lip-smacking feast: hot, hot roti for dada-ji by f. zia and ken min

Are you hungry, baba?

You’ve come to the right place! Let’s fire up the skillet and cook some lip-smacking, oh-so-yummy, belly-rubbing roti!

Harry R/flickr

There’s so much more to this homey unleavened Indian flatbread than meets the eye (or the stomach). Yes, it’s perfect for scooping up curries and vegetables (love love it with dahl), but did you know it also has the power to inspire really good stories? Hunh-ji! Yes Sir!

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji (Lee & Low Books, 2011) contains all the ingredients I love most in a children’s story: food, family, and high octane fun. I can say unequivocally that it’s my favorite picture book thus far about contemporary Indian American life. How to blend the old with the new? Find an interesting way to bridge the generations? Introduce young readers to an unfamiliar culture? Lace a story with tasty specifics that tap into universal themes? Debut author F. Zia accomplishes all these things with her beautifully crafted “story within a story” that never misses a beat and is an absolute hoot to read aloud.

Young Aneel is thrilled his grandparents have come to stay. He likes Dadi-ma’s fragrant incense and soothing prayer song, and Dada-ji is “teaching him to stand on his head and to sit like a serene lotus.” But what he loves most are Dada-ji’s stories about the “faraway village with the green wheat fields and the swaying coconut palms.”

You see, when Dada-ji was a boy (wink, wink), he astonished the villagers with all manner of amazing feats — he could wrestle snorting water buffalos, tie hissing cobras into knots, even spin three trumpeting elephants by their tails. Everyone stared in amazement and shouted “Wah! Wah! (Wow! Wow!).”

And where did Dada-ji get such incredible strength? By eating his mother’s hot, hot fluffy-puffy roti, of course! It was SO good, people “trampled tall fields and swam angry rivers” for just one taste or sniff of the bread that sizzled and wizzled on Badi-ma’s hot tavva pan. Dada-ji ate a tall stack every day with a side of tongue-burning mango pickle, and this gave him the power of the tiger (“ARRE WAH!”).

Telling these tall tales makes Dada-ji’s tummy rumble. Aneel wonders, does Dada-ji still have the power? Who can make some roti? Everyone is busy, so Aneel will make it! After combining flour, water and salt, Aneel kneads, punches, pulls, then shapes the dough into balls. He rolls them out and Dadi-ma helps him cook up a tall stack. Wah! How Dada-ji loves Aneel’s roti! Mmmmmm! Slurrrrrrrrp! Now they are ready to set off for some brand new adventures, like making the earth rumble and shaking apples off a tree for Dadi-ma’s pie. :9

Baba, there are so many things to love about this book: the close, heartwarming relationship between grandfather and grandson, the liberal use of sound effects to amp up the fun, the seamless integration of Hindi words in the highly emotive text, and the overall exuberant pluckiness of the narrative. Roti is the perfect bridge between past and present, and I love the emphasis on making it, step by step. The tastiest, most satisfying food is always made with love, and we truly feel Aneel’s respect, admiration, and affection for Dada-ji. Zia skillfully balances the two stories and nicely connects “then” with “now.” This is a wonderful portrait of intergenerational dynamics that ultimately showcases the enduring power of good old-fashioned storytelling.

Ken Min’s lively colored pencil and acrylic illos beautifully incorporate elements of East Indian culture in a contemporary Western setting. The combination of double full-bleed spreads, story panels, and playful perspectives makes every page turn a delight. Of course my favorite spreads are the ones of Aneel making the roti — the look of serene pride and accomplishment on his face as he shapes those dough balls is priceless, and his tongue sticking out in intense concentration as he works that rolling pin nicely echoes Dada-ji’s anticipatory tongue on the cover. The tall stack of cooked roti is a delicious tall tale in itself, and what about that spiraling queue of villagers waiting for Badi-ma’s roti? Just like the tiger power being unleashed from within Dada-ji! ARRE WAH!

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji received a glowing review from Fuse #8 and a starred review from Kirkus, who says the book is “A natural for reading aloud, laced with great tastes, infectious sound effects and happy feelings.” Though a roti recipe is not included in the book, there is one available at the publisher’s website. Make some roti today, baba, enjoy the book, and lick your salt-tipped fingers one by one. Hunh-ji!

written by F. (Farhana) Zia
illustrated by Ken Min
published by Lee & Low Books, 2011
Full Color Picture Book for ages 5-10, 32 pp.
Includes a Glossary of Hindi words
Cool themes: Multicultural family, grandparents, cooking, East Indian culture, independence, tall tales, humor.


♥ Cool booktalk with F. Zia and Ken Min at Lee & Low’s website.

♥ Ken Min’s official illustrator website and artist blog.

♥ A look at Ken’s Creative Space at From the Mixed Up Files of Jennifer Bertman.

♥ Blog interviews with F. Zia at MymcBooks’s Blog, HappyNappy Bookseller.

Don’t forget your tongue-burning mango pickle (recipe here)!

*Spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2011 F. Zia, illustrations © 2011 Ken Min, published by Lee & Low Books. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan’s alphabet soup. All rights reserved.



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