Amelia Thorne on writing a personalised cookbook for children
It’s Universal Children’s Day today (20 November) so it seems appropriate to include a guest contributor who has written a children’s recipe book…. and not just a traditional, run-of-the-mill recipe book. This book is personalised…. brilliant idea! Below Amelia Thorne, publisher and cook, explains how it all came about.
The idea for Mission Cookpossible sprang from an interactive story app that three friends and I created a couple of years ago. The creation of the Mr Glue Stories app was my introduction to the publishing world. It was a slight baptism of fire really! I’d been trying to find something that would encourage my daughter to read. At the time she had more important things to do (all the usual stuff – painting, climbing, being read to…). The message that was coming through was ‘this reading thing really doesn’t have anything to do with me.’ The idea of the app was to allow children to become the hero of a story, to add details as they read, to add their own drawings, to record with sound effects and music, to share their story by email with friends and family and to ultimately order their beautiful creation as an actual book. The aim was to make a child part of the creative process and thus encourage them to read.
We were chuffed to bits to find that the reviewers were all very positive and we even got a pat on the back from the National Literacy Trust who commented: “we are delighted to recommend Mr Glue Stories for its customisation and the wide range of vocabulary used, which are great for supporting early readers.”
The Mr Glue stories is an iPad app and just in case you wanted to have a look it’s here: – and free! Two points crop up – one is the word ‘ipad’ and the other is ‘free’. ‘Free’ is lovely but unfortunately doesn’t allow for much in the way of developing the concept further, and ‘iPad’ is also lovely – wonderful functionality and all that – but limits your audience to iPad owners.
So feeling the need to expand our horizons a bit, using similar technology, we created Mission Cookpossible, a personalised cookery adventure story that was available to buy on the website. (I’d started off my working life as a cook and have always had a bit of a secret yen to write a cookery book!) We used the same characters that appear in the app, José’s wonderful illustrations and the same philosophy as before: ‘make it mine’! Add a name, a friend, an enemy and choose recipes. Press a button and a week or two later, your very own beautiful cookery book pops through the door and lands on the mat.
I had chosen recipes that I had enjoyed making as a child and that I have enjoyed making with my own children. The emphasis was on making the instructions as straightforward and well laid out as we could, so that as far as possible, children can get stuck in with a minimum of adult supervision. It’s all about enabling them to build up confidence and pride in what they are doing.
Writing and testing the recipes was fantastic fun! We assembled a ‘Mr Glue kitchen crew’, who were aged between about 4 and 12. We tested each recipe mercilessly, turning my mother in law’s kitchen into a glorious floury mess, the sink piled high with washing up and chaos abounding. It was magnificent! If instructions or ingredients proved unpopular, we changed them. When in doubt we used the kitchen counter testing method: leave cooked item on kitchen counter, and if passing nibblers surreptitiously polish it off, then it is a success. If it is still hanging around at the end of the day – it’s clearly no good! Ditch recipe and start again.
Several people have asked me whether this book is aimed at boys or girls. I don’t really see it as either. All children seem to respond with delight when they see a printed book with their name in – and it’s even better when their best friend can also be included! I think all children like stories involving challenges and escapes. Most children that I have come across love cooking: the chemistry of it is exciting: put this with that and watch what happens… and let’s face it, one of the great pleasures in life is licking out a cake bowl! I cooked with one small boy who was delighted to find a method for separating eggs that he could do on his own and thus was able to make a chocolate mousse with pretty much no interference at all from me.
Because it is their book children really want to get stuck into the cooking, and because they are focussing on the cooking, they scarcely even notice that they are reading, measuring, learning methods… And of course, there is the excitement of bringing a dish to the table and being able to say: ‘I did that!’