Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business by Lyla Lee, illustrated by Dung Ho (9781534440098)
Second-grader Mindy Kim and her father moved from California to Florida where Mindy has to go to a mostly-Caucasian school. On her first day, Mindy opens her lunch of seaweed, kimchi, rolled eggs and rice. It catches the attention of the other kids at her table, who don’t recognize any of it. The second day of school, Mindy can’t ask for a different lunch because the toaster had caught fire and distracted her father. She plans though to not get laughed at again, make a new friend, and convince her father to get a puppy. When Sally asks to try some of Mindy’s seaweed at lunch, Mindy is very surprised. Soon everyone is trying them. So Mindy has a new idea and has her father buy lots more seaweed snacks. As she creates her own snack trading ring, Mindy and her friend decide to start charging money for snacks rather than trading them. She soon finds out that she’s broken a school rule!
Lee has written an early chapter book that is marvelously accessible for young readers and also grapples with being different from your classmates. Mindy is also dealing with the death of her mother, something that is poignantly shown in her time at home with her father and with her babysitter after school. The use of seaweed snacks as a gateway into an illicit snack ring is clever and delightful.
The illustrations inside the book offer breaks in the text for new readers. They are done with a wry sense of humor that is evident in the art and work well with the story that also has a lot of funny moments.
A diverse and delicious early chapter book. Appropriate for ages 5-7.
Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin Books.
Freedom Soup by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara (9780763689773)
Celebrate the New Year in Haitian style with this picture book. It shares the tradition of making New Year’s soup that honors freedom and the end of slavery in Haiti. The soup is made every year by Haitians around the world and this year, Ti Gran is teaching Belle to make it. They turn on Haitian kompa music that sets the beat for their cooking. Herbs are ground in a mortar and pestle with meat then added. A boiled pumpkin is skinned by Belle. More ingredients are added to the pot after being chopped up. Then Ti Gran shares the story of Freedom Soup with Belle and the story of Haitians fighting for their own freedom from slavery. Soon family members come to celebrate freedom and the new year together, feasting on the soup that celebrates their history and traditions.
Charles’ writing has so many wonderful moments inside it. From Ti Gran telling Belle that she has “a heart made for cooking” to her descriptions of Ti Gran’s “dark-sky eyes” and the “pumpkiny-garlic smell” of the soup cooking. She takes the rhythm of the music and reflects that in her words too, so that one can almost hear it playing. The warmth of the kitchen, the beauty of generations working together, and the spirit of freedom all play across these pages.
The illustrations pick up the rhythms of the text and the music with Belle’s braids flying to the beat and her feet moving across the floor. Her sharp edges next to the soft curves of her grandmother make a visual music of their own.
This is a delicious picture book worth celebrating. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from copy provided by Candlewick Press.
What’s Your Favorite Food? by Eric Carle and Friends (9781250295149)
I am a big fan of Eric Carle’s “What’s Your Favorite” series. In these picture books, a variety of illustrators explore the answer to the question posed by the title. So in this book, it’s all about favorite foods! Children will see their own favorites on the page, like Matthew Cordell’s love of pizza or Laurie Keller’s imaginative look at where french fries come from. There are also plenty of more diverse foods included like Dan Santat’s favorite ramen or Karen Katz’s lovely matzo balls.
Each turn of the page enters the reader into a new illustrator’s answer to the title question. The result is a beautiful whirlwind of a book where the reader moves quickly between answers and into new visual treats. This works particularly well with the subject of food and has the feeling of visiting that person’s house or table and then turning to the next delicious offering. The illustrations are varied and marvelous, each one a tribute to the illustrator who made it and done in their signature style.
A delicious treat of a book. Appropriate for ages 2-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Henry Holt & Company.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (9781626727465)
Told in a repeating format explaining all of the things that fry bread is, this picture book celebrates an iconic food in Native American families. Fry bread may be first and foremost a food, but it is also about family. In this picture book, a diverse Native family comes together to make fry bread together. Children of all ages participate in forming the bread and then listen together as it fries in the pan. Fry bread looks different depending on how long you fry it, tastes different depending on the recipe and the cook. It brings families together to celebrate their heritage, but also to realize where fry bread came from and how it relates to the massacres of Native peoples in the United States.
This picture book is about far more than a delicious family treat. Maillard looks at its connection to our nation’s history, the damage caused by the European invasion, and what fry bread means today. Much of the real detail of this is in the Author’s Note at the end of the book, but even the briefer read-aloud part of the book offers this connection to children. The nuance of a food being both celebratory and yet also indicative of what happened to an entire people, is an important one. This is a celebration that Native Americans have survived and live on, continuing to gather, eat and celebrate.
The illustrations of this book are so warm and merry. They show a diverse group of family members gathering to cook together. There are all sorts of skin tones, hair and ages represented here, the air tinged with love and connection around them.
A beautiful and inclusive picture book that takes a deep look at food, family and history. Appropriate for ages 3-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao by Kat Zhang, illustrated by Charlene Chua (9781534411333)
Amy can do a lot of things like brush her teeth and tie her shoes. But the one thing she can’t do is make the perfect bao, a steamed dumpling. So she sets out one day to make the perfect bao. It’s an all-day effort by her entire family. Her father makes the bao dough, and Amy helps him pound the dough and let it rise. Her mother makes the filling, and Amy helps her too. Then everyone sits down at the table to form the bao, including Amy’s grandmother. When things don’t go right for Amy, everyone offers her advice on how to do it. That’s when Amy realizes that the dough has been cut for adult hands. When her grandmother cuts the dough into smaller pieces for Amy, suddenly she too can make perfect bao! In the end though, all of the bao, perfect or not, taste delicious.
Zhang takes the universal story of a young person not being as good at something as they want to be and wraps it in a delicious bao package. Readers are invited into Amy’s Chinese-American home and she leads readers through the process of making bao. The frustrations of learning and perfecting a process are openly shared. The discovery that Amy makes that solves the problem is nicely portrayed as well and I appreciate that the child is the one who realizes her own solution.
The art by Chua is wonderfully bright and vivacious. Amy is shown as an optimist throughout, even as she is trying to brush her teeth and tie her shoes at the same time. The backgrounds in the illustrations suit the mood of the moment, moving from gold to orange to blue.
A tasty treat of a book that will leave readers hungry for more. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Aladdin.
Priya Dreams of Marigolds & Masala by Meenal Patel (9781643439556)
Priya lives with her family in the United States. Her’s is the only house in her neighborhood where an Indian family lives. Priya loves to help her grandmother make rotli for dinner when she gets home. As they make the flatbread, her Babi Ba tells her about India’s spice markets, the architecture, the noises of the traffic, and the monsoon rains. Their house has marigolds strung over the door just like those in India. Priya longs to see India for herself. When winter comes, Babi Ba doesn’t hang marigolds outside any more. Priya has an idea and soon her entire class is helping her make paper marigolds as she tells them about India.
Patel, who is Indian-American, tells a story that focuses on a family’s continued connection to their heritage while living in the United States. Priya is proud of her Indian heritage, loving to hear stories about India and its sounds and sights. Still, there is a sense of distance between her own heritage and the society around her, one that can be bridged by sharing stories. The art in the book is rich will the colors of spices. Deep greens and warm pinks add to the color palette too.
A celebration of Indian heritage and the strength of family. Appropriate for ages 4-6.
Reviewed from library copy.
Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks (9781250312853)
Deja and Josie are completing their last night working at the Pumpkin Patch before they leave for college. The two have worked at the Succotash Hut together, perfecting the stirring technique. Josie has won most valuable employee every year but one and is definitely in the running again. He’s also had a huge crush on a girl who works at the pie stand, so it’s Deja’s mission on their last night to get him to actually speak to her for the first time. So the two of them leave the Succotash Hut and head out to find his crush. But it won’t be easy to find her and their quest takes them on a full tour of the Pumpkin Patch complete with delicious snacks like Freeto Pie, S’mores and candy apples.
These two very talented teen book creators have designed an amazing graphic novel together. They take the Midwestern pumpkin patch experience of corn mazes, picking pumpkins, and treats and turn it into a quest for love that is charming and enticing. It’s very rare to find a teen book that is this seasonal. When you read this one though, you can almost smell the cinnamon autumnal scents on a breeze.
The two main characters are wonderful. They have a clear chemistry on the page. Deja is bisexual, having dated several of the other workers at the Patch over the years. Josie is marvelously shy except with Deja with whom he really shows his personality. The entire book is a delight of a read thanks to these two characters who are such a joy to spend time with.
A tremendous graphic novel that I dare you not to “fall” for. Appropriate for ages 14-18.
Reviewed from copy provided by First Second.
What Does an Anteater Eat? by Ross Collins (9781536205916)
Anteater wakes up hungry, but he can’t figure out what anteaters eat. He tries asking the other animals that he encounters. Sloth is too busy to answer his question. Snake offers advice on chewing food. Toucan is certain that anteaters eat watermelon, but the melon doesn’t fit in Anteater’s mouth. Other animals are too busy eating their own meals or considering Anteater for their next meal. So Anteater ends up asking the ants. Anteater has figured it out! Or has he?
This is one of those picture books that simply must be shared aloud to get its full impact. From the very clueless anteater to the unhelpful other animals to the twist at the end, the book is full of silliness and giggles. Young listeners will love being in on the entire joke from the beginning and watching the humor play out. The illustrations are large and bold, just right for sharing aloud with a group. Done in watercolor and charcoal, the images are full of deep colors and add to the humor of the text.
A great book for closing out a storytime with laughter. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from copy provided by Nosy Crow.
Snack Attack by Terry Border (9781524740115)
The creator of Peanut Butter and Cupcake returns with a new cast of characters in this look at snack food. One afternoon, a cheese doodle, a cookie, and a pretzel stick all escape from their packaging. They had been warned about the monsters who would gobble them up in two bites. But the kitchen seemed like a lot of fun, filled with games to play, bright sprinkles, and even a boat ride in the sudsy sink. But then they found the note on the counter from “Mom” who tells her kid to eat the snacks she left out. That’s them! The three come up with a cunning plan to trick the kid into not eating a snack at all. When the plan works, celebrations begin, but perhaps a bit too soon…
A strong story really makes this book shine along with its winning illustrations. The tale of humans as monsters will be a lot of fun for children. The various concepts of ways that the snacks could be consumed or protected from being eaten are very funny and clever. There is a merriment here that offsets the darkness of being devoured. The illustrations are done in photographs with the eyeglasses and limbs of each character done in wire. The result is entirely captivating, one wants to head home and put wire glasses on all sorts of things.
A delicious snack of a book. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Reviewed from e-galley provided by Philomel Books.