“There was no day that dumplings couldn’t make better.” ~ Pacy Lin
Pass the dipping sauce, I’m in dumpling heaven. ☺
I’m thrilled to be serving up Newbery Honor Author Grace Lin’s brand new middle grade novel, Dumpling Days (Little, Brown, 2012), as our very first Soup of the Day for the new year!
Before I tell you a little about it and tempt you with some of its dishes, please put on BOTH of these bibs. You’ll definitely need double protection for this fabulous feast of a book, which is absolutely brimming with gustatory goodness.
Oh, and don’t forget your passport:
In this third novel featuring beloved heroine Pacy Lin, she and her family spend an entire month in Taiwan visiting relatives and preparing for Grandma’s 60th birthday party. Instead of traveling to her parents’ faraway homeland, Pacy would much rather spend her summer going to a fun place like Hawai’i or California where she could see her best friend Melody. But her parents want Pacy and her sisters to “know their roots,” to experience the “island of treasure.”
Once there, Pacy is hit with a big dose of culture shock. Unlike her cozy suburb in upstate New York, Taipei is crowded, noisy, and confusing. Even simple things turn out to be much harder to do than she could have ever imagined.
She looks like everyone else, but can’t speak Chinese or Taiwanese. In an art class her mom signed her up for she even doubts her talent as she competes against another student. It’s going to be a very long 28 days in this strange country of push button toilets, musical garbage trucks, and funny traffic signals — where the best pleasures in life are supposedly yawning, picking your ears, scratching your back, and picking your nose!
It’s a good thing there are dumplings, lots and lots of delicious dumplings, to lift Pacy’s spirits and assuage her feelings of insecurity and inadequacy as she struggles to fit in. Her many adventures — getting blessed by a fortune teller, lost in a night market, visiting temples, riding trains, eating at restaurants, seeing the second tallest building in the world, meeting aunts, uncles and cousins — all provide ample opportunities for self discovery, engendering a newfound appreciation for how her parents might have felt when they emigrated to America.
Dumpling Days is my favorite Pacy book. It’s longer than Year of the Dog and Year of the Rat, with a deeper, more nuanced exploration of the unique challenges of having a dual identity. It’s beautifully layered with stories of family history and bits of folklore, captures the fun and excitement of visiting a foreign country for the first time, and rivals classics like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy with its bounty of vivid, sensually detailed descriptions of food.
Food is certainly one of Taiwan’s greatest treasures, and Pacy experiences many firsts: dim sum (she accidently eats chicken feet), Japanese food (she tries raw fish and burns her mouth with wasabi), hand-pulled noodles in beef broth (yum!), a McDonald’s rice burger (quite strange), stinky tofu (hold your nose!).
As it takes center stage in this story, food provides easy cultural access, a bridge between East and West, old and new. Pacy’s unabashed craving for and genuine enjoyment of the many types of dumplings are an ongoing source of humor and delight, and will have readers drooling throughout. Where else could you find both soup dumplings and dumpling soup in the same book (yes, they’re different things)? Talk about evoking powerful emotions and memories!
No surprise, then — I give Dumpling Days my highest five spoon rating. It’s a book I wish I could have read growing up, as Pacy’s feelings of self doubt and invisibility certainly ring true. Bicultural or not, readers will be able to identify with the themes of self awareness, self discovery, and assimilation. The realistic sibling exchanges, reassuring warmth of family togetherness, and wealth of fascinating cultural detail enrich this wholly satisfying, heartening feast.
Bibs still on?
Please join me now in congratulating Grace on another wonderful book. In the spirit of Pacy’s visit to the Temple at Lugang, feel free to yawn and scratch your back before dipping your spoons and slurping. Here’s to Grace! May every day be a Dumpling Day!
What? You’re looking for dessert after all the food we’ve already had? Well okay.
Please help yourself to some mochi (a personal favorite):
and a lovely peach bun with its sweet red bean filling:
*nibbles, chews, sighs*
Now it’s time to click through to your fave online bookseller or race down to your local indie to score your very own copy of Dumpling Days. If you go to a bricks and mortar store, wear hot-pink, just like Pacy, Ki-Ki and Lissy wore on their trip. Refrain from picking your nose when talking to the cashier, and remember the secret password: Jiaozi. Performing a lion dance in the aisles may earn you a special discount. Better get an extra copy or two — this is the perfect gift for Lunar New Year (January 23rd)!
Thank you for writing this enchantingly delicious book, Grace!
by Grace Lin
published by Little, Brown, January 2012
Middle Grade Fiction for ages 8-12, 272 pp.
Cool themes: multiculturalism, Chinese culture, Taiwanese Americans, ethnic foods, art, travel, family life, dual identity, assimilation.
*Contains adorable line drawings.
On shelves now!
Check out the trailer!
♥ Read an excerpt from Dumpling Days at the publisher’s website.
♥ Launch Party for Dumpling Days will be held on Saturday, January 21, 2012 (1 p.m.) at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, MA.
♥ Dim Sum bibs (and t-shirts and onesies) may be purchased at Grace’s CafePress store.
Gyoza by SmALl CloUd/flickr
Chicken Feet by Mudkiller/flickr
Sashimi via Electric Eel
Bubble Tea, Stinky Tofu, Soup Dumplings, Night Market from Government Information, Republic of China (Taiwan) website.
WHAT?! Still hungry?
Okay, one more treat for the road. Strawberry Pocky (just like Pacy ate on the train).
♥ More Soup of the Day posts here.
P.S. Alphabet Soup extends heartfelt congratulations to Grace and her husband Alex Ferron on the impending arrival of their first child (it’s a girl)! We’d love to see a new picture book called Dumpling Baby sometime in the not-too-distant future. Just sayin’ . . .
Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.