Pie-of-the-month club – Jane Kurtz

In celebration of a pair of pie-related books I have coming out later this year (Babyberry Pie and Pies & Prejudice see related post), I’m hosting a “pie-of-the-month-club” here on my blog.  Throughout 2010 I’ll be serving up a stellar selection of new books by some of my favorite authors and illustrators .  Oh, and pie is on the menu, too, of course.   Enjoy!


Jane Kurtz, signing books -- and other things -- in Chicagao

Here to kick off pie-of-the-month-club is Jane Kurtz. What delicious new treat have you been cooking up for readers, Jane?  I’d love to hear about your new book, and how it came about.

Lanie is the new character I invented for American Girl, and she has two books: Lanie and Lanie’s Real Adventures.  Okay…she’s also the doll of the year and she also has ACCESSORIES.  Pretty fun.  I never expect to walk down Michigan Avenue in Chicago, again, and see a huge window display of a character that popped out of my imagination.  I’d written for American Girl once before when they tried a line called “Girls of Many Lands” and contacted me to write a historical novel about a girl in Ethiopia, where I spent most of my childhood (and where many of my books are set).  I was doing an author visit in Indonesia in spring 2008 when the editor got back in touch and asked if I’d consider writing the books for the doll of the year.  Would I!  They wanted some kind of theme related to ecology.  I proposed a girl with outside genes, born into a family with inside genes, jealous of her best friend who is off in Indonesia helping save orangutans, who ultimately discovers the wide wonderful world in her own backyard.  Along the way, I learned all kinds of things about milkweed, monarchs, and Boston birds.

Do you have a favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer?  One of those “I never dreamed it would happen to me” experiences?

I helped start a nonprofit, Ethiopia Reads, that has planted 43 libraries for children in Ethiopia.  In 2008, the founder, Yohannes Gebregeorgis, was named one of the Top Ten CNN Heroes, and I got to go to Hollywood and sit in the Kodak Theater while he was honored.  Afterwards, I said to Vanessa Redgrave, “Thank you for coming.”  She gave me a deep, earnest look and said, “No, thank YOU.  Thank you very much.”

Almost as sweet was when I was signing the new Lanie books in a bookstore in Boston.  A girl came in who only had money for two books.  She asked if she could read some of mine to decide.  (A tense audition if there ever was one.)  She came up to me a while later and said, “This is the best American Girl book EVER,” and bought it.

Has there ever been a moment in your career when you had to eat humble pie?  (I did, big-time, when as a fledgling, clueless author I showed up at a major chain bookstore for what I thought was just a signing and found to my chagrin was educator night – dozens of teachers waiting for me expectantly, and I hadn’t prepared any remarks…)

I used to say I knew how many people rejected me when I was trying to get my books published.  I just didn’t know how many were waiting to reject me after my books started to get published.  Probably the worst was when my first book, Fire on the Mountain, won an award and I went to New York City, all shiny faced, and hardly anyone showed up for the ceremony.

Now let’s REALLY talk pie.  What’s your favorite kind?  Do you have a favorite pie memory?  How about the recipe you’re sharing – can you give us a little background on it?

My dad was quite an outside guy.  He had a huge garden in Ethiopia and, once he moved back to Portland, Oregon, grew all kinds of berries in his back yard.  When he died just before Christmas, we opted not to serve the usual foods at the memorial and had pie instead.  Oh my… did my dad love pie!

The recipe I’m sharing is related to Lanie’s story.  Her little sister Emily will only eat things that can be cast as pizza.  (This was a set-up so the girls could plant a pizza garden later.)  So I’m sharing my favorite recipe for pizza pie!

Jane Kurtz’s Pizza Pie

1 package of yeast

1 cup of lukewarm water

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. sugar

1/4 tsp. basil

1/4 tsp. oregano

2 T. oil

1 egg yolk (optional)

2-1/2 cups flour

Put the package of yeast into a bowl with the cup of water, salt, and sugar.  Stir until the yeast dissolves.  Let the mixture rest five minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients, slowly stirring in enough flour until the dough isn’t sticky.  Let it rest another five minutes.  Knead about fifty strokes.  Spread pizza sauce on top.  Cover with mozzarella cheese.  Add whatever pizza ingredients you like.  Bake at 425 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Jane’s grandchildren love to help make pizza pie!