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Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is the story of a young donkey who goes out and doesn’t return home. His parents believe he is lost forever. Surprisingly, everything turns out well in the end… thanks to a picnic. This is a simple story by William Steig, but it has all the elements of a masterpiece. It captures the internal experiences and emotions of all the characters in a way that few books for children do, and it teaches some important lessons, like how strong the bond between parents and children is, and how all the magic and treasure in the world can’t match the value of a beloved family member. Sometimes you need to go through trials to realize that.

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I returned to this book recently while looking for recipes for a Father’s Day picnic. I remembered that the picnic menu in the book was really well thought out, a nice composition of sandwiches, pickles, salads, and desserts that is well balanced in nutrition and taste. When I looked up the exact names, however, I laughed out loud when I realized the menu consists of made-up dishes for fictional farm animals: alfalfa sandwiches, pickled oats, sassafras salad, timothy compote. But I decided to stay as close to the core of the menu as possible for our outing.

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I made sandwiches of toasted homemade brioche layered with mayo, lettuce, tomatoes, and bacon.

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Sandwiches of brie, toasted walnuts, and lavender flowers that just bloomed in our garden last week. (This sandwich is perfect when you add fig jam and prosciutto).

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A fresh salad with shredded baby fennel pickled in lemon juice and olive oil. Some sweet and juicy baby tomatoes from our outdoor market.

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And finally, some baked donuts dipped in brown butter, sugar, and cinnamon that our neighbors shared with us for breakfast that morning.

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Our Father’s Day picnic reminded me so much of my childhood, when my parents took us to the nearby countryside. I remember my experience as a child, running around freely, oblivious to the world and its concerns. This isn’t my picnic experience anymore (don’t be fooled by the pictures). My husband and I were able to relax a bit, but we were constantly aware of our kids, especially after we saw a copperhead snake in the water.

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That’s one more reason why Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is a great book for children. It shows them that there is a reason why parents are constantly supervising them, that parents’ protection is essential to their freedom, that if something bad happens to them, a picnic meal will never be the same again.

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