‘Pancakes, An Interactive Recipe Book’

Illustrated by Lotta Nieminen

At our house, PaPa is pancake king. When our grandkids spend the night, you’ll find him fixing flapjacks. Now kids can get in the act even when the griddles not in use, thanks to “Pancakes, An Interactive Recipe Book,” a board book that would charm the apron off Aunt Jemima.

With a series of clear steps, written and illustrated by Lotta Nieminen, kids can mix, cook and prepare pancakes alongside their loved ones, or read the book solo and still feel engaged in the process, thanks to interactive features accessed by sturdy pull tabs.

The first allows children to add flour to a bowl; the turn of another tab whisks wet ingredients into the dry mixture. Our grandkids favorite page is toward the end: “Step 6: When both sides are browned.” With this step they’re invited to dislodge cardboard discs from the page and flip the pancakes over, but only after bubbles appear on the topside.

There won’t be any sticky hands with this creative read — just good, clean fun in a book that’s a family favorite around our house, just like pancakes and PaPa. Watch for the next book in the series, “Pizza!: An Interactive Recipe Book” due out May 29th.

‘The Hawk of the Castle’

By Danna Smith

Illustrated by one of my favorite artists, Bagram Ibatolulline, “The Hawk of the Castle” is dazzlingly beautiful, its rhyming narrative, by Danna Smith, both instructive and entertaining, combining the best of fiction and non-fiction. Here’s a book that’s sure to appeal to readers of all ages, children and adults.

The story begins by introducing a son and his father, inhabitants of an ages-old castle, and their hawk, “ . . . a sight to behold, a master of flight, graceful and bold.” We meet the magnificent, sharp-eyed bird, pictured against the backdrop of the castle.

As the boy and his father prepare their hawk for flight, they move about the castle and its grounds, and medieval scenes come to life, spreads offered in burnished shades, sepia tones that give the book its historical flavor.

The story line is complimented by text blocks on each page that define the role the hound plays in the hunt, and the terms of falconry — perch, gauntlet, a hawk’s hood, what it means to “throw the hawk off” and many more.

Some of the gorgeous spreads show lush pastoral fields, but there are action scenes too, as the hawk zeroes in on its prey: “These are his feet, a powerful pair, with talons that strike with force in midair.”

A glossary in the back of the book offers a helpful index of the terms and the pages on which they’re used. Information on further reading also is beneficial, as is the author’s note, in which Smith writes about her personal introduction to falconry, an “ancient sport” she learned about “firsthand” from her father. Readers will be glad she did — this book is a true gift.

‘Making Friends With Billy Wong’

By Augusta Scattergood

The thought of spending her summer with a grandmother she hardly knows —in a state far from her home — has 12-year-old Azalea in a panic. So begins an engaging historical fiction novel set in the 1950s by Augusta Scattergood.

“Making Friends With Billy Wong” is all about changing the world, one friendship at a time, and not passing judgment on others who are different than you.

Leaving Texas and summering in Arkansas is bad enough, but adding to Azalea’s dismay is adjusting to life with prickly Grandma Clark. Her grandmother needs Azalea’s help with her garden and chores because of an injury she’s recovering from; initially the two have a rough go of it.

Grandma Clark enlists the help of other young people too, including Billy Wong, a Chinese-America boy whose family runs Lucky Foods grocery in Paris Junction. Also offering a hand are two kids Azalea struggles to accept, a local bully, Willis DeLoach, and cantankerous Melinda Bowman, who thinks way too highly of herself.

When Azalea first arrives at her grandmother’s she can’t imagine having a friend from China. Heavens, do they even speak English, she asks Grandma Clark. As the summer unfolds, Willis, the bully who has family problems, takes his ire out on Billy. Then trouble breaks out at the Lucky Foods. Despite thinking her mind is made up, a bond develops between Azalea and Billy, as does another, one shared by Azalea and her grandmother.

“Making Friends With Billy Wong” is inspired by stories of Chinese immigrants who settled in the south prior to civil rights legislation. There they operated stores like Lucky Foods grocery, often falling victim to prejudice and hatred, as were their children, who were lumped into a “colored” category and segregated in schools. This is a marvelous historical fiction read for children ages 8-12.