When we saw Perfectly Arugula, Sarah Dillard’s new picture book about a perfectionist hedgehog, we knew what we had to do: throw a tea party! In the story, Arugula the hedgehog is so concerned with everything being perfect that she rebuffs her friends’ offers of help and intentionally "forgets" to invite a loose-cannon squirrel friend, Fidget, to her party. Arugula is such an overanxious hostess that — though the house looks beautiful and the watercress sandwiches are just so — the event is a stiff, dull affair. That is, until Fidget shows up anyway.
Now, even though Sarah is not yet a well-known author/artist (emphasis on yet), we knew that getting people to the event would be a cinch. First of all, the book’s got an adorable cover: pink background, cute hedgehog standing on two legs holding a teacup; that’s little-girl gold right there. Then, planning an actual tea party immediately got customers excited. I’m afraid we dealt feminism an unintentional blow when three little girls defected from a frog-finding event at Shelburne Farms the minute they overheard their mother utter the term "tea party." (It can’t be helped; tiny sandwiches and an opportunity to wear your most bell-like twirly skirt are a mighty draw.)
We put three tables together in our author event space and decorated them with bright tablecloths, fresh flowers, fancily folded paper napkins, pretty paper plates, and several different tea sets. We set out miniature peanut-butter-and-jelly and cream-cheese-and-cucumber sandwiches, fresh fruit, mini chocolate chip muffins, button-sized cookies in lemon, vanilla, and ginger snap, and teapots with berry juice or lemonade. Sarah brought heavenly little cream puffs and strawberries — treats from the book — and revealed that they can be bought in the frozen section of most markets. Yum. We also set up two pretty quilts on the floor for parents and children to sit on during Sarah’s reading, with some spare chairs handy for the creaky of knee.
When the kids arrived on Saturday morning, we explained how the tea party would work: first, we’d hear Sarah read her story and show us how she draws her characters, then we would learn some tea party manners, and then we would have our party.
There was, as you might expect, a preponderance of pink — dresses and skirts and shirts, oh my — but we were also delighted to have three little boys show up for the event. One was a very young toddler and probably wasn’t consulted; another, four years old in Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, stayed through the story, which he thoroughly enjoyed, but then chickened out at being the only boy at the actual table. Too bad he didn’t stay long enough to meet the other five-year-old boy, who arrived late but was the last to leave.
The kids giggled through the story, LOVED Fidget the party-saving squirrel, and stayed rapt through every little detail. Sarah showed them some sketches and a dummy, drew Arugula on posterboard, and invited the children to draw (one of them was amazing; we’ll be seeing her illustrations in the years to come, I bet). They were cute and shy learning their bows and curtseys, and their table manners at the party would have impressed even Arugula herself.
All in all, it was a perfectly wonderful tea party, with spills and sweetness and companionable munching. For anyone who lives outside Sarah Dillard’s vicinity, we think this is a great candidate for an authorless event, too. You can, as we did, invite the children to bring stuffed animal and doll friends and tea sets for them. One little girl brought her plush marmalade cat; their dresses matched. Another brought her imaginary friend ("He’s my imaginary husband," she confided, beaming. She was all of three years old.) One mom brought three plush hedgehogs from her own vast collection; her son happily clutched his "goblin dragon." Really, all you need is this delightful story and some charmingly small treats. The rest will take care of itself.