Lisa Graff’s new middle grade novel, A Tangle of Knots, is sweet, both literally and metaphorically. Interspersed throughout this delightful fantasy are cake recipes that just beg to be tried, even if you are as baking-challenged as I am! Miss Mallory’s Peach Cake is described by Graff as “a cake that’s sweet, simple, and hard to dislike,” and reading the recipe which includes peaches, walnuts, and ginger proves that. Miss Mallory, the cake’s namesake, is one of an ensemble cast of characters in A Tangle of Knots. Here’s the thing about A Tangle of Knots — it’s a bit confusing at first. Figuring out all of the characters (the ingredients?) and seeing how their lives intersect is like solving a puzzle, but like a good cake, it comes together and is well worth the process.
A Tangle of Knots takes place in a world where everyone has a Talent (not talent) – a skill that distinguishes them from others. The Talent may be to tie knots or to spit or, in Cady’s case to make the perfect cake, “the absolutely perfect cake for any person, anywhere. A pinch more salt, a touch less cream. It was one hundred percent certain that the person she was baking for would never have tasted anything so heavenly in all his life.” The narrative shifts between the characters, but in the end, A Tangle of Knots is a satisfying and good-hearted story about Cady – and a powder-blue suitcase.
Graff’s novel reminded me a little of Polly Horvath’s book, Everything on a Waffle. Both books are funny, feature quirky characters and include recipes. It would be fun to read them together and after discussing their similar charms, have a slice of cake served on a waffle!
While I was reading A Tangle of Knots, the May/June issue of The Horn Book Magazine arrived and among the articles is “Middle Grade Saved My Life,” by Jeanne Birdsall, the author of the Penderwicks series. Birdsall’s article is about the value of books written for middle grade readers and the risk of, as she views it, the growing popularity of young adult fiction “overshadowing the middle grade category and, in some case, threatening to subsume it.” Here’s Birdsall’s beautiful passage about the importance of books written for children between the ages of 9 and 12:
“….all children have to work out the role of creavity, fantasy, and learning in their lives…This is when children are moving toward an identity apart from their families but haven’t yet submerged themselves in peer groups. For those brief and wondrous years, they are individuals open to and ripe for the very best we can give them, including those books written just for them, book that invite them into the world outside their families, their school rooms, their own lives.”
Books like A Tangle of Knots and Everything on a Waffle are exactly the kinds of imaginative and memorable books Birdsall is referring to.