the perfect blend from lensey namioka

 It’s time for the second course in our Asian Pacific American Heritage Month potluck!

Last week, Lisa Yee (

) tempted us with her won ton appetizers, but she wouldn’t share Colin Firth. This has left me hungrier than ever. How about you?

I’ve been a Lensey Namioka fan since the early 90’s, when I read the first book in her Yang family series for middle grade readers, Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear (Yearling,1994). I found the story of 9-year-old Yingtao, the only one of four siblings who is not musically inclined, warm and captivating, and it provided something relatively rare in books featuring Asian characters back then — humor. 

      Yang the Youngest and His Terrible EarYang the Third and Her Impossible FamilyYang the Second and Her Secret AdmirersYang the Eldest and His Odd Jobs

I was ecstatic when Lensey followed up with three more books spotlighting Yingtao’s sisters, Yingmei and Yinglang, and his older brother, Yingwu. Each sibling, with his/her respective personal, social, and cultural challenges, is lovingly depicted in Lensey’s engaging and refreshingly simple prose.

Lensey’s most recent book is a young adult novel called Mismatch (Delacorte, 2006), which I devoured over the weekend. Fifteen-year-old Sue Hua, a Chinese American girl whose family moves from culturally diverse Seattle to a mostly white suburb, falls for Andy Suzuki, who plays violin in the school orchestra. They are seen as an ideal couple since they are both Asian, but this is just one of many misconceptions that are examined and dispelled in the course of the novel.

Sue’s grandmother has painful memories of the Japanese occupation of China during WWII. Andy’s father harbors resentment over ill treatment he received on a visit to Beijing. What I found especially enlightening about this story is that it moves beyond familial disapproval of Sue and Andy’s relationship, to questions of personal identity and reverse prejudice. When Sue and Andy go to Japan on a school orchestra trip, questions of ethnicity are deepened as they interact with their host families.  

Lensey herself was born in Beijing, and could not speak English when her family moved to the U.S. at age nine, so she knows well the problems of cultural assimilation. She attended Radcliffe and UC Berkeley, and majored in mathematics, but decided she liked writing better. After marrying Isaac Namioka, a fellow mathematician, she visited Japan and became interested in the culture (she has written a series of samurai adventure mysteries set in 16th century Japan).

Mismatch beautifully weaves together Lensey’s wisdom and understanding of both Japanese and Chinese mores. The intercultural and intergenerational dynamics make for a fascinating and often surprising read.

I was nervous emailing Lensey, since I’ve admired her for so long, but discovered she is the generous, unassuming person I hoped she would be. She was busy packing for a trip to Europe, but took the time to send a favorite childhood recipe. She says, “The amounts of the ingredients are all approximate, since my mother didn’t have a recipe, and I just learned from watching her make the dish.”

I made this Sunday night, and found it to be easy, light, healthy and delish. Since tastes differ, I advise adding the soy sauce gradually until desired saltiness is achieved.

CHINESE CHICKEN SALAD

2 cups cooked chicken meat (can be boiled or microwaved), torn into shreds, about 1/4-inch thick
1/4 cup (or less) soy sauce
3 T sesame oil
2 stalks scallions, cut into slivers about 1 inch long
slivers of celery and cucumber, 1 inch long (optional)

Mix together all ingredients and serve cold.

                              

For more about Lensey and her books, visit her website. There is also a nice feature about her at papertigers.org.
 

12 thoughts on “the perfect blend from lensey namioka

  1. How is it that I’ve never heard of Lensey Namioka? I just went to our local library’s website and saw that we have fifteen of her books. They all sound wonderful and I had to narrow my book reserve choice down to three for now. I can’t wait! My kids will especially love the Yang series.
    Oh, and I happen to have all the ingredients to make the chicken salad. I love anything with sesame oil!

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  2. I know you and your family will love the Yang family series (it’s my favorite among her books). I love that they are musical (except Yingtao, who’s good at baseball), and that they call each other, “Eldest brother, Second Sister, Third Sister, Fourth Brother.”
    And I’m with you on the sesame oil! My own preference is to add a teaspoon of sugar to the soy/sesame oil mix to balance things out.

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  3. Mmmm, that salad looks good (but I’d have to take out the celery and cucumbers, so I wonder if there’s any point in me making it?).
    Scallions. Yum.
    Jules, 7-Imp

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  4. I love chinese chicken salad. The restaurants here in Hawaii also add fried won ton strips as a topping. Very good, try it.
    James

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  5. Yes, I’ve tried that — have also added mandarin oranges, almond slivers, and crispy chow mein (that’s when making a bigger salad with more lettuce).

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