Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin

Saturday, December 28, 2019

A Recipe for Perfection

Food, like stories, connects us.  We need it to physically survive but it represents more.  Food preparation and delivery is an art form.  Culinary schools train the best chefs who work in a vast array of restaurants and private homes.  Numerous cookbooks published each year become bestsellers; some, decades old, are classic staples in any collection, public or private.  Food videos, shows and networks are highly popular.

For every professional chef, there are thousands more cooks who assemble ingredients and supply meals for their families, friends or community members every day.  Of these meals some are traditional, cultural or commemorative.  They evoke sensory memories and, yes, for some of these foods there are stories told about them year after year, generation after generation.  In Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao (Aladdin, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing Division, October 1, 2019) written by Kat Zhang with illustrations by Charlene Chua a little girl loves the taste of the bao made by her parents and grandmother. Her one wish is to make this savory delight as delectable as theirs is.

Amy can do a lot of things.

She brushes her teeth.  She ties her shoes.  She really wants to make the perfect bao, but she can't.  Every time her bao are flawed.  Their size is wrong.  The filling is the incorrect amount.  Unfortunately, her bao tend to fall apart, not always, but sometimes.

Today, Amy decides is the day her bao will be perfect.  Her father mixes the dough.  Together they knead it, punch it and leave it to rise.  Then her father punches it again, rolls it and cuts it into slices.

Amy's mother is in charge of combining delicious elements with the meat.  When Amy, her grandmother, mother and father sit around a table to make the bao, she is hopeful.  Her grandmother's bao is perfect.  Her mother's bao is perfect.  Her father's bao is perfect.  Amy's bao is not.  She is crestfallen.

Suddenly Amy looks at the dough and draws a wonderful conclusion.  She shares an idea with her grandmother.  Her grandmother's actions help to fulfill a heart's desire.  And Amy . . . discovers something else, something we all need to discover and remember.

With her first sentence, author Kat Zhang invites readers into this story.  We want to know what things she can do, and Kat Zhang tells us, inserting a bit of humor, too.  Then she tells us what Amy cannot do and the tale unfolds.

Reasons for her lack of perfection in making bao follow; along with those who can make perfect bao.  Already we are cheering for this girl.  Repetition of key words and phrases further bind us to the narrative.  Each short, descriptive sentence builds on the others fashioning a tender tension until we truly feel every emotion Amy Wu experiences.  This is why we all love the ending.  Here are two passages.

Amy's first bao turns out a little
funny.  So does the second.

It's hard to know how much filling to
add.  Too little and the bao is sad and
empty.  Too much and ---oops!

Look at the front of the open and matching dust jacket and book case!  The expression on Amy Wu's face and her kitten's face is enough to make anyone smile or laugh.  I love that they are waving on top of an enormous bao with light and clouds radiating from it as if they are heroes.  (Which they are!)  To the left, on the back, standing among clouds in the lower, left-hand corner, Amy's arms are extending as a bao slips from her grasp.  It arcs toward her sitting and kneeling grandmother and parents.  Here in a thought bubble Amy defines bao for readers.  On the dust jacket, the characters are varnished as are the yellow lines in the clouds.

A vibrant sea green covers the opening and closing endpapers.  On the initial title page, the title text appears in a large bao.  With a page turn a muted shade of the sea greens spans two pages.  These pages are peppered with a variety of bao.  In the lower, right-hand corner the kitten assists readers in the pronunciation of bao.  At the bottom is an author's note about the pronunciation.  Illustrator Charlene Chua on the next double-page image gives readers pure delight.  Beneath the publication information Amy Wu is peaking over a pale orchid-colored table.  All we see is her face, close to us.  Her eyes are on a perfect bao, larger than life, sitting on a plate on the right.  You feel a surge of happiness when looking at this visual.

The digital illustrations, in varying sizes of several smaller ones on a single page, to full page, edge to edge, and several double-page pictures are full color.  They are animated with lively depictions of the characters.  Readers will be fascinated and filled with joy at all the details.  Amy Wu's kitten reinforces emotions and adds touches of humor.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is one of several close-ups of Amy Wu's face.  On this single-page picture Amy is attempting to pinch the bao closed.  With the dining room wallpaper as a background on a small portion of the left, the remainder of the image is filled with Amy's face and hands.  Her intense expression of concentration is fabulously portrayed.  She is holding the bao in her left hand and trying oh so hard to pinch, pinch, pinch it closed perfectly.  (You have to love this little girl.)

As a read aloud, one-on-one or with a group, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao written by Kat Zhang with illustrations by Charlene Chua is a wonderful choice.  For those striving to perfect something of importance to them, they will find a clever champion in Amy Wu. At the close of the book Amy's Family Recipe is included on two pages.  I highly recommend this for your personal and professional collections.

To learn more about Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua and their other work, please follow the links attached to their names to access their respective websites. At Kat Zhang's site there is a link to a coloring page.  At Charlene Chua's site there is an interior illustration not included in those shown at the publisher's website.  At the publisher's website you can also watch a video on how to make bao along with being able to print out the recipe.  Kat Zhang has accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.  Charlene Chua has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and TwitterI think you'll enjoy the cover reveal on Pragmatic Mom (Mia Wenjen).  At author Tara Lazar's site, Writing for Kids (While Raising Them) she chats with Kat Zhang and Charlene Chua about this title.  Kat Zhang writes a guest post at the Nerdy Book Club about this book.

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