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Reviewed by Carmen Tenorio for Readers' Favorite
The First Jambalaya: A Fairytale Cookbook by Patricia Dewitt-Grush is about a community of animals in the Atchafalaya Basin Swamp in Louisiana. It was a Friday when Richeleaux the raccoon decided to make one of his dreams come true by organizing a party in the swamp so he could play his fiddle in a band before a real audience. His friend Antoine the alligator helped him by going around the swamp to invite all their animal friends while Richeleaux prepared the feast for the get-together. When Antoine was asked by Richeleaux to retrieve the food he had cooked from the hollow cypress tree, he found that the floods caused by the morning rains had swept away all but one grain of rice. To save the party from disaster, Antoine asked the guests to bring ingredients for a potluck so that he could cook while the band played. As everyone tasted what was simmering in Antoine's pot, they all agreed that it was the best dish that they had ever tasted. Antoine named his creation "Jambalaya" in honor of the festive jamboree of friends. Soon after, it became a tradition born in the swamps of Atchafalaya.
The First Jambalaya is a delightful story about friendship, sharing, hospitality, creativity, and cooperation. It also promotes diversity by including a variety of creatures who understand that they don't all need to be the same to work toward a common objective. Although the names of the animals and some terms may be unfamiliar, the language is uncomplicated and simple. Its pictures and double-page spreads are quite enjoyable as artists Patricia and Robin Dewitt-Grush charmingly illustrate the fascinating details of the swampy bayous of the deep south and adeptly portray the four-legged dwellers in a realistic, yet amusing and whimsical way. The book includes a pronunciation guide and some recipes of delicious dishes meant to be shared in a celebration of friendship similar to what Richeleaux and Antoine had with their bevy of swamp friends. Especially recommended for readers 6 to 12 years old who are fond of animals, exotic folktales, cooking, and amazing artwork.