Dumplings for Lili by Melissa Iwai

Dumplings for Lili by Melissa Iwai (9781324003427)

When Lili’s Nai Nai asks her to help make baos, Lili is thrilled. After all, baos are her favorite! She even knows all of the secrets of making the best baos from letting the ingredients make friends to shaking the wok just enough to coaxing the filling into the center of the dough and wrapping it snugly. The final secret is to line the basket with cabbage leaves before steaming them, but Nai Nai discovers that they are out of cabbage. She send Lili to the 6th floor to ask Babcia to lend them some. The elevator is broken, so she and Kiki, her dog, have to take the stairs up five flights. Once there, Babcia has cabbage but needs some potatoes. She asks Lili to see if Granma on 2nd floor has any. Soon Lili is running up and down the stairs to bring all of the grandmothers in the building the ingredients they need. She is finally able to head back to her Nai Nai with the cabbage leaves. The day ends with all of the grandmothers bringing their delicious food to the table. There are pierogi, beef patties, tamales, ravioli, fatayer and of course, baos! There is one last dumpling to come to the table too as a grand surprise.

Set in a 6-story apartment building, this picture book celebrates the shared joy of cooking and how food brings us together. The story includes details of Nai Nai’s secrets for the perfect baos and then quickly changes to become a dash from one grandmother to another to get them their ingredients. Each grandmother talks about what they are going to cook and then uses a native expression of exasperation that they are out of an ingredient. It’s a lovely and fast-paced look at a diverse community in a single building.

The illustrations are bright and warm. Each grandmother’s apartment has touches that show their culture, including masks on a wall, plates on a shelf, woven rugs, and tiles. While each grandmother has a unique apartment, the book works visually as a whole too.

Celebrate diversity and community in this picture book that is sure to make you hungry. Appropriate for ages 3-5.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Norton Young Readers.

Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland

Cover image for Ophie’s Ghosts.

Ophie’s Ghosts by Justina Ireland (9780062915894)

When Ophie’s father is killed in a racist attack on their home in Georgia, Ophie discovers that she can see and communicate with ghosts. Her father’s ghost encourages her to flee with her mother. They make their way to Pittsburgh to stay with relatives. Ophie’s mother finds them both jobs with a wealthy family in their old manor that happens to be filled with ghosts and secrets. In post World War I America, work is hard to find and they can’t afford for Ophie to continue to attend school. As Ophie learns the tasks to be a maid for the elderly woman who owns the house, she realizes how dull her future looks, caught in endless domestic work. Ophie must also learn the tricks of dealing with all of the ghosts who surround her both at work and outside. Some are far more demanding than others. One spirit in the house though is friendly to Ophie, teaching her the small elements of being a maid that will make Ophie’s life easier. But even that spirit has secrets, ones that may not stay hidden once she has a voice.

The author of Dread Nation has turned to middle-grade novels with historical fiction that wrestles with racism and prejudice while offering an enticing mystery to unravel. The fantasy elements of the ghosts around Ophie add to the mystery and effectively isolate Ophie from those around her as she figures out how to handle both ghosts and her wealthy employers. Ireland doesn’t shy away from the blatant racism of the time, but also effectively demonstrates how those same racist forces are in our modern world.

Ophie is such a great protagonist. She is dynamic and smart, hurting from the loss of her father and trying to help her mother find a way forward for them both. As she has to stop going to school, she finds ways to keep learning, including romance magazines that she finds around the big manor. Ireland cleverly ties all of the elements of the book together with her reveal at the end, keeping Ophie and her powers fully central.

A marvelous mystery full of fantasy elements and Black history. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from library copy.