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Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan
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
Cinnamon Baby by Nicola Winstanley
This is the fairytale-like story of Miriam, the Baker and Sebastian, the Violinist falling in love, being idyllically happy and then being derailed by a baby that in true, melodramatic fable style, won’t stop crying. Illustrations by Janice Nadeau show the baby crying a river that covers half of the city, show her mother doing somersaults and juggling balls as well as all the normal things—rocking, singing, reading, walking the floor—to stop the baby from crying. Finally, Miriam and Sebastian take the “dusky” baby who Sebastian knew was the “most perfect ever” to the bakery. There, she bakes all the bread she normally bakes, as always saving the cinnamon bread for last and finally, when she makes the cinnamon bread, the baby stops crying, smiles, and falls asleep. This is a story that I think many parents of newborns or who remember the newborn years will enjoy. As you read the pages of Miriam and Sebastian’s experience you may remember the days when you tried to find that perfect solution to stop the “rhythmless crying” of the little one with whom you are reading the book. As an exaggeration of that crying, ‘Cinnamon Baby’ challenges the perception that babies are “just so cute” or “bundles of joy.” This book is a fun conversation starter on babies. My 3-year-old daughter who always thinks babies are cute said, “Oh, that baby crying is so annoying but she is sooooo cute.” That conflict mirrors the conflict felt by the Cinnamon Baby’s parents and probably most parents. This is a fun read for parents and children.
Recommendation: Recommended; Ages: New Parent and 4+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.
For My Family, Love Allie by Ellen B. Senisi
The author’s choice to illustrate the book with photographs instead of fine artwork adds a unique dimension to this book, which tells the story of Allie, a young, elementary school-aged girl who wants to make a gift for her family members that are visiting tomorrow. On the way to making something special, she helps her mother and grandmother cook dinner, tutors her siblings and makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for her brother. Her mom and grandma forget that Allie wants to contribute to the family gathering but when Allie has a dramatic response to her disappointment, she and her mother choose a gift for Allie to make. The reader gets to see Allie make her gift – peanut butter treats, and read of the sense of accomplishment Allie feels when finishing. As members of both sides of her family arrive, everyone bearing gifts, the story is filled with smiles, hugs, people cooking in the kitchen, barbecuing on the grill, and everybody playing children’s games. Right after people stop eating, worried that no one will taste the treats she made because they are full, but encouraged by her grandmother, Allie serves her treats to her family, all of whom, it turns out, actually did have just a little more room for a dessert made by young hands.
The dominant theme of personal accomplishment is accentuated by the author’s choice to use natural life (as opposed to staged) color photography. The reader feels like they are inside two days of Allie’s life which is very relatable. And to top off the “accomplish something yourself” theme, there is a recipe in the back of the book along with ideas for homemade gifts, easy for a child to create. Parents will enjoy reading this story with their children and making the treats and gifts listed at the end of the book.
Recommendation: Recommended; Ages 4+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda
Jalapeno Bagels by Natasha Wing
With beautiful illustrations from Robert Casilla, this story which reads like a training and orientation day in a bakery, comes to life. This is a first person narrative from Pablo, the son of a Mexican mother and Jewish father who own a bakery together. Pablo has to decide what to take to school for International Day and throughout the story as he helps his mother make Mexican pastries and his father make Jewish pastries, he questions if each pastry is the one he should take to his school. A story peppered with Pablo’s easy translations of his parents’ Spanish and Yiddish words of expression and names of food, makes one feel like they are in a regular day in the life of Pablo and his parents. On this day, Pablo decides to take Jalapeno Bagels to school because, like him, they represent the cultures of both of his parents. The back of the book contains two recipes and a glossary of the terms used throughout the book. While I think this is a valuable representation of a Mixed Heritage family of Mexican/Jewish ethnicities which gives some history of the two ethnicities, the most exciting aspect of the book is its title.
Recommendation: Unenthusiastically recommended for the sake of diversity representation; Ages 4+
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.
Sofie’s Role by Amy Heath
Sofie’s mom and dad own the Broadway Bakery, it is Christmas Eve, and Sofie is excited to be working in the front of her parents’ bakery for the first time. Usually she works in the back with dad but today she is going to work with mom and the college students in the front. The hustle and bustle of the bakery is punctuated by the author’s use of onomatopoeia. Children and the adults reading will enjoy making the sounds of adults gulping and sipping, machines whushing to make bread, the galumping of the mixer as they progress through the story. Each illustration is an action painting that brings to life the organized chaos of the work day on Christmas eve at the bakery. The reader will journey with Sofie from being overwhelmed by the rush of customers’ demands to finding the way that she can be helpful. We see that Papa is Caucasian and Mama is African American but Sofie and her families ethnicities are never mentioned.
Recommendation: Recommended; Age: 4-7
Book Review by Omilaju Miranda.