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This first person narrative peppered with words from four different languages and a prominent grandmother character who speaks Korean almost every time she talks, was the 1990 winner of the New Voices, New World contest. Marisol, the protagonist narrates with such open vulnerability that the reader becomes easily attached to the story of her Hawaiian family’s New Year’s eve and her first time making dumplings for the Dumpling Soup, which is the most important first meal of the New Year. I can not say any better than the publisher that “Dumpling Soup is a rich mix of food, language, and customs from many cultures—Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, and haole (Hawaiian for “white”) The distinct traditions and heritage of each culture are not forgotten but play a vital part in this close-knit family’s life.” As cousins, aunts and even the grandmother of various heritages bring their different, ethnically distinct foods, speak their different languages, and use their different recipes and techniques for making dumpling soup to the protagonist’s and then, the grandmother’s home, readers from around the world see the reality of recognizing and loving people with, and for their differences instead of for the ways they are the same.
One of the small details that parents can discuss with their kids is the character Maxie. This is a cousin who the protagonist describes as haole but whose phenotype is Asian. The illustration of this cousin presents a great opportunity to discuss how people think of race and ethnicity differently i.e. how for this Hawaiian family, “white” is Asian, also. Because Marisol tells this story with the joy of participating in a family celebration and the anxiety over participating on a big girl level in that celebration, even as she carries us through the different scenes of the family fun, we never forget that Marisol’s sense of accomplishment and feeling of being valuable within the family depends on the decision her grandmother will make about whether or not to serve the dumplings that Marisol made. Accompanied by emotionally transparent illustrations, this is a beautifully told story that you and your child will enjoy.
Recommendation: Highly Recommended; Ages 4-adult
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda
Every kid is self-absorbed, wants all their mother’s attention, sees the world through the lens of “mommies and daddies” and tolerates their siblings as much as they have to just to please their mother. So is the reality that many experience and that Russo writes in When Mama Gets Home. Three siblings begin dinner as they eagerly await their mother’s arrival from work, then each of them ambush her with their own agenda before she even has a chance to take off her coat. The mother is a diplomat, finding a way to give each child the attention s/he needs. Although the ten-year-old protagonist has a teenage brother and sister, the protagonist gets the most time with Mama as she needs her for the end of night and bedtime routine. As parents, we always love stories that include the bedtime routine and carry the reader to bed and this one delivers, ending with a “goodnight” tuck in. When Mama Gets Home demonstrates how a family led by a single mother must be a team on which the children are major players and the mother communicates with a strong level of patience in order to make sure each child feels loved and heard.
Recommendation: recommended; ages 3+
Reviewer: Omilaju Miranda