Quote of the Month

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

Thursday, February 9, 2023

Family. Food. From the Heart.

This year, 2023, is the Year of the Rabbit.  The Chinese Lunar New Year began on January 21, 2023 and finished fifteen days later with the Lantern Festival.  Every twelve years, the animal that is celebrated in a given year is highlighted again.  Many years ago, this reader was born in the Year of the Rabbit.  For this reason, rabbits have a special place in my heart, even when they enjoy eating in my gardens without an invitation.

Like many others, Chinese food is one of my favorite meals.  When I am fortunate enough to go to a larger city near my community, I make sure to purchase spring rolls made fresh daily.  This year to my delight, they were serving three types of bao.  I am not sure if this is a new permanent item or just for the Lunar New Year. Regardless, yesterday I came home with Coconut Custard bao.  (I am still figuring out how to best steam them.)

To be able to eat this delicious food on a more regular basis would be marvelous.  This is one of several reasons Dim Sum, Here We Come! (Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, January 3, 2023) written and illustrated by Maple Lam is pure delight.  Page after page, it is a joyous window into a world of family, food, and tradition, tied together with great affection.

Here we go! It's almost dim sum time!

Come on, Cece---hurry up, let's go.
I can't wait to see everyone!

Dim sum, here we come!

Grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins all join this bundle of energy with her sister, Cece, and her parents every Sunday to dine on dim sum.  As the group waits for an available table, Uncle Irwin takes the children to special spots in the restaurant.  For each one, we are told the cultural significance.  Did you know 

Dancing fish means good feng shui?

Our enthusiastic narrator is seated next to her grandmother. Soon a cart stacked with bamboo baskets filled with steamed food arrives at the table.  A dim sum card allows the diners to select which baskets they want.  They get ten baskets with ten different kinds of dim sum.  

It's hard to be patient for the turntable to spin from family member to family member.  Respectfully, our eager narrator waits for the basket with char siu bun.  Ten people later, that basket arrives in front of her.  She is so excited.

There is one left!  She carefully does three things with the char siu bun before her final act and then, she tells us what dim sum means.  After the families each travel to their homes, Cece and her older sister, our protagonist, have another dim sum moment.  It is here we learn the most cherished definition of dim sum.

With those first five sentences, spoken with pure happiness, our narrator's enthusiasm spreads to readers.  We appreciate how author Maple Lam, through the girl's first-person voice, introduces us to the art of enjoying dim sum, step by step.  Woven into her story are wonderful and enlightening beliefs.  Though the little girl may be hungry, of which she informs us often, mutual appreciation of others is foremost with each family member.  Here is another passage.

Uncle Jeremy refills hot tea for everyone.

Tap tap tap! Tap tap tap!

Tapping your finger on the table means thank you.

On the front of the matching dust jacket and book case, readers are introduced to our narrator, her younger sister, Cece, and the other ten family members who meet every Sunday for dim sum.  Seen here is familial love, merriment, and people who can hardly wait to try these delectable foods.  The design, the way the elements are placed in a large group, the two girls, and then the remainder of the family, leads our eyes to the title text.  

On the back of the jacket and case, the left side, on a white canvas with a delicate pale wash is a light red heart.  Inside the heart is the girl and her younger sister, enjoying the last of the dim sum.  Both are smiling and their eyes are closed in contentment.  Portions of their hair break the borders of the heart to give us a feeling of motion.

On the opening endpapers, as if in a spiral-ringed menu, are eighteen small boxes, nine on each side.  Within each are different kinds of dim sum.  They are labeled.  (This is guaranteed to make your mouth water with anticipation.)  On the closing endpapers the bamboo baskets and plates are still there, but empty.  Instead of the labels, we read commentary about the taste of each one.  On the title page, the siblings are running, hands clasped and mouths open.

These illustrations by Maple Lam were rendered using

watercolor and colored pencils.

The chosen color palette, shapes, and lines made by this artist all contribute and elevate the liveliness of the narrator.  The illustrations vary in size from two-page pictures, to full-page pictures, edge to edge and some surrounded by white space.  The different perspectives are outstanding.  We are close to the characters in many of the scenes.  Sometimes we are looking at them from slightly above.  The food is depicted in all its deliciousness.

Readers will be endeared to all the family members.  They genuinely enjoy each other's company as shown by their facial features and body postures.  This is a day full of promise each week.

One of my many favorite illustrations is a two-page image.  From the lower, left-hand corner on the left to the lower, right-hand corner on the right is an arc.  This arc shows all twelve members of this family seated in their chairs at their table, even though we know it is a circle.  It is as if we can take the two ends and pull them together to complete that circle.  The baskets and plates of dim sum are in the center.  There is some talking and a whole lot of eating.  You want to hold the joy portrayed here in your hands beyond the story.

This book, Dim Sum, Here We Come! written and illustrated by Maple Lam will quench readers' hunger for food, family, and happy hearts.  It is certain to promote discussions about family, family food and family traditions.  Readers will be ready to research dim sum and other Chinese cultural traditions.  I can't imagine a professional or personal collection without a copy of this title.

To discover more about Maple Lam and her other work, please follow the link attached to her name to access her website.  There is a twenty-one page teacher's guide on her website along with several activity worksheets.  Maple Lam has accounts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.  There is some process art on her Instagram account.  Maple Lam is interviewed about this book by author illustrator Jena Benton.

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