[review + giveaway] The Ugly Dumpling by Stephanie Campisi and Shahar Kober

My, my.  A story about dim sum and dumplings. What could be more tempting? 🙂

In the The Ugly Dumpling (Mighty Media Kids, 2016), a new picture book by Stephanie Campisi and Shahar Kober, we are invited to the Golden Swan Restaurant for a “modern fable of friendship, feelings, and being different.”


Once upon a time,
perhaps last week,
or even last night,
at your local dim sum restaurant
there was an UGLY DUMPLING . . .

This ugly dumpling
was ugly
in its
ugly way.


Poor thing! Though the dumpling tried its best to be noticed by wrinkling its brow, standing up tall, or even wearing pleated pants, sadly it remained “uneaten and ignored.” But as fate would have it, along came a cockroach whose heart swelled with love, who wept upon seeing the ugly dumpling. It extended an arm (or a leg) in friendship, promising to show the dumpling “the beauty of the world.”

As the new friends set out on their singular adventure, the dumpling saw the world’s wonders for the first time (towers of plates, mountains of flour, folded napkin “pyramids,” a meandering river of green tea). And then, wonder of all wonders: the dumpling spied another dumpling — then another and another! An entire steamer basket full! But wait — the ugly dumpling then realized it was NOT a dumpling after all, but a STEAMED BUN! Oh, the joy to be just like all the other steamed buns in the world! It puffed with meaning, importance, and yeast!

But alas, the thrill of this revelation proved short-lived. When the other steamed buns noticed the cockroach, they were “horrified” and “appalled.” What should the ugly dumpling do? Align itself with its kin, or stand up for its newfound friend?

Without the slightest bit of hesitation, the ugly dumpling extended an arm (or a leg) to lead the cockroach out into the beautiful world. Maybe the ugly dumpling wasn’t like those other steamed buns after all, and that was a “good thing.” After all, what truly matters is what’s on the inside, being who you truly are and reciprocating an act of kindness.

I love how Campisi and Kober served up Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling with a unique, savory twist. Warmly tucked into those mouthwatering dumpling wrappers and soft buns is the meat of the matter: the importance of loyalty, friendship, embracing differences, developing self-esteem, standing up to peer pressure and bullying, and practicing tolerance.

Campisi’s narrative delivers the tasty goods with a light touch rather than heavy-handed moralizing. Her easy, conversational tone, flavored with quirky humor, makes the story engaging and accessible to young readers. Two good surprises kept the story from being too predictable: when the roach first appears, I thought he loved the ugly dumpling because he wanted to eat it, and I also thought that the ugly dumpling discovering his true identity would end all, but of course, there was more.

Thanks to Kober’s charming, whimsical illustrations, there is instant empathy for the ugly dumpling, who unbeknownst to itself, possesses its own brand of appeal. With just a few simple strokes, Kober is able to imbue the characters with a wide range of emotions, from sadness and dismay, to haughtiness and disapproval, to genuine elation and delight.

The diverse human characters, both restaurant customers and kitchen staff, nicely figure in the storyline without stealing the spotlight from our edible friends. Kober plays with perspective to good effect as he depicts the “hiss” of the wok as illustrated letters rising like steam, the happy diners chatting and chewing (you can almost hear the tapping of chopsticks and clattering of dishes), and those wonderful close-ups of the two main characters, which pull us right into their little drama.

My favorite spread shows the ugly dumpling and cockroach enjoying the beauties of the world, as they tiptoe across a chopstick bridge, slide down the green tea river, and gaze at a fiery wok “sunset” from afar. None of these things would be half as beautiful without a good friend to share it with.

I know young readers will root for these gender-neutral characters from beginning to end, and will be genuinely relieved that they left the restaurant together and did not get eaten. 🙂

Don’t be surprised if, like me, they ask to visit their favorite dim sum restaurant, or maybe even help a grown-up make some Chinese dumplings using Bonnie Eng’s yummy recipe from Thirsty for Tea. Either way, dumplings and steamed buns will never be the same.

A recent dim sum lunch.
Steamed pork buns are my absolute favorite!

Just for the record, I haven’t met a dumpling or steamed bun I didn’t like. When it comes to dim sum, beauty is in the stomach of the eater. 🙂

*    *    *


written by Stephanie Campisi
illustrated by Shahar Kober
published by Mighty Media Kids, 2016
Picture Book for ages 2-8, 32 pp.
Cool Themes: diversity, food, self-esteem, tolerance, friendship, humor, individualism

*Starred Review* from Kirkus
**On shelves April 7, 2016

♥ Click the image below to access the The Ugly Dumpling Blog Tour Schedule with live links:




For a chance to win a brand new copy of The Ugly Dumpling, simply leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Tuesday, April 5, 2016. You may also enter by sending an email with DUMPLING in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. Good luck!


wkendcookingiconThis post is being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related recipes. Put on your best aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!





*Interior spreads posted by permission of the publisher, text copyright © 2016 Stephanie Campisi, illustrations © 2016 Shahar Kober, published by Mighty Media Kids, 2016.

Copyright © 2016 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

46 thoughts on “[review + giveaway] The Ugly Dumpling by Stephanie Campisi and Shahar Kober

  1. Oh I am excited to see so many fun stops along the UGLY DUMPLING blog tour! Of course yours is the most delicious stop by far 😉 Please pass the chopsticks!


  2. Even this early in the morning, you’re causing me to want to visit the nearest dim sum delight, Jama. What a darling book this sounds like, and so creative to discover that a book about a bun and a cockroach can actually bring warm feelings!


  3. Aww, poor dumpling. The ugly ones are the ones you’re supposed to eat first!

    I LOVE the illustrations; the page that looks like a menu is awesome! And yes, every child needs dim sum after this!!


  4. What a fantastic book! My girls would love it! Thank you for the wonderful giveaway.
    ErinLoves2Run at gmail dot com


  5. Mmmm another delicious book review and giveaway post, Jama! The Ugly Dumpling looks like a delight – I love that the cockroach is the true friend…who’s ugly now? =)


    1. Yes, that’s a great message, isn’t it? Sometimes an unlikely person could turn out to be a good friend. In this case, a much maligned insect.


  6. Jama, you’re blog is always so delightful! Now I have two new books on my to read list, The Ugly Dumpling and Thirsty for Tea. And now I could really go for a dumpling!


  7. This is such a great giveaway! My children are from China and our favorite way to connect to Chinese culture is dumplings! Can’t wait to share this with other Mom friends that have kiddos from China too!


    1. Hooray for dumplings! This definitely sounds like a book you and your children would enjoy. Do you make your own? 🙂


  8. I always love a fairy tale retelling, and this one is the cutest! What fun. And I agree with you: dim sum is always a beautiful sight!


    1. Yes, there are great take-away themes running through this story. Using gender neutral characters was a clever idea.


  9. Love that “beauty is in the stomach of the eater” 🙂 And the tale could almost make me think better of cockroaches. Ha. But dumplings, Yes!


    1. Yes, there are so few books featuring cockroaches in a positive light. I bet they’re all someplace celebrating right now. 🙂


  10. “Just for the record, I haven’t met a dumpling or steamed bun I didn’t like. When it comes to dim sum, beauty is in the stomach of the eater.” So true! This sounds like a fabulous spin on The Ugly Duckling tale. Great review and, as usual, gorgeous photos and styling. 😉


  11. Oh my goodness! My kids would love this book. My older son (he’s five) loves dumplings especially xiaolongbao. And both of them love char siew bao. Needless to say they love going for dim sum! What a great idea for a picture book.


  12. Just under the wire. (I was on vacation and just started to catch up on emails).I love the premise of this book! Can’t wait to read the story of the Ugly Dumpling. Thank you!


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