Are you up for a little food shopping? Come along then, let’s go!!
New York’s Chinatown is our destination, as we read about a Chinese American girl and her mother buying ingredients for a family dinner. Written and illustrated by Qing Zhuang (“ching juong”), Rainbow Shopping (Holiday House, 2023) is a delectable feast for the senses that touches the heart.
The story opens on a rainy Saturday, where a little girl who feels “as gray as a pigeon” is in bed sketching. She’s wistful and lonely, missing her native China. Everything is different in New York, and her parents and grandmother are always busy working.
But on this Saturday, her mom pulls her out of bed, telling her that since everyone will be home for dinner, they need to go to Chinatown for special ingredients. After a long subway ride, they first stop at the bakery for a snack: strawberry cheesecake for her, a sesame ball with red bean filling for her mom.
Then it’s time to shop! They get fresh garlic, ginger, scallions and bamboo shoots, sweet red persimmons, mysterious mushrooms that “curl like thunderclouds,” and the bumpiest squash among “rows of vegetables in a hundred greens.”
They next explore “long aisles of noodles, sauces, spices, pickles and tea,” making sure to add medicinal herbs for Grandma and “numbingly hot peppers for Dad” to their cart. At the seafood section, the girl notes “the fish seem to stare,” right before she rounds the corner to the candy aisle — were she grabs everything (but Mom says can only have one bag)!
As they head back to the subway station with their groceries, the lamps shine like emeralds to guide their way. After an hour’s ride, they’re finally home, where they’re greeted by Dad and Grandma. Even though they couldn’t find all the ingredients they wanted, Dad promises everything will be delicious. Performing his “kitchen kung fu,” Dad “steams, boils, fries, and stir-fries.”
Now the dining area is “warm with food and chatter.” The dishes taste a little different from what they had in China, but they’re still yummy. Later, the girl shows Mom and Grandma her newest drawings. Her art reminds Grandma of her mother’s embroidery and the cut-paper art that brightened up their old home. The girl tries to imagine her great-grandmother, who “lived in another time and in a country that is now on the other side of the earth from me.”
Later, as they all fall asleep, the rain gets louder. The girl has sweet dreams of them all walking together in the “rainbow rain.”
Qing, who was just seven when she emigrated from China, based this story on her own experiences of grocery shopping with her mom in Chinatown. As new immigrants, they weren’t able to travel and didn’t have much leisure time, so she cherishes those precious times spent together.
Her first person narration is nicely paced, and the voice of the little girl is endearing and rings true. There are tender moments — such as when Mom says bamboo plants are “flexible and strong, surviving the toughest storms,” then asking her daughter, “Will you be my little bamboo?”, as well as cheekier observations. After expressing her dislike for bitter melons and her mom limiting her candy to just one bag, the girl thinks to herself: “I think she must have eaten too many bitter melons in her life.”
Qing’s vibrant illustrations, created with colored pencil, crayon, and watercolor, are winsomely appealing and reflect the young girl’s artistic talent. They have the character and textures of that which is lovingly hand drawn, and brim with just the kind of details kids love. Chinatown scenes bustle with activity, and grocery store displays are colorful and interesting. There is so much to see! Kids will enjoy identifying familiar as well as new-to-them fruits and vegetables. With lots of sensory details, one can almost smell the seafood section and feel the girl bursting with joy in the candy aisle. Who knew such a gray morning would turn into a kaleidoscopic adventure!
New York City is a character all its own, as we follow mother and daughter riding the subway, waiting on the platform, going through the ticket turnstile. Qing depicts the hour long ride home as a wordless full bleed double page spread showing diverse and quirky New Yorkers packed in a car — a perfect pause in the action while the girl naps.
Rainbow Shopping is both a love letter to Chinatown as well as a reassuring story about adjusting to a new place. An ordinary activity like grocery shopping can be an opportunity for exploration, discovery, and quality time together. Sharing a special home cooked meal is comforting and helps the girl feel closer to her family. While missing her old home, perhaps she realizes that with loved ones, it’s possible to make a new home with wonderful new experiences to look forward to. Don’t miss this heartwarming celebration of food, family and heritage, and yes, it will make you crave Chinese food. 🙂
written and illustrated by Qing Zhuang
published by Holiday House, March 2023
Picture Book for ages 4-8, 40 pp.
**Starred Review** from BookPage
♥️ Rainbow Shopping Coloring Sheet available for download here.
See this video to learn how to pronounce the vegetables on the coloring sheet.
♥️ Enjoy this short video of Qing introducing her new book with a fun garlic printing activity. Step-by-step instructions can be found here.
*Interior spreads text and illustrations copyright © 2023 Qing Zhuang, published by Holiday House. All rights reserved.
**Copyright © 2023 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.
4 thoughts on “[colorful review] Rainbow Shopping by Qing Zhuang”
Love her art! This looks great, Jama!
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Makes me hungry – and I love her cute red hair bows!
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What a fun glimpse into a Chinese food experience and a special part of NYC! I love this little girl’s voice. Thank you, Jama, for spotlighting this PB.