What could be sweeter than a story about a little girl’s pursuit of a runaway gingerbread man? Mix in vibrant illustrations and a tasty recipe and you have all the ingredients needed to make precious holiday memories.
Continuing in the vein of 2017’s “In Search of the Sandman,” local children’s book author and illustrator Timi Bliss once again delves into children’s folklore with her sophomore effort “In Search of the Gingerbread Man,” published earlier this year. Like her first book, the story follows the adventures and life lessons of a curious little girl named Charlie.
When we last spoke with Bliss, she had her sights on another mythical children’s figure, the boogeyman, for her second book. But a creative whim took her on a different path. “You know, after doing ‘In Search of the Sandman,’ recalled Bliss, “I started thinking about all these man types of series titles. The gingerbread man was one of them, the boogeyman was another.
“Literally, one morning I woke up and thought, Gingerbread man! My friend Michelle owned the Salty Tart bakery at the time and we could do this together. So, she provided a recipe for the book. You know, you take an idea and you run with it.”
Bliss’ friend is Michelle Gayer, a critically acclaimed pastry chef and a five-time nominee for the prestigious James Beard Award, the highest food industry honor. So not only do readers get to savor a children’s story but also a gingerbread cookie recipe from one of the nation’s top chefs that is featured on the last two pages of the book.
“It’s the story of Charlie visiting Chef Michelle at the Salty Tart bakery,” said Bliss. “I think the really cute thing about this story is, it starts at the beginning with Charlie getting excited about a day to bake a gingerbread man. And she has to get herself dressed.”
But Charlie’s plan is foiled when true to his famous taunt—“Run, run as fast as you can/You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”—the gingerbread man evades the oven’s sweltering grasp and hits the ground running. “He jumps out of the oven and Charlie takes the lead,” said Bliss. “But no matter how small she is, she’s a big girl. And she can take the lead to hunt him down.
“Throughout the story,” continued Bliss, “he’s running into all these stores and she follows the trail of his little cookie crumbs. He takes some icing, he takes some candy, takes a scarf and returns right back to the bakery. Icing, candy, and a scarf—he dressed himself. He’s a big kid just like her.
“So, it’s kind of an adventure story of you know, you’re a big kid, you can dress yourself. You’re also big enough to take the lead to solve this mystery.”
A lot has happened for Bliss between the release of her first and second books. “I’ve been taking quite a few workshops, learning, and growing and getting critique and feedback on my work,” she said. One person who provided valuable feedback was celebrated local author and illustrator Cori Doerrfeld who encouraged Bliss to apply for a Metropolitan Regional Arts Council grant.
Bliss, a grant writer by day, did just that, and in 2018 was awarded a $5,000 multidisciplinary grant to fund her attendance at national festivals and conferences with the goal of reaching new markets.
“What I learned in a lot of these workshops is to pay attention to the stories all around you,” she said.
Another highlight was the discovery that her first book “Sandman” is now available in the Hennepin County Library system. “Someone said to me, ‘Oh, this is your book?! My daughter is always checking this out of the library.’ And I said, ‘Impossible, impossible!’ It’s not in the library!’ I go home and I pull up the library and, oh my God! It’s in the library. How did that happen?”
She also recently learned that “In Search of the Gingerbread Man” is on order to be stocked in the Hennepin County Library system as well.
The creative wheels keep turning for Bliss, who, in addition to still working on the “boogeyman” story, has a few other ideas she’s fleshing out. She also often contributes voluntary book readings at public schools, much to the surprise of some of the more seasoned writers she spoke to who charge for such appearances.
Bliss wouldn’t have it any other way. “I think part of that is, I work in philanthropy [as a grant writer], so giving back stays top of mind. I want this book in kids’ hands more than I want to make money. This is never about money. I’m not going to get rich off this, but it’s nice to have something to offer to children,” she said.
Ultimately, helping to create parent-child bonding time and lasting memories is at the heart of what Bliss hopes readers gain from her books. “I want a child who read this book ‘Gingerbread Man’ to say when they’re 27 years old, ‘That was the first recipe I ever made with my mom.’”
Paige Elliott is the digital editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.