The pleasures of eating and how food brings people together. This is a concept that is very strong in countries with a strong food culture: the French, the Italians, and of course, pretty much all Asian countries!
The themes in all these picture books and chapter books ring true. Ethnic food that bonds a family into our culture can also isolate them. Our Asian ethnic food is “weird” or “stinky.” In rejecting our food, we feel rejected or at least, on the periphery, longing for “American” food to be like everyone else.
But then that miracle happens, when our food is accepted, enjoyed and even requested. Our complicated relationship food, it turns out, is not so different from any other nationality obsessed with food. And the result is similar — food as pleasure. Family bonded around the dining room table. And meal after delicious meal to build memories around.
Bee Bim Bop by Linda Sue Park
A wonderful paperback picture book about the joys of family and food, from Newbery Award winning author Linda Sue Park.
Bee-bim bop (“mix-mix rice”) is a traditional Korean dish. In bouncy rhyming text, a hungry child tells of helping her mother make bee-bim bop: shopping, preparing ingredients, setting the table, and sitting down to enjoy a favorite meal. The enthusiasm of the narrartor is conveyed in the whimsical illustrations, which bring details from the artist’s childhood in Korea to his depiction of a modern Korean-American family. The book includes Linda Sue’s own bee-bim bop recipe!
Henry’s First Moon Birthday by Lenore Look
Jenny’s baby brother Henry is having his one-month birthday — his first-moon, as it’s called in Chinese. And even though Jenny’s sure he doesn’t deserve it — all Henry does is sleep, eat, and cry — there’s a big celebration planned for him. Together, Jenny and her grandma get everything ready, from dyeing eggs a lucky red to preparing pigs’ feet and ginger soup. And someday, when Henry’s old enough to appreciate all her hard work, Jenny will tell him how lucky he was to have her in charge.
The childlike charm of Lenore Look’s story is perfectly captured in Yumi Heo’s naïve illustrations, which give readers the impression that Jenny drew them herself.
Jo Jo Eats Dim Sum by James Kye
Jojo Eats Dim Sum is the first in a new and exciting series of children’s books with the aim of introducing children to the joys of various Asian cuisines. The star of the book is Jojo, a young girl with a sense of adventure and a daring appetite. In stark contrast is her baby brother, Ollie, who prefers to eat pea soup at every meal. The story encourages children to be more open to foods that are unfamiliar, thereby opening doors to other cultures. In Jojo Eats Dim Sum, Jojo eats her way through some of the most popular dim sum dishes, culminating in chicken feet, which are unfamiliar to most Westerners or unappetizing to those who have encountered them. But Jojo loves chicken feet, as she loves most dim sum dishes. Each story in the Jojo Eats series leverages a fun narrative to carry the young reader through the culinary journey, which is interspersed with lessons on how to pronounce foods in the local language. Jojo Eats Dim Sum is an irresistible book that children will want to read over and over again. Each beautiful book is in the shape and size of a menu, adding to the charm of Jojo’s culinary adventures.
Apple Pie Fourth of July by Janet Wong
No one wants Chinese food on the Fourth of July, I say. We’re in apple-pie America, and my parents are cooking chow mein! . . . They just don’t get it. Americans do not eat Chinese food on the Fourth of July. Right?
Shocked that her parents are cooking Chinese food to sell in the family store on this all-American holiday, a feisty Chinese-American girl tries to tell her mother and father how things really are. But as the parade passes by and fireworks light the sky, she learns a lesson of her own.
This award-winning author-illustrator team returns with a lighthearted look at the very American experience of mixed cultures.
Yoko by Rosemary Wells
The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
It’s easy to appreciate a garden exploding with colorful flowers and fragrances, but what do you do with a patch of ugly vegetables? Author/illustrator Grace Lin recalls such a garden in this charming and eloquent story.
The neighbors’ gardens look so much prettier and so much more inviting to the young gardener than the garden of “black-purple-green vines, fuzzy wrinkled leaves, prickly stems, and a few little yellow flowers” that she and her mother grow. Nevertheless, mother assures her that “these are better than flowers.” Come harvest time, everyone agrees as those ugly Chinese vegetables become the tastiest, most aromatic soup they have ever known. As the neighborhood comes together to share flowers and ugly vegetable soup, the young gardener learns that regardless of appearances, everything has its own beauty and purpose.
The Ugly Vegetables springs forth with the bright and cheerful colors of blooming flowers and bumpy, ugly vegetables. Grace Lin’s colorful, playful illustrations pour forth with abundant treasures. Complete with a guide to the Chinese pronunciation of the vegetables and the recipe for ugly vegetable soup! Try it . . . you’ll love it, too!
Asian American Advanced Picture Book
Where Food Brings Everyone Together (after realizing that no one is going to freak out about the “weird” food.
Halmoni and the Picnic by Sook Nyul Choi
When Yunmi’s class plans a picnic in Central Park, her Korean grandmother, Halmoni, agrees to chaperone. But Yunmi worries that the other children will make fun of Halmoni’s traditional Korean dress and unfamiliar food.
Asian American Chapter Books with Food Themes
Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent
Kimchi and calamari. It sounds like a quirky food fusion of Korean and Italian cuisine, and it’s exactly how Joseph Calderaro feels about himself. Why wouldn’t an adopted Korean drummer—comic book junkie feel like a combo platter given:
(1) his face in the mirror
(2) his proud Italian family.
And now Joseph has to write an essay about his ancestors for social studies. All he knows is that his birth family shipped his diapered butt on a plane to the USA. End of story. But what he writes leads to a catastrophe messier than a table of shattered dishes—and self-discovery that Joseph never could have imagined.
Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai
No one would believe me but at times I would choose wartime in Saigon over peacetime in Alabama.
For all the ten years of her life, HÀ has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, the warmth of her friends close by . . . and the beauty of her very own papaya tree.
But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. HÀ and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, HÀ discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food, the strange shape of its landscape . . . and the strength of her very own family.
This is the moving story of one girl’s year of change, dreams, grief, and healing as she journeys from one country to another, one life to the next.
It’s the papaya tree and fruit that remind HÀ most of what she’s lost since it’s not available in ber new home in Alabama. Sometimes food memories are like that. They link us to our past and remind us of what we’ve lost.
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