Pie-of-the-month club – Toni Buzzeo

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!


Toni Buzzeo with the home-grown makings of her favorite pie

What have you been cooking up for readers, Toni?  Tell us a bit about your new book, and how it came about.

My brand new book is a candy-colored little gem entitled No T. Rex in the Library.  It’s illustrated by the brilliant Sachiko Yoshikowa in bright primary colors with wild forays into the imagination.

By the way, I’m launching this book with a story writing contest for kids in grades PreK to 6.  All submissions must be postmarked by March 13, 2010, and you can download the contest rules and submission forms from my website here.

As to how the story came about, I’m a school librarian by profession, and in October 2003, on my annual fall writing retreat with friends, I completed work on my work-in-progress earlier than expected and had time to dream a little about a new project when, from out of the blue, came this line: “No T. Rex in the library!” I was instantly intrigued.  A T. Rex in the library?!  How funny would that be?  Before dinner that evening, I had a silly romping rhyme that began:

No T. Rex in the library.

No T. Rex through the door.

No T. Rex in the lobby.

No T. Rex on the floor.

No T. Rex in the kids’ room.

No T. Rex through the gates.

No T. Rex at the checkout.

“T. Rex, no stamping dates.”

My editor at Dial took me through a couple of revisions but ultimately she passed on the manuscript.  It then landed on Emma Dryden’s desk at McElderry, which is where the text was divested of its rhyme and gained the character of Tess, a little girl whose rambunctious behavior causes her mom to put her in a time-out chair.

It’s Tuesday morning in the library.


Tess is out of control.

“TIME OUT!”  Mommy shouts.

“No beastie behavior in the library.”

Tess snarls.  She snorts.

“Just ten quiet minutes, Little Beastie,” says Mommy.

“And then I’ll be back for you.”

Now really, what’s a girl to do in a situation like that?  Tess kicks over a book cart, causing a dinosaur book to fall open on the floor—and as nearly always happens under these circumstances, a T. Rex claw rises from the page.  Does Tess pull that dino out of the book?  Do they rampage through the children’s room, encountering pirates, knights, cowboys and a stairway to the stars?  You betcha they do.

Sounds like dino-sized fun, Toni!   How about your favorite pie-in-the-sky moment as a writer?  Does anything pop into mind?

I was so excited to learn that both Dawdle Duckling and Little Loon and Papa were selected for the Dolly Parton Dollywood Imagination Library.  What an honor to think that thousands of copies of those titles would land in the hands of preschool children in participating communities across the country.  To date, Dollywood has distributed 391,000 copies of Little Loon and Papa alone!

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…)

Oy!  My most challenging moment came in November 2004, when I was slated to offer two workshops on the first day of the TASL (Tennessee Association of School Librarians) Conference in Chattanooga and the keynote the following day.  On the morning of that first day my computer was stolen, and I was left to fend for myself for the rest of the day without my PowerPoint!  The humble pie enters into it when I tell you that I had not backed up my keynote on a flash drive. (What can I say on my behalf?  I was still tweaking the presentation—and hadn’t thought to save successive drafts!  Of course, that discounts the fact that I had an unsaved novel revision on that computer, too…)

The following day, I managed to deliver that keynote by cobbling together images I had available on the flash drive for my school visit presentations.  I learned several lessons on that trip, which I ended up incorporating into my talk:


  1. Always do a complete backup before you leave home on a cross country trip—or perhaps before leaving your DESK!
  2. Sometimes your obsessively safety-concerned husband of 34 years, 11 months and 9 days is NOT crazy.
  3. No matter how far you think you are from the final draft on your revised manuscript, send it to your critique partners for safe-keeping.
  4. You CAN do a two-hour workshop without PowerPoint—WHO KNEW?
  5. TASL members are the most sympathetic people in the continental United States.  If you have to lose something, do it in Tennessee!

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?

Hands down, pumpkin pie is our family favorite.  That goes back to early days here in our colonial farmhouse (likely built during the pre-Revolutionary War period).

Toni Buzzeo's home in Maine

When we escaped suburban life in metropolitan Detroit and headed for Maine thirty-one years ago, my husband Ken and I knew we wanted a very different sort of life.  We bought this big old farmhouse on 25 acres of the original farm and began to cultivate a huge garden.

Over the years, we’ve had to streamline it a bit, but we do always plant pumpkins.  Some years the weather gods cooperate and we get lots and lots of orange beauties. One year we grew gorgeous “Cinderella pumpkins” shaped like Cinderella’s carriage [see photo above].

Other less weather-agreeable years, we head down the road a mile to buy our pumpkins at our beloved local CSA farm, Snell’s.  Either way, we carve jack-o-lanterns (my son Topher’s birthday is Halloween, so it’s a major holiday here at our house) and cook down the remaining pumpkins to freeze for pumpkin pie year round.

In fact, I so love pumpkins and pumpkin pie that I included them in my first picture book, The Sea Chest.  After Seaborne washes ashore at the lighthouse island in a sea chest, she is adopted by Maita and her parents.  One of the annual pleasures of the two sisters involves pumpkins:

When the pumpkins ripened on the vine

in sunburnt autumn,

we carried them across the island

and baked pumpkin pies with Mama.

We like to use the Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk brand recipe because it makes a wonderfully textured pie, especially when made with homegrown pumpkin.

Toni Buzzeo’s Favorite Pumpkin Pie

1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin (about 2 cups)

1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk

2 large eggs

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 (9-inch) unbaked pie crust

Heat oven to 425°F.  Whisk pumpkin, sweetened condensed milk, eggs, spices and salt in medium bowl until smooth. Pour into crust.

Bake 15 minutes.  Reduce oven temperature to 350°F; bake an additional 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted 1-inch from crust comes out clean. Cool.  Top with whipped cream if desired.

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