…”three black cats came knocking at the door./ I came downstairs to let them in,/ They knocked me down like a bowling pin.”
You can imagine how the little boy narrating this story (by Colin McNaughton, illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark) was a little surprised by these madcap cats as they rushed through his front door and into his house. Immediately it starts you wondering, what on earth is going on…
Suddenly the man in the moon is knocking at the door and he too rushes right in, leaving the puzzled little boy spinning on his feet. Alice in Wonderland’s words, “Curiouser and curiouser!” come to mind as next up the three little pigs knock at the boy’s door, hurtle through the house and up the stairs, knocking the boy down.
In swift succession a whole variety of well loved characters from nursery rhymes and fairy stories call at the boy’s house, all of them appearing in a flurry of activity, with some unnamed urgent business to attend to. A normal book review might not let the cat out of the bag, but you might be able to guess the reason for the hoards of guests descending on the boy, when I tell you that not last night but the night before it was my birthday and this book was therefore the perfect read with M and J.
The penultimate page in the story shows a wonderful party full of presents and dancing and a room beautifully decorated – just the sort of celebration you might dream of as a kid (or big kid) for your own birthday!
Colin McNaughton’s story in rhyme is fun as it keeps the reader guessing as to why all these familiar characters are turning up unannounced, and indeed, behaving a little bizarrely, but the story is really a vehicle for Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations to shine. Her style is colourful and folksy, and perhaps a particular delight for people who like fabric, as the clothes worn by her subjects are always intricately patterned and detailed in design.
M’s attention was certainly held by the apparently rude visitors, bursting upon the poor boy, and I enjoyed daydreaming about which fictional characters I would like to have celebrate my birthday with*, so it was all in all a lovely book to read amid the festivities this weekend.
*Which characters from the kids’ books you’ve enjoyed would you invite to your birthday celebrations? First on my list was Laura Ingalls, but for something quite different, I’d invite Owl from the Arnold Lobel books – I’m sure he would come up with some very funny and touching way to help celebrate turning even older
Our weekend festivities of course included the baking of a birthday cake. Every birthday sees the production of our Chocolate Birthday Cake – an easy (but outrageous) recipe with great results – and one which M can make pretty much all by herself now, with the exception of one stage – pouring the hot chocolate/butter mix in (stage 6 – see below). It’s a fun cake to make as plenty of chocolate can be eaten along the way, and really a wicked cake to eat, seeing as it is made with half a kilo of chocolate…
*300g dark chocolate
*225g butter (I use either salted or unsalted depending on what I’ve already got in the fridge)
*200g milk chocolate
*75g self raising flour
*225g sugar, preferably light muscovado, but again, I tend to use what I’ve got in the cupboard rather than making a special shopping trip
…plus a little extra chocolate…. (what more?!) – chocolate will inevitably get eaten during the making of this cake, so I tend to have extra, to make sure the quantities needed for the actual cake don’t get too depleted
1. Preheat your oven to 120 Celsius (250 Fahrenheit, 1/2 Gas Mark) and grease and line with baking paper a 18 cm cake tin with a removable bottom (like these ones).
2. Break dark chocolate up into an ovenproof bowl, add butter and then place bowl in oven for 15 minutes to melt the chocolate and butter. When the allotted 15 minutes are up stir your mixture to make sure chocolate and butter are well combined and there are virtually no lumps (it doesn’t matter if there are one or two).
3. Turn up oven temperature to 190 Celsius (375 Fahrenheit or Gas mark 5).
4. Whilst dark chocolate and butter are melting break up your milk chocolate into pieces no smaller than your thumbnail.
5. In a separate, large bowl, beat your eggs and add the sugar.
6. Pour the melted chocolate and butter into the egg mixture, stirring it till it is well mixed.
7. Add milk chocolate pieces and flour to your dark chocolate/ butter /egg mix.
8. Pour your cake mixture into your prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes. Be warned – your cake mixture will only just fit in the 18cm cake tin. You may wish to put a baking tray underneath your cake tin to catch any spillage! You can tell your cake is cooked when the surface is all cracked and looks like a brownie, and when an inserted skewer comes out virtually clean.
9. Remove cake from oven and leave to cool completely, before removing it from the cake tin and taking off any baking paper stuck to the cake.
10. Ideally serve with your favourite coffee, some cream (any which sort) and some raspberries if they’re in season.
Of course, when cooking cakes with kids, licking out the bowl is also an extremely important stage in any recipe:
Not last night but the night before:
Alongside reading this book and eating chocolate cake we’ve been listening to Michael Rosen read his wonderful poem “Chocolate Cake” – click here for the text, and here for the audio book which has him reading said poem, and we’ve been dancing off some of the zillions of calories to the silly-but-addictive Chocolate Cake by The Rampage Trio.
Inspired partly by this post from skip the chips, and this post by Maya Donenfeld of Maya*Made guestposting at Bloesom Kids, we also celebrated my birthday was some nasturtium crowns – but I’ll save them for our next post…