"review" · Children's · Illustrator · Picture book · recommend

ruby’s wish & pecan pie baby

Does it feel like you have stumbled upon a Sophie Blackall fan site?!  It really is that I am just now getting her and Jacqueline Woodson’s Pecan Pie Baby from the Request/Hold at the Library. And so I picked up Ruby’s Wish while there. And what good timing as Pecan Pie Baby has recently received a 2011 Boston Globe–Horn Book honor for Picture Book. See Horn Book’s “5 Questions for Sophie Blackall” here, where they talk about her newly Illustrated and Written picture book Are You Awake? as well as the experience of illustrating Woodson’s book.


Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges, illustrated by Sophie Blackall

Chronicle Books, 2002; 36 pages. Hardcover children’s picture book. Ages 4-8.

Ruby is unlike most little girls in old China. Instead of aspiring to get married, Ruby is determined to attend university when she grows up, just like the boys in her family. Based upon the inspirational story of the author’s grandmother and accompanied by richly detailed illustrations, Ruby’s Wish is an engaging portrait of a young girl who strives for more and a family who rewards her hard work and courage. ~publisher’s comments.

Ruby is her nickname based on the fact that she loves the color red and insists on wearing red in some form, regardless of season or occasion. Her naming also tells us a good deal about how determined and focused a young lady the story’s protagonist is, and how accommodating (and unusual) a family she comes from—two necessary ingredients to Ruby’s success story. Ruby is gifted with opportunities, all she needs to do is to have the courage to pursue her desires—which is no small thing.

Ruby’s Wish is educational culturally, inspiring, and just so lovely to look upon.

I checked Ruby’s Wish from the Library based on fact that Sophie Blackall illustrated it. Her work is as pleasurable and highly accessible as ever, utilizing soft but bold colors and textures. Her compositions are a nice companion to the text, a series of portraits of Ruby as she learns and grows up to the final piece, a red folding picture frame with an illustrated young Ruby in sepia on the left and a true photograph of the author’s grandmother on the right.

“So that’s how Ruby got her wish. It’s a true story. And how do I know this? Well, Ruby is my grandmother, and every day she still wears a little red.”

The young reader/listener will be charmed to find that Ruby’s Wish is someone’s true story. Seems a brilliant opportunity to dust off the family stories; the sweet and serious and inspiring. If you’ve a mind, have some colored pencils on hand. We could do with more shared stories of Shirin Yim Bridge’s ilk, as well as illustrators of Sophie Blackall’s.


Pecan Pie Baby By Jacqueline Woodson, Illus. Sophie Blackall

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010; Hardcover, children’s picture book, 32 pages.

“Mama is pregnant with what soon-to-be sibling Gia refers to as ‘the ding-dang baby.’ Among the indignities she suffers: the in utero baby is already copying Gia’s love of pecan pie–a culinary obsession that Gia thought she could share with Mama alone. ‘So that baby’s just being a copycat!’ gripes Gia. Newbery Honor author Woodson (Show Way) doesn’t have new insights into displacement fears: the usual anxieties, oblivious relatives, and reassurances populate her story. But what she does have to say still resonates: ‘I know what I’m going to miss the most,’ Gia complains after an outburst at Thanksgiving dinner. ‘My whole, whole life.’

Blackall’s (Big Red Lollipop) stylized ink and watercolor images, with their muted colors and slightly flattened perspectives, have a strong sense of style and calming warmth, as in a scene where Gia sits on the stoop, special memories of her mother spooling outward in squiggly thought bubbles. Gia may have moments when she feels ‘real, real, real alone,’ but readers will sense that Mama’s love endures–and that Gia is going to be a very cool older sister. Ages 5 — 8. (Oct.)” Publishers Weekly

Looking for a picture book that will likely reflect your world? Jacqueline Woodson’s Pecan Pie Baby is diversely populated and holds all the angst of including yet another new life to an already settled and satisfying one. This also may be a good one for a family introducing a new baby and looking to reassure the already born.

The reasons for picture books like these are never subtle when sitting down with the soon-to-be older sibling. And Publisher’s Weekly is correct in observing that “Woodson (Show Way) doesn’t have new insights into displacement fears: the usual anxieties, oblivious relatives, and reassurances populate her story.” However, there is a level of genuine anxiety conveyed in Pecan Pie Baby, in the words and in the images, and in a protagonist Gia who isn’t portrayed as some bratty only child. She is a character with whom we can empathize (whether an elder sibling or no); which is important because the reassurance comes from the  bond between the mother and child, not because the child is being foolish or inappropriate; although when things get out of hand she is sent to her room–dejected, but not rejected as mom comes to have a chat. Gia’s feelings are validated, but not left there, gently persuaded into thinking that maybe this “ding dang baby” won’t be so bad an intrusion; and maybe she hasn’t been ignored or forgotten. Gia and her mother’s relationship is reaffirmed, and the communication of feelings turned the lock. Pecan Pie Baby is a lovely revelation of how one can have these feelings, and they may be understandable, but we need to talk about them, we need to reaffirm our relationships and be generous of spirit with one another. Snuggling together over a book is just one venue; sharing a pie is another.

I always appreciate the colors, patterns, and textures Blackall uses. I adore this room, though. It isn’t fussy or princessy. There is an octopus stuffy on the shelf next to an ant farm. The stuffy with a bow on the bed has fangs. The yo-yo on the bureau; and the book left mid-reading… Gia is my kind of girl.

What is notably absent is a father, designing a very snug focus, creating a greater reliance on the relationship between mother and daughter, disallowing a response of “Well, at least Daddy will still be all mine!” or further complicating an otherwise straightforward story. If the baby makes three, then the baby creates the triangle. Perhaps this allows for an opportunity to display a different family dynamic, more the urban tribe than the nuclear family working on their 2.5 kids, or their second marriage/second child. Uncles come over to put the crib together. The cousins aren’t replicas lined up along the dinner table at Thanksgiving. Gia is part of a family that makes room for one more, you have every confidence that Gia will come ’round once reassured of her own place.

I promise, the book has text. This two page illustration shows text in speech bubbles, each child shouting their line of a jump rope rhythm after it is suggested they play “Mama’s Having a Baby.” Gia’s rhyme to accompany the girl’s line before her (which is “Wrap it up in toilet paper.”) “Send it down the escalator.” Her peers are marvelously understanding of what Gia is going through.


note: many of Pecan Pie Baby‘s images were found via “7 Impossible Things before Breakfast” and here is their review/interview on said book. The blog’s reference to Ruby’s Wish amid an interview with Blackall, here.

Do enjoy Lisa Rojany Buccieri’s wonderfully written review of Pecan Pie Baby in New York Journal of Books (October 28, 2010): wherein she writes:

[Gia’s] sent to her room where the talented illustrator, Sophie Blackall offers up the best presentation depicting solitary suffering that I have ever seen. On one side of the spread is the text, spare and telling: “Upstairs, I got that teary, choky feeling. And even though there were a whole lot of people in my house, I felt real, real, real alone.”

On the other side of the spread is a bird’s eyeview of the little girl in her bedroom, on her bed, curled up, in the corner of the room, an edge of the baby’s assembled crib exposed—so that we know her space is being invaded as well—and a tree with leafless branches visible outside the window adding pathos to the solitary, cold feeling of her loneliness.

Don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of humor in the book, and it ends well. But here, in Pecan Pie Baby, the most important contribution Ms. Woodson has made to children’s literature is to depict a child’s emotion in all its true depth and realness.

4 thoughts on “ruby’s wish & pecan pie baby

  1. Both of these look like lots of fun. I’m gonna keep an eye out for them the next time we head to the library. Thanks for the reviews!

  2. Love your comment on Goodreads: “more an urban tribe.” A very succinct and generous description of the mishmash of birth and intentional families that rule today (and perhaps long-ago, before the term “nuclear” family was littered so liberally across the American landscape.)

    1. thank you. and I agree with you in thinking that “urban tribes'” description very likely did precede the “nuclear” family.

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