“'There's cold chicken inside it,' replied the Rat briefly; 'coldtonguecoldhamcoldbeefpickledgherkinssaladfrench

'O stop, stop,' cried the Mole in ecstacies: 'This is too much!'”
-- from
The Wind in the Willows

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dessert First • Middle-grade fiction (illustrated)

Dessert First
by Hallie Durand • illustrated by Christine Davenier
May 19, 2009 • Atheneum Books for Young Readers • Middle-grade fiction (illustrated) • Ages 7 - 10
Life is sweet....Well, almost. Dessert Schneider has her very own personal style. For starters, she always signs her name with a drawing of a Maraschino cherry after the "t" at the end.
Story: Because all you really need in the world is a Maraschino cherry....Plus something to put it on top of, like a hot-fudge sundae or a corn-flake-cream-cheese cookie or a banana split. But sometimes walking to the beat of her own drum means walking right into a heap of mischief, especially when it comes to the legendary family recipe for Grandma Reine's Double-Decker Bars. As the oldest in a rambunctious, restaurant-owning family, with a four-year-old sister who is going through a "phase" and two little brothers called "the Beasties," Dessert seems to be better at getting into trouble than getting out of it. And that's because for this eight-year-old, saying sorry is definitely not a piece o'cake!
Story behind the story: Debut author Hallie Durand says "I guess it's fair to say that Dessert is a little bit like me (and I'm not always especially proud of that!). She's a little sneaky, she usually gets caught, and, she grows up a little more every time she has to say she's sorry. Dessert First sprang from delicious food and real friendship, two things that are very important to me." Librarians and teachers play an important part in Durand's life: "In large part, I owe my love of reading to Mrs. Carrier, my elementary school librarian. You see, in third grade, I was still carrying around Madeline. I had memorized Madeline. And one day I walked into the library and Mrs. Carrier said, 'I think I found a book you might like.' And she took my hand and led me over to Holly in the Snow, by Eleanor Francis Lattimore. And I took the book home, and I devoured it....Mrs. Carrier, with one small act of attention and kindness, changed my life.

Mrs. Howdy Doody, the teacher in Dessert First who walks around in slippers and who is someone who didn’t worry about what anybody else thought was inspired by a teacher I love, Mrs. Normana Schaaf. Mrs. Schaaf teaches the two year olds at a coop at which parents are helpers on a regular basis. I’m not somebody who fits into groups very well and I’m not an ideal “helping parent” either, but Mrs. Schaaf said to me when she met me, “You can do nothing wrong and your children can do nothing wrong.” Of course I liked this but more than that I love her passion and...that...she loves my children with such unbridled, unconditional passion. Mrs. Normana Schaaf marches to her own drummer, whether she is wearing her pajamas to school, or trying to teach two year olds how to make apple crisp."

Hallie Durand's favorite dessert is vanilla ice cream drowned in hot-fudge sauce. Illustrator Christine Davenier's favorite dessert is profiterole au chocolat. She is the illustrator of many books for children, including the Iris and Walter series by Elissa Haden Guest and The First Thing My Mama Told Me by Susan Marie Swanson, which received a New York Times Best Illustrated Book Award. She lives in Paris.
FYI: all the review copies for this title have been sent and reviews are in the works; please check back and click on the "comments" link below to read what your colleagues have to say.


Linda said...

Can I tell you that I was "in stitches" when I read this book. I couldn't wait to share it with my students. It has been making the "rounds" with the class. It is a delightful book about a girl, Dessert, who "marches to a different drummer". Any child (and adult) can identify with the mischief that she gets into (like shaving pieces off of the brownies and shaving too much--no more brownies)The book will have your students giggling at the double meanings and wanting to read more and more. I give it a five out of five!

Cori said...

I thought this book was interesting but more for the younger independent readers. It is listed as Middle Grade. I teach six, seventh, and eighth grade. While the six graders would enjoy the story, I'm not sure the seventh and eighth graders would.

The story is about a girl who follows her teacher's example of marching to her own drummer. Her first beat... dessert before dinner.

I'd give this story 3 out of 5 stars. It was entertaining but I'm not sure if it's being marketed to the right audience.

Sandra Stiles said...

Dessert First was a really great book. I loved the idea of eating your dessert first. The message of "marching to your own drum" was uplifting. As a teacher I don't want cookie cutter kids. I want to teach them to march to their own drum. This was a hilarious read and I give it a very solid 5.

Martine Battista said...

The publisher's website http://www.simonandschuster.net/ calls Dessert "Clementine and Judy Moody with whipped cream and a cherry on top!" With a description like that I was expecting a little more zing and humor. Although I wasn't swept away by it, I do think it is a sweet story that my second and third graders will enjoy. I give it a 3.5.
Denair Elementary School
Denair, CA

Carol said...

The first strong women role model, introduced in the lead sentence is 3rd grade teacher, Mrs. Howdy Doody. The rhythm of memorable characters continues with the getting to know both Dessert herself, and her patient and wise mother.

The relationships in the book are believable. The intertwining of the fondues and Grandma Reine's Double Decker Bars give just the right twists! Dessert is a rascal, but she is open to self reflecting and learning from her mishaps. She has a good heart, and you feel like her evolution is genuine. You see pieces of yourself, in her.

I love how author Hallie Durand organized the story. The sequencing really works and the changes of scenery between the family restaurant, school, and home are seamless. I love how the women in the book all seem to share their oral history with other women. You have the grandmother's story of obtaining the brownie recipe and Mrs. Doody explaining her own tale of cutting corners and facing the music later! Desert's mother also shares her wisdom from the past to guide Desert into her future. A lot of powerful thinkers.

I think this book offers something sweet and different!

I would give it a 4.5 out of 5.

Carol Null
Pemetic Elementary School
Southwest Harbor, ME

Julia Pitau said...

I was expecting Dessert First to be a laugh-out-loud story filled with the mishaps of a young girl. Instead, I found it to be a solid read with nothing spectacular. It would help if the illustrations were improved upon and the character names weren't so "far out there".

All-in-all a picnic 2.5

Denair Charter Academy
Denair, CA

Pat said...

What a great read for third graders! I can see my students craving “Dessert” and wanting more adventures. This would also be a great read aloud for character development – how to make amends for bad choices, how to deal with a not-so-nice classmate, etc. I especially loved the teacher, Mrs. Howdy Doody as she encouraged her class to march to their own drummers. For once, the teacher was portrayed as fun and someone that the kids enjoy to be around.

This book is definitely worth a 5/5. A fun read! I'm going to encourage my students to taste it at their first picnic of the summer!

Pat Kramer
Third grade teacher
Palm Harbor, FL

EShay said...

A cute book. Nice message about telling your parents before they find out and how marching to your own drummer is important, but can be dangerous. Cute names - nickname of Dessert and Grandma Reine. Owning a fondue restaurant was novel. I thought the pictures were cute - they were simple, but entertaining.

However, it seemed rather like many of the books already out there. I do wonder if focusing on food, especially desserts is such a good thing with the increase of childhood obesity.

I give it a 3.5

Aubrey Heusser said...

This is a cute story, but nothing special. The main character is mostly likeable, but very selfish and sometimes sneaky. There is no clear plot/conflct from the beginning, and the chapters do not end in a way that makes you want to find out what comes next, and the ending isn't really a solution to anything, though it is redeeming for the main character.

The chapter length and vocabulary are about right for the target ages (7-10), and I liked the use of different font sizes to show changes in mood or volume. The illustrations are cute, but don't add anything to the story.

The food theme is fun, and very descriptive, except when an entire chapter is focused on fondue but leaves out the main course.

I give this one a 2 - fun if you find it lying around, but nothing to go out of your way to get.

Michelle said...

I found Dessert First to be a quick read. I can relate to that feeling Dessert gets in her stomach when she knew she did something wrong. In the end she confessed and worked hard to make amends. Overall I found this title very appealing. 4.5 out of 5 stars

Stacy said...

This would be a great read aloud book to third graders, the same grade as the main character, Dessert. There are several spin-off activities you can do: have a slipper day, have a fondue party, make petit fours or other special cookies, have your own pledge week to benefit a local charity. Solid four!

Tara said...

Dessert First is a great read. I immediately fell in love with Dessert and her spunky personality. Many a young girl will also fall in love with her upon reading this book. . Dessert’s character is wholly believable- she is the perfect recipe for a third grade girl; part sweet, part spunky and a whole lot determined. I adore the way that Hallie Durand set up the book stylistically. The use of tiny print when Dessert is quietly mouthing off or feeling ashamed is fantastic. Not only will the font changes make a good tool for teaching different writing styles, but it will also provide great discussion about emotions and the way humans react to them. The mishaps in this story provide great examples of how to help right wrongs. I really appreciated that Dessert wasn’t immediately forgiven for eating all of the Double-Decker Chocolate Bars. Having her have to really problem solve her way through her mistakes will provide a good example for the readers.

At first, I was a little put off with the far out nature of the names of the characters in the book. Upon reflection however, I feel like Dessert First is a believable tale of childhood mishaps mixed in with what young readers might view as a relatively ideal existence: A teacher who encourages her students to march to beat of their own drum, a family that owns a fondue restaurant, and the ability to east dessert first. What a great way to hook readers.

Tara McKernan
Special Education Teacher
Pemetic Elementary School
Southwest Harbor , Maine

4 out of 5

Christy said...

I thought this was a cute book best targeted to 3rd, 4th and possibly struggling 5th grade readers. I enjoyed Mrs. Howdy Doody and am wondering if anyone who's reading it will get the name reference. Dessert is a typical child who reminds me a lot of my own daughter and what she would do if the dessert in the fridge started to disappear. Dessert is a funny character and is a great precursor for the Clarice Bean books for slightly older children. I thought the overall lesson of the book was a good one and will hopefully get some kids thinking about the choices they make and how to make amends for mistakes. Overall, I would give this a 4 out of 5 picnic baskets.

Natalie H. said...

Loved it!

Dessert, the main character is from a "Food Family". Her new teacher teaches her about "marching to her own drummer". Dessert takes this to heart and learns a few lessons along the way in this {sweet} story.

I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it to 7-10 year olds. Once I started, I couldn't put this book down. I give it a 5/5. Kids will devour this book and will be craving a {sweet} dessert by the end!

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this book. I loved the character Dessert. I could relate to the fact that the chocolate layer cookies were calling her name, and she couldn't resist. My students will love this book. They will be able to relate to the mischief that Dessert gets into and how she manipulates the people around her.
I really liked how the author did not follow what the reader thought would happen when the teacher asked them to give something up. She made sure that her characters stayed in character by having Dessert work through the loop holes.
I defenitaly give this book a 5+ out of 5 in my basket. It is a must have for the bookshelf as a choice for my students.

Carrie Blagg said...

I have to admit "Dessert First" is not what I expected; however, it turned out to be a delightful read. A young girl who likes to eat dessert first, "marches to her own drummer," and learns from her mistakes serves up a "delicious" story.

I don't believe this book will be of interest to the middle-school audience, but will be loved by younger students(grades 1-3).

I think this would be a wonderful story for a third grade teacher to read out loud to his/her students during the first week of school. Each student could create his/her own coat-of-arms as a way to get to know one another. A discussion of making the right choices could go along with explaining classroom rules and behavior.

I give this book 4 out of 5.

Carrie Blagg
Cherokee Elementary School
Paradise Valley, AZ

CPA Mom said...

A few years ago, I heard about a mom who always let her children eat dessert first, then the main dish, and vegetables last, only if they finished everything else. And her kids? Always ate every single thing - including the vegetables. Ingenious I thought. Of course, I've never done that with my own children - too chicken they will call my bluff I suppose. But the idea of it stayed with me. Just as this book did...

see the rest at http://cpamomva.blogspot.com/2009/06/have-dessert-first.html

Anja said...

Anyway, I really enjoyed this light read. Think many kids will also find it to be an intriguing, quick read.

4 out of 5 stars!

Anja Comerford
Magnolia Park Elementary
Ocean Springs, MS

Anja said...

One day I will get these posts to work for me....

I truly enjoyed reading this fun, entertaining book.

Dessert is a great character who I bet almost everyone can identify with. How many times have you done something you knew was wrong and then wante to cover it up?

I love Ms. Howdy-Doody. She is the kind of teacher every kid dreams of having - one who also marches to her own drummer, but one who cares deeply for her students.

I think 2nd, 3rd, and 4th graders will eat up this book. I think middle schoolers (unless remedial readers) will be turned off by it.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this light read. Think many kids will also find it to be an intriguing, quick read.

5 out of 5 stars!

Anja Comerford
Magnolia Park Elementary
Ocean Springs, MS

Mrs. Horne said...

Cute, cute, cute! This really is a delightful book, something light and fun to read.

From the beginning the characters really drew me to the book and the plotline definitely held an element of interest.

What I liked most about this book is the fact that the main character, Dessert, wasn't perfect and she certainly made 'being yourself' endearing and attractive.

Great book!

Picnic Basket Rating: 5/5

Lindsay Horne
New Kent Middle School
New Kent, VA

Anonymous said...

My son (10yrs) and I read this book together. He liked the idea of eating dessert first. This book was interesting and funny.

This book is suitable for students in grades 3-5.

Dessert First is being shared with all the students in my son's class. Overall, they seem to like the book.


Jennifer Garnier, Librarian
Eastern Passage Education Centre

Miss Laura said...

Dessert First was an okay read. I read it with my son (6) and he listened and enjoyed the illustrations, but he wasn’t asking for us to read it. A 2nd or 3rd grader could read it on their own – I don’t think higher grades would be interested at all.
It’s a cute story. 3.5/5

Mary said...

This book was a very quick read for me, and I have mixed feelings about it. The main character was very sneaky and selfish. I guess that this could lead to some discussion with the class. I would give this 3 stars.

Stacy B. said...

I enjoyed reading "Dessert First" and feel young readers will relate to the main character. When Dessert struggles after making a poor choice and then tries to make things right, I was cheering for her. I especially enjoyed how the teacher was portrayed in this book as she loves her students but is not the conventional teacher! This book would be a terrific addition to classroom libraries, second through fourth grade.

Lemon the Duck said...

I liked the humor and celebration of individuality in this story. The main character grew and changed for the better. The temptations she deals with are ones we can all relate to.
I think the parents leave a lot to be desired. Letting their family eat dessert before a meal is ok once in a while but not as an everyday habit. Also, allowing their child to binge eat at the end was a bit disturbing to me.
I think kids will like the humor and fun but some of the negetive messages outweigh the positives for me.
I rate this book a 2 out of 5.
Laura Backman
Reading Specialist
Author of "Lemon the Duck"

Tina's Blog said...

Dessert First by Hallie Durand and Christine Davenier is a great new chapter book targeting the Amber Brown/Judy Moody/Junie B. Jones crowd. Dessert is good at finding trouble, which makes for some good entertainment to read about. She is one of many children in a large, restaurant owning family, and there are plenty of things to laugh about throughout this book. One indication of its popularity may be that my seven year old took the book while I was reading it and added it to her own pile of things to read. I spent two days looking for this book in all the logical places before finally locating it. I love that there are illustrations included for readers who still need them and am hoping this is not our only glimpse at Dessert and her antics.
5 out of 5!

Anonymous said...

I opened "Dessert First" to scan through the first chapter quickly but found myself reading to the end. I do believe it would be a hit with my 2nd-4th graders (though definitely not higher than that). I myself am a dessert lover and I think the cover is very cleverly done. The idea of the family owning a fondue restaurant is very clever, and students who enjoy Clementine or Junie B will enjoy "Dessert."

I would rate this book a 3.5 out of 5.

Susan E.
Hillside School Librarian
Mt. Laurel, NJ

Susan Appleton said...

My 5th-graders loved this book! I read it to them at the end of the day the last week of school and they really enjoyed it (to the point where they didn't dare let me forget about reading it each day!) Dessert is such an appealing character and the theme of the book is great: being your own individual and not following the crowd! Just perfect for this age group who tends to put a lot of stock in what their peers think. It lead to some pretty interesting class discussions! I would definitely give it a 5/5! Great job!

Anonymous said...

Dessert First is a great book for young readers. It teaches kids to march to the beat of their own drummer. Even though Dessert is just like any other kid who at times may get into trouble, she makes things right with a lot of hard work.

Dessert First is a great book for young readers. I give it 4 out of 5.

David P.

angel believer said...

Dessert First is a delightful book. This book would be a great read-aloud in a first or second grade classroom. The chapters are only a few pages long. Third and fourth graders will be able to read it on their own. The main character, Dessert, is likable. She is a free spirit who indeed “walks to the beat of her own drum.” Dessert is a child that readers will enjoy getting to know. The story was believable. Some readers will be able to identify with her. Readers will like Dessert because she is just like them. A few readers may try to talk their parents into eating dessert first at dinner just like Dessert. The use of a smaller font size to show Dessert’s feelings was a nice touch. I give this book 4 out of 5.
Mary Lou D.
literacy facilitator
Bella Vista Elementary

Lisa Kennedy said...

I loved "Dessert First" and look forward to starting the school year off as the slipper wearing, marching teacher. I was hooked from the first page as I am sure
2nd - 4th graders would be. There are so many teaching moments without being "preachy". This is a sure bet, fun book. I look forward to starting the school year off with "happy learners" enjoying "Dessert First." A definite 5 out of 5!!