Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Maybe it’s that the current news cycle — stories of bigotry, continued chants to build walls, and children separated from families — informs everything I see. But I think Stephanie Parsley Ledyard’s Pie Is for Sharing is just what this country needs right about now.
On the first few pages, what readers see is a community of people gathering — they are black, brown and white neighbors — for a river-side picnic at a park. On the first page, we read: “Pie is for sharing.” Turn the page to read: “It starts out whole and round. Then . . . you can slice it into as many pieces as you wish.”
I love these words. Here, illustrator Jason Chin renders, via vivid, detailed watercolor and gouache paintings, children at a picnic table cutting into and sharing a pie, but it goes without saying that this can serve as a larger metaphor for good will, community, benevolence. If you’re broken-hearted for this country, this unassuming picture book is a sweet, 32-page balm for one’s soul. As the Kirkus review notes, it’s a book that “can be read as a gentle yet firm call for American readers to reflect on and embrace the ideal of pluralism.”
YES. I enthusiastically suggest you find a copy and share it with the children in your life.
This is Ledyard’s debut picture book, this tightly constructed text with not a word wasted. After those first few pages, she goes on to consider what else is for sharing — books, balls, trees, jump ropes, rhymes, hideouts and treasures. It all adds up to a love letter to community, as we see these families gather at the shore. If the red, white, and blue napkins don’t tip you off to what they’re celebrating, the final illustration will: Fireworks fill the air, as families sit back to watch (with more pie, of course). It’s clearly a celebration for July 4th, and they’re celebrating in a genuinely inclusive and loving way.
My favorite spread has merely the word “time,” as we see neighbor children and their parents relaxing at the water’s edge. They rest, play, talk, and enjoy the sun. Time spent and attention given: They are, indeed, the best things to share, intangible as they may be. No over-scheduled children are away at camp; no school-assigned summer reading is occurring; no parents are at work. They are all merely engaged in relaxation and the kind of unstructured, creative play that summer is made for, if you’re lucky enough to afford, in more ways than one, one moment for that kind of respite.
I can’t help but wonder to what extent Ledyard’s text included art notes, if any at all. Did she indicate this would be neighbors celebrating a riverfront picnic on a holiday? (A picnic and July 4th are not explicitly mentioned in the text, though things like blankets, the sky, streams, and towels are.) Perhaps Chin merely received Ledyard’s words, which leave abundant room for an illustrator to extend the text in concrete ways. Either way, the whole package — art and text playing together as they do here — is splendid. “Many can share one light,” Ledyard writes towards the book’s close; Chin, on the heels of his 2018 Caldecott Honor for Grand Canyon, paints children gathered around sparklers at night, their content, wonder-filled faces lit by the bright sparks and the full moon high above them.
Even the book’s title as it appears on the cover has the whiff of traditional Americana. Red words and two small red stars appear on what looks like a white scroll with blue borders. And the America in the book is the one that Ledyard and Chin envision, one that is in many ways threatened by the current administration and the division it wields. But the book, like so many sparklers on a hot July night, is itself a light — one to be shared as often as we can.
And the sharing of it? It’s as easy as pie.
Julie Danielson (Jules) conducts interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog primarily focused on illustration and picture books.
PIE IS FOR SHARING. Text copyright © 2018 Stephanie Parsley Ledyard. Illustrations © 2018 Jason Chin. Illustration reproduced by permission of the publisher, Neal Porter Books/Roaring Brook Press, New York.