot comes walking in from the back of the gym or from a side door to the lunchroom. Whether it’s Mickey Mouse, a college student dressed in the school mascot costume, or my personal assistant and marketing director, Raven Brooks, dressed up in a huge red frog costume, kids love a mascot.
All of the kids want to high five Fred. He gets a lot of hugs, too. Usually teachers, or the librarian, help us pass out chocolate covered flies to the kids (which surprisingly taste a lot like Raisinets)
Last week Fred missed his cue. A gym full of 300 first and second graders were chanting, “We want Fred! We want Fred!” but Fred wasn’t walking through the door. Finally, after an awkward 45 seconds or so, Fred came stumbling into the gym like a drunken sailor. The giant red frog was weaving back and forth like someone had knocked him in the head. The kids, in their excitement, rushed to Fred to give him hugs and high fives. Fred didn’t stop. He kept weaving and stumbling his way towards the stage. First graders were bouncing of the giant crimson colored amphibian like pinballs off of a bumper.
Resilient, though, the kids were getting right back up and running over to hug Fred who was still weaving his way— undaunted— to the front of the gym. I wondered what had caused Fred to act this strangely. When I walked over and grabbed his giant, four-fingered webbed hand to guide him towards the stage (and to save a few first graders from getting mowed over) Fred, in an obvious breech of mascot-silence protocol, whispered “I can’t see! I can’t see where I’m going!”
Thanks for stating the obvious, I thought to myself. A large piece of black mesh had fallen in front of the eyeholes inside the giant head, and instead of stopping to fix it, and missing a cue, Fred just entered the room anyway.
I always ask the kids if they want to meet Fred. Since they had no clue that a six-foot tall frog was visiting their school that day, they always scream Yes!” Well, almost always.
One bookstore scheduled three schools in a three-hour period in and around Jackson, Mississippi. We saw over 600 kids in one morning. The schedule wasn’t the challenge, though. One of the schools they booked was a pre-school. It was only the third reading event we had hosted after the book’s launch and we were still figuring out how to work the crowd. When I got to the part to where I ask the kids, “Do you want to meet Fred?” Half of the room began shaking their heads back and forth in the universal manner of no-way-do-I-want-to-have-
It was at that moment that I understood why they set age limits on books. It was also at that moment that Fred, who didn’t miss his cue, came walking into the room. Half the kids ran over to hug the giant frog. The other ran like citizens of Tokyo running away from Godzilla. That was the last preschool we have visited.
Kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders have served to make this book tour a blast. I don’t know if I’ll ever write another children’s book, but I am certainly going to print a second edition of this book one day just so I can go to schools, read to kids, pass out chocolate-covered flies and have them meet a big red frog named Fred. What a blast
Dr. Pepper Glazed Ham
2 12-oz. bottles Dr. Pepper
1/4 cup Orange Juice, freshly squeezed
2 Tbl Mayhaw or Muscadine Jelly
2 Bay leaves
2 Tbl Pickapeppa Sauce
1 tsp Garlic, minced
2 Tbl Shallot, minced
1 Cinnamon stick
1 Tbl Orange Zest, freshly grated
2 tsp Lemon Zest, freshly grated
2 tsp Lime Zest, freshly grated
1 cured smoked ham, 10-12 lbs.
1 tsp dry mustard
1 cup light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Combine all ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepot.
Place over medium heat and simmer the ingredients for 30 minutes. Strain the liquid and discard the solids. Return the mixture to the stove and reduce until approximately 3/4 cup liquid remains.
Place ham on a v-shaped roasting rack in a disposable roasting pan (or a roasting pan lined with foil). Using a paring knife, cut shallot slits in a criss-cross pattern on the top of the ham. Spoon 2 tablespoons of the glaze over the top of the ham.
Combine dry mustard and brown sugar, and press it over the entire surface of the ham. Pour 1 cup of water into the bottom of the roasting pan, and place the ham on the v-shaped roasting rack, then into the oven.
Spoon 1-2 tablespoons of the glaze over the ham every 15-20 minutes until you have used the entire batch of glaze. Try to get the glaze on as much of the outer surface of the ham as possible.
Bake the ham to an internal temperature of 160 degrees. Remove from oven and allow to rest 30 minutes before carving.