Quote of the Month

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

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Grandmothers-Feeding Our Hearts And Our Bodies

Last evening a character, a grandfather, in a story was complaining repeatedly about getting old.  He did not have one good word to say.  Everything was wrong about adding years to your life.  By the time the adventure he, his lifelong friend, his grandson and his grandson's friends shared was coming to an end, he remarked to his grandson about the grave error in his previous thinking.  He realized getting old was a gift.  It is one of the best gifts of all best gifts.

This change in perspective which many elders hold dear and live as a truth allows them to relish their neighbors, friends, and family.  For many of them, this joy is expressed in the art of cooking.  Dumplings for Lili (Norton Young Readers, an imprint of W. W. Norton & Company, June 1, 2021) written and illustrated by Melissa Iwai is a story of one granddaughter, many grandmothers, and the search for specific ingredients.  Which dumpling is the best?

It's a special day
when Nai Nai says:

Lili, do you
want to help
me make

These delectable delights are Lili's favorite food.  Her grandmother has passed to her granddaughter eight secrets in making them taste scrumptious. Side by side they work until a startling discovery is made.  There is no cabbage to help with the eighth secret.  

Lili rushes to Babcia, another grandmother, who lives on the sixth floor to borrow cabbage. Unfortunately, the elevator is out of service.  She and her pooch pal, Kiki, run up the flights of stairs.  Babcia does have cabbage, but she is out of potatoes for making her pierogi.  She makes a request of Lili.  Down she and Kiki go to the second floor.  

Once there, Granma has potatoes by lacks an item for her recipe.  Up and down the stairs Kiki and Lili go from one grandmother to another, receiving and giving necessary food elements for each of their delicacies.  She and Kiki are exhausted.  Finally, they are back with Nai Nai.

Later, six grandmothers and Lili meet outside, each bringing a version of their dumpling dishes.  It is a gathering of goodness, for hearts and bodies.  And yes, dear reader, one more dumpling makes an appearance, a seventh dumpling.  It is another of the best gifts of the best gifts.

Like blending the elements in a recipe, author Melissa Iwai combines narrative and conversation to welcome readers to go on this journey of culture, language, and cooking with Lili.  The secrets are interlaced in the story flawlessly.  Word choices convey the lively spirit of Lili, Kiki, and the beloved grandmothers.  Here is a passage.

As Kiki and I are about to leave, she says, "!O, cielos!
I'm out of cumin! How will I finish my tamales?"

I remember that Nonna on 3rd floor has lots of
spices in her kitchen.  "Don't worry, Abuela," I say.
"Kiki and I will go ask Nonna for cumin!"

The first hint readers have of the happiness found in the pages of this book is on the open and matching dust jacket and book case.  On the front, we meet Lili framed in shades of green flora as she inhales the wondrous odor of the cooked baos.  Around those we see dumplings representing food traditions from other countries. 

To the left, on the back, the spring green hue continues, covering the entire surface.  Dancing in the center are Lili and Kiki.  Kiki's front paws are being held by Lili, as the dog balances on its hind legs.

On the opening and closing endpapers, a culinary bliss greets readers.  Placed on a canvas of pale blue are recreations of six kinds of dumplings in an enticing pattern.  They are labeled in white, fatayer, ravioli, bao, pierogi, tamale, and Jamaican beef patty.

On the initial title page, two bao, one with a missing bite, are featured.  A two-page illustration, including the apartment building on the left with the grandmothers and Lili in windows, is displayed for the formal title page.  Pigeons roost and fly around the homes.

The images in this book rendered in watercolor and layered digitally by artist Melissa Iwai are a visual gallery of diversity.  Through her research, elements representing each culture are included in the depictions of each grandmother's home.  The details ask readers to pause at each page turn, noticing what is on the shelves and the walls.  Many of the significant words are shown in speech bubbles. 

The pictures vary in size from double-page images to a group of smaller illustrations on a single page, and single-page pictures, with and without framing.  These, along with different perspectives, enhance the careful pacing.  Readers (this reader) will especially enjoy the large double-page image mapping Lili's adventure up and down the stairs of the six floors.  It reminds us of names and dumplings.  Careful readers will also note the passage of time by looking at the various clocks on the walls.  

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is that of Nai Nai tying the back of the apron on Lili.  There is something loving and intimate about this action between a grandmother and her granddaughter.  It is a single-page picture.  We are close to the duo.  The colors in Nai Nai's clothing and glasses are reflected in the fruit on the pockets of Lili's apron.  Kiki is seated and watching near the kitchen table.  Tools needed for the making of the baos are placed on the table.

For a commemoration of food, grandmothers, friends, family, and an array of cultures, Dumplings for Lili written and illustrated by Melissa Iwai is an exceptional selection.  Through her writing and artwork, it is a sensory experience, one we would gladly duplicate.  At the close of the book, two pages are dedicated to Nai Nai's Baos.  There we can use ingredients and secrets to make our own baos.  Melissa Iwai's delicate drawings show us exactly how to fold the dumplings.  I highly recommend this title for both your professional and personal collections.

To learn more about Melissa Iwai and her other work, please visit her website by following the link attached to her name.  Melissa Iwai has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  This book and the writing and illustrating process are showcased at Kathleen Temean's Writing and Illustrating, Jama Rattigan's Jama's Alphabet Soup, and librarian, collegiate lecturer, and writer John Schumacher's Watch. Connect, Read.  At the publisher's website you can preview portions of the book.

1 comment:

  1. I have nothing to add except that Margie has yet to write a review that she hasn't poured her whole heart into. We love you!