Q: How did your own childhood experiences factor into Blueberry Cake?
A: My mother grew up in Maine and her family was in the blueberry business. When I was young, we spent summers visiting my grandmother there.
Maine always had a special magic for me, largely fueled by
Robert McCloskey books: A Time of Wonder, One Morning in Maine, and of course,
Blueberries for Sal. I was called Sally, and I was convinced that the book was
Q: You said in our previous interview that you proceed differently with each book, so with this book, did you focus more on the illustrations first or the text first, or both simultaneously?
A: This book really started with the cake itself. A few years ago, when my mother was very sick and we were taking care of her at her home, she would often ask us to make her favorite foods. We slaved over butterscotch pie and strawberry sodas, never getting anything quite to her liking.
One day she asked me to make her a blueberry cake. It is a simple, old fashioned cake with a few quirks. For instance, it calls for “butter the size of an egg” and “soured” cream, meaning not sour cream, but cream that has gone sour.
I’ve made it more times than I can count, but I don't quite know it by heart. I looked everywhere in my mom’s kitchen for her recipe but I couldn't find it. So I emailed my two sisters and brother for the recipe. Each came back with a slightly different version and their responses summed up their personalities perfectly.
I went to work making the cake and before long the kitchen smelled of butter, warm blueberries and nutmeg. I felt like I was 8 years old - warm, sleepy and comforted after a long day by the ocean.
I took the cake out of the oven, cut a piece and put a pat of butter on it and brought it to my mother. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and smiled. Then she took a bite, and said “This tastes like Maine.”
I wanted to somehow capture all of this and put it in a picture book but of course that was impossible to do in any literal way.
Most importantly I wanted to capture the feeling of my childhood memories of Maine. I spent a few weeks in Maine, drawing and eating a lot of blueberries. Eventually the little bear showed up and the story began to take shape.
Q: The Kirkus Review of the book calls it “A thoroughly delicious (and practically wordless) charmer.” What do you think of that description?
A: I love that description! But the first line of the review “Step aside Sal. there’s a new blueberry lover in town” - is what really got to me. Seeing that, I feel like I succeeded in what I set out to do. Although I would never, ever ask Sal to step aside!
Q: What do you hope kids take away from the story?
A: I really hope that children will read this book and feel
that magic I felt reading those Robert McCloskey books - of course, they should
read those too! And I also want to show that taking part in something as simple
as making a cake with a parent can create a memory that will stay with you for
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am working on a graphic novel type book, similar to my
book Extraordinary Warren but completely different. I am also planning a trip
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: So far no one seems to have noticed this, but if you look closely, at one point in the book, you will see a tiny picture of Sal and her mother - which also happens to look a lot like me and my mother.
Thanks so much, Deborah! I am really excited about this book, and it has been nice to try to sum up some of my thoughts and feelings about it!
--Interview with Deborah Kalb. Here's a previous Q&A with Sarah Dillard.