A Piece of Cake

Book review by
Jan Carr, Common Sense Media
A Piece of Cake Book Poster Image
Clever friendship story models creative problem solving.

A lot or a little?

Parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational value

A Piece of Cake is a wonderful model for creative thinking. Kids can look at various objects and figure out the uses they might be put to. Or, conversely, they might have a task they need to accomplish and can think of unusual tools to help get it done. The story also is a great model of problem solving for conflicts with friends. How can you meet your own needs without ruffling feathers?

Positive messages

When friends ask for favors, it's often good to oblige them. And when we need to remedy a situation, there's no need to panic or get discouraged; there's often a creative solution to sticky interpersonal problems with friends. In fact, solutions can be "a piece of cake"! Tools can be used creatively -- you don't always need a tool made specifically for one problem; tools can serve different uses.

Positive role models & representations

Mouse is "very kind" and can't resist requests for pieces of the cake he baked especially for Little Bird. Little Bird is clever and comes up with a series of extremely creative ways to trade back all the seemingly useless items for fresh ingredients to make a replacement cake. And, in the end, everyone is included and invited to the party.

Violence & scariness

The one odd note in this book is that the animals use the cork to stop up the beehive so the bees won't sting the bear. But what about the bees? If we want to model respect for animals and the planet, this seems like an odd choice, especially since bees are increasingly endangered. This might be remedied with a discussion: How can we help keep bees safe? Parents might suggest that the hive in the story was uncorked quickly. And maybe readers can invite the bees to the party at the end.

Language

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that A Piece of Cake is a clever friendship story written and illustrated by veteran illustrator LeUyen Pham (Freckleface Strawberry). Mouse makes a cake for his friend's birthday, but, on the way to deliver it, various friends ask for a piece, trading him seemingly useless items for it. So by the time he reaches his friend Little Bird, the cake is all gone. Little Bird and Mouse retrace his steps and figure out a way to get the items they need to bake a new cake. The art has an old-fashioned storybook charm, and the animal friends have the rounded, friendly appeal of characters in classic cartoons. No surprise, since Pham has worked as an animator. 

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What's the story?

A PIECE OF CAKE is a clever take on a classic story structure in which a character sets out on a journey and meets various challenges along the way. Mouse bakes a cake for his friend's birthday, but, when he goes to deliver it, he gets waylaid by a string of friends asking for pieces. Because Mouse is "a very kind mouse," he trades pieces of the cake for a succession of very odd items offered him: a cork, a piece of wire. So when Mouse gets to his friend Little Bird's house, he has no cake and nothing of value to offer. But Little Bird has a clever and creative solution. The two retrace the route, trading the odd items back for ingredients to make another cake. As with the title of the story, the solution turns out to be "a piece of cake." And everyone's invited to the party!

Is it any good?

The art in A Piece of Cake is completely kid-friendly and charming, and the story's all the more fun because it upends expectation. As Mouse meets up with the various animals who ask for a piece of his cake, author-illustrator LeUyen Pham never takes the obvious route. Mouse doesn't ask Cow for milk or Bear for honey, though we see they have plenty in store. Instead, each of the animals along the way offers to trade something unusual and seemingly worthless. Their eventual suggestions for trades to get what's needed to make a cake illustrate their ingenuity: They suggest that the wire can be used to blow soap bubbles and the flyswatter to catapult nuts up into a tree.

There's welcome predictability in the structure of the story -- a journey past various challenges -- but sly, fun unpredictability in the solutions suggested by the protagonists. Which makes the story perfect for young readers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how it feels when friends ask for favors. Do you ever feel uncomfortable saying yes? What if you don’t want to? How can you say no gracefully?

  • Can you think of any other stories in which a character goes on a journey and has successive challenges along the way? Think of the fairy tales you know, or other classic stories, that have this structure. Why do you think kids like to read stories like this?

  • What unusual uses can you think of for a flyswatter, a cork, a piece of wire, or a net? Draw a picture of these items being used in a new way.

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For kids who love picture books and fairy tales

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