Playing by the book

Reviews of kids' books and the crazy, fun stuff they inspire us to do

A scrumptious new picture book and my best cake ever

Posted on | February 16, 2012 | 21 Comments

Lulu may only be a little dog, but she has lots of BIG ideas. She also has enthusiasm and buckets of joie de vivre, and lives with a bunch of great friends in Wagtail Town. It’s the day of the school cake competition and Lulu enlists her best buddy, Alfie, to help make what Lulu is convinced will be the winning cake.

But Lulu has not made a cake before and things don’t go quite according to plan. How will Lulu deal with not coming first? What will Lulu learn about herself? Are there really things more important than winning? This doggy tale all about friendship, about not letting disappointment embitter you, and about how we’ve all got different strengths is delightful, witty, and delicious. Lulu and the Best Cake Ever by Emma Chichester Clark is a real joy to read, and read again.

Bubbly Lulu is a gorgeous character. Full of pep and good humour, her happy approach to life is infectious. Children are bound to also enjoy the supporting cast of doggy pals, from Otto (who collects beetles) to Bonnie (aka Miss Messy); there’s a character for everyone to adopt as their favourite.

Wagtail town looks like a cross between a 1950s dream resort and Babar’s Celesteville, a destination with a definite fairy-tale quality, where houses are brightly coloured and unusually shaped, where lawns are beautifully manicured, flower borders abound, and the central public park has gushing fountains, palm trees and a timeless elegance. Although bubblegum and candyfloss colours abound, the book never veers into sentimentality; joy and jokes keep this book on the delightful side of sweetness. Plenty of word play (eg a hairdresser’s called Shampoodles, a clothes’ shop called Peke-a-Boutique and the band, which gets everyone dancing at the end, called The Beagles) and fun details in the illustrations have made this a book I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading and reading again with my kids.

This is the first of a planned series about Wagtail town and I wouldn’t be surprised if an animated version of Wagtail Town is commissioned for TV – I think the cast of characters and fun setting would appeal to a wide audience.

What else could we do, after reading Lulu and the Best Cake Ever, other than attempt to bake our best cake ever? I’ve always been a baker more won over by taste than looks, but I extended myself and made a version of Sweetness and Bite, Wagtail Town’s cake supplies’ and sweetie shop.

Image © Emma Chichester Clark

I have to say, I’m rather proud of my efforts!

The girls insisted I use some of their plastic dogs for the Wagtail Town Crowd. Here are some of them delivering their cakes to the cake competition.


However nice a cake looks, the best bit always ought to be the eating of it….

… and fortunately it tasted as good as it looked :-)

Yes. Yum Yum.

Whilst baking and decorating and subsequently eating we listened to:

  • I like pie, I like cake by The Four Clefs (this was the first piece of music we played having been pronounced man and wife at our wedding almost 10 years ago). Here’s a toe-tapping video of Gordon Webster doing his version.

  • Lulu’s back in town, made popular by Mel Torme. Here’s Fats Waller’s version, here’s Thelonius Monk’s version, and a Sesame Street version! And here is Lulu herself singing Lulu’s back in town:
  • If I Knew You Were Comin’ I’d’ve Baked a Cake by Eileen Barton


  • Other than baking cakes, Lulu and the Best Cake Ever might inspire you and your kids to…

  • Make your own version of Wagtail town. For a German feel I can recommend these free downloads from a school in Germany – an incredible resource which makes me wish I had a colour printer. If you wanted your town to be made of cakes, I think these super styrofoam cakes from Ikatbag could easily be adapted, if you drew on doors and windows.
  • Creating these very cute and simple origami dog necklaces from fem manuals
  • Window shopping at the real Lulu’s Cake Boutique in Scarsdale, New York


  • Hopefully reading my post today has inspired you to get baking – on Monday I’ll be revealing a big and exciting project here on the blog that involves children’s literature and food and YOU! Probably the biggest, craziest project I’ve ever undertaken here on the blog…!

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    Comments

    21 Responses to “A scrumptious new picture book and my best cake ever”

    1. se7en
      February 16th, 2012 @ 1:41 am

      Just so love your cake!!! And your girls look like they are having the time of their lives!!! Wonderful fun!!!
      se7en recently posted..Se7en Needs Your Help to Build a Dream…International Book Giving Day…

    2. Julie Hedlund
      February 16th, 2012 @ 4:52 am

      Wow, I am so far beyond impressed with that cupcake! What fun!
      Julie Hedlund recently posted..The Artist’s Way: Week 11 Check-In

    3. Zoe
      February 16th, 2012 @ 7:15 am

      Thanks Julie. It definitely extended my cake decorating skills! I bake quite a lot, but not normally this sort of thing where looks matter quite as much. But it was great excuse to play with icing and sweets :-)

    4. Zoe
      February 16th, 2012 @ 7:25 am

      Thanks Se7en. My girls (and I) always look pretty happy when cake is on the table!

    5. Polly
      February 16th, 2012 @ 10:57 am

      Oh yum! That’s all there is to say really.
      Polly recently posted..More Roald Dahl recipe fun.

    6. choxbox
      February 16th, 2012 @ 2:47 pm

      Gasp. Amazing!

      It must be such fun to be your kids!

    7. Library Mice
      February 16th, 2012 @ 3:14 pm

      That is definitely one yummy looking cake!
      Library Mice recently posted..International Book Giving Day!

    8. Barbara
      February 16th, 2012 @ 3:45 pm

      I agree with Polly, Yum!
      Barbara recently posted..Book Tag!

    9. jama
      February 16th, 2012 @ 4:45 pm

      Yum yum yum! Love this post so much! Your cake is amazing!!
      jama recently posted..a little bouquet of color for the winter weary

    10. carly@learningparade
      February 16th, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

      Zoe, your cake looks fantastic! The little dogs are so cute with all that icing! Added the title to our library list :-)
      carly@learningparade recently posted..FREE GOLDILOCKS BINGO GAME

    11. Anne-Marie
      February 16th, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

      Oh, wow, yum! That cake looks delicious – I don’t suppose you want to make my eldest’s birthday cake next week?! ;-)
      Anne-Marie recently posted..Happy Birthday, Child-Led Chaos Blog

    12. Zoe
      February 16th, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

      I love baking Anne-Marie, its the decorating that’s never been my thing. Hence this one being quite an adventure for me!

    13. Zoe
      February 16th, 2012 @ 9:18 pm

      Thanks Carly. The dogs do bring it alive, don’t they!

    14. Zoe
      February 16th, 2012 @ 9:19 pm

      Thank you Jama, O queen of cakes and baking!

    15. Rasco From RIF » Mid-February Roundup of Children’s Literacy and Reading News is posted!
      February 17th, 2012 @ 10:33 am

      [...] this morning I read a Thursday post from Playing by the book that is so scrumptious I have to share it with you.  If this blog is not one you regularly visit, [...]

    16. sandhya
      February 17th, 2012 @ 12:27 pm

      Alright, Zoe! I’ve heard from Choxbox that you’ve agreed to adopt her:) – count A and me in too!
      sandhya recently posted..Of friends and books

    17. Zoe
      February 17th, 2012 @ 12:38 pm

      It’s a deal Sandhya! Welcome to my big family :-)

    18. Tasha
      February 17th, 2012 @ 1:48 pm

      This is AMAZING! I must get a copy of this book, Milo would love to bake a giant cupcake like this… not sure that it would turn out so well though – my decorating skills are really not that great! I bet your girls adored it! :)
      Tasha recently posted..One Kiss, One Hug!

    19. Zoe
      February 17th, 2012 @ 2:05 pm

      Thank you Tasha! I’ve never ever done any decorating like this before – it really isn’t my think normally. But I just gave it a go (I used butter icing rather than royal or fondant, simply because we all prefer the taste) and it turned out all right.

    20. Terry Doherty
      February 17th, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

      Yum, Zoe! What fun. and to have found music that goes with it all … dare I say its icing on the cake?!
      Terry Doherty recently posted..Reading News & Children’s Literacy Roundup – mid-February

    21. Zoe
      February 18th, 2012 @ 5:28 am

      Haha Terry! Yes indeed ;-)

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