[review] A Gift for Amma by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa

It’s market day in India. Would you like to tag along as a young girl picks out a special gift for her mother?

Just to be clear, this is no ordinary outdoor market — at least not as it’s presented in this gorgeous new picture book by Meera Sriram and Mariona Cabassa.

The market in A Gift for Amma (Barefoot Books, 2020) is a bustling bazaar of blossoms, spices, powders, sweets, fabrics, and feathers — an eye-popping rainbow of luscious colors that rouse the senses.

Once we step into the world of this artfully crafted story, we find ourselves awash in fiery vermilion, cool terracotta and soothing indigo with an eager shopper as our guide.

She faces quite a conundrum though, since there are many wonderful things to choose from, and we can feel her energy and enthusiasm as she describes each item in terms of color:

SAFFRON orange strands in tiny scoops.
Would Amma like to season rice?

Orange marigolds swing over doors —
Swish, swish! Should I make her a garland?

With just two lines per page, Sriram’s spare, lyrical text powers an engaging narrative brimming with sensory details that make every scene come alive.

Continue reading

[spicy guest post] Pippa Park’s Favorite Korean Stew by Erin Yun

So pleased to welcome NYC author Erin Yun to the blog today. Her debut middle grade novel, Pippa Park Raises Her Game (Fabled Films Press, 2020), is a contemporary reimagining of the Dickens’s classic Great Expectations.

 

 

Life is full of great expectations for Korean American Pippa Park. It seems like everyone, from her family to the other kids at school, has a plan for how her life should look. So when Pippa gets a mysterious basketball scholarship to Lakeview Private, she jumps at the chance to reinvent herself by following the “Rules of Cool.”

At Lakeview, Pippa juggles old and new friends, an unrequited crush, and the pressure to perform academically and athletically while keeping her past and her family’s laundromat a secret from her elite new classmates. But when Pippa begins to receive a string of hateful, anonymous messages via social media, her carefully built persona is threatened.

As things begin to spiral out of control, Pippa discovers the real reason she was admitted to Lakeview and wonders if she can keep her old and new lives separate, or if she should even try.

 

 

There are so many things I love about this book: timely themes (ethnic identity, social class, assimilation, friendship, family dynamics), an engaging fast-paced plot, believable characters, just-right humor and tween drama, and lots of mouthwatering food descriptions that make me long for my mom’s Korean cooking. Who could resist a delicious Chuseok feast of homemade galbi, gimbap, japchae, and sweet rice cakes?

Like her plucky heroine Pippa, Erin loves walnut cakes with red bean filling as well as kimchi-jjigae. Wish I had a bowl right now! 🙂

*

Continue reading

I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage compiled by Lee Bennett Hopkins

“Heritage makes us who we are. It is an essential, important part of us — our inherited traditions, beliefs, values, and achievements, and how we identify ourselves. Heritage also conjures up remembrances of family, events, travels, songs, celebrations, goals, and challenges. It is our past, our today, and our foundation to build on for the future.” ~ Lee Bennett Hopkins

Our beloved Lee Bennett Hopkins would have turned 82 on April 13, and it’s only too fitting that his birthday falls during National Poetry Month. We’re happy to honor his memory by sharing two poems from one of his final anthologies, I Remember: Poems and Pictures of Heritage (Lee & Low, 2019).

While it is still hard to believe he’s really gone, reading a collection as inspiring as this one is a lovely reminder that the light of his enduring legacy shines on.

I Remember features poem and art pairings by a diverse group of eminent American poets and artists, all of whom were inspired by vivid childhood memories that made lasting impressions on their lives.

Look at this amazing line-up:

POETS

Kwame Alexander * Jorge Tetl Argueta * Joseph Bruchac * Nick Bruel * Margarita Engle * Douglas Florian * Guadalupe Garcia McCall * Marilyn Nelson * G. Neri * Naomi Shihab Nye * Cynthia Leitich Smith * Carole Boston Weatherford * Janet S. Wong * Jane Yolen

ARTISTS

Paula Barragán * Sawsan Chalabi * R. Gregory Christie * Julie Downing * David Kanietakeron Fadden * Insoo Kim * Rafael López * Janine Macbeth * Juliet Meńendez * Daniel Minter * Sean Qualls * Charlotte Riley-Webb * Jeanne Rorex Bridges * Simone Shin * Neil Walden * Michele Wood

 

Michele Wood’s art for Kwame Alexander’s “Here’s What I Remember”

Continue reading

[delectable review + recipe] Grandpa Cacao: A Tale of Chocolate, From Farm to Family by Elizabeth Zunon

 

Every afternoon around 1:30, I bite into a piece of organic 70% cacao dark chocolate. As it slowly melts in my mouth (oh, so velvety rich and flavorful!), my mood lifts and a certain dreamy euphoria sets in. Hello, dopamine, serotonin and antioxidants!

 

 

Not only does chocolate make me feel good, it’s good for my health, overall well being and productivity. As per my ongoing “scientific” research, most of the writers I’ve polled agree that chocolate inspires their best work — all the more reason to heartily swig steamy cups of cocoa, wrap your lips around fudgy brownies, gleefully devour truffles and bonbons, and giddily carouse with cacao at every opportunity.

Glad we agree on that! 🙂

But such divine delights should never be taken for granted. In fact, the next time you reach for your favorite chocolate bar, you will probably appreciate it even more if you consider how the cocoa was sourced and harvested, with a nod to the hardworking farmers in faraway places who play such an important role in producing the scrumptious wonder that is chocolate.

 

 

Continue reading

ruminating on janet wong’s a suitcase of seaweed & more (+ a giveaway!)

Sometimes good things can get even better.

I’ve always loved Janet Wong’s A Suitcase of Seaweed — it’s my favorite among her poetry collections. First published by Margaret K. McElderry Books in 1996, it explores her Korean and Chinese heritage and what it was like growing up in America.

When Janet was a Poetry Potluck guest back in 2012, I praised the relatable truths in A Suitcase of Seaweed, shared “Grandmother’s Almond Cookies,” and enjoyed hearing about her paternal grandparents. How wonderful to have a PoPo (grandmother) who was the “Boss of Dessert”!

In February, Janet published A Suitcase of Seaweed & More (Yuzu/Pomelo Books, 2019), which contains all 36 poems (+ 3 prose pieces) from the original book as well as lots of new text (backstories, musings, prompts). I loved learning about what inspired the poems, and appreciated the way she extended their themes and widened their contexts. I know her appealing prompts will get readers thinking, talking, maybe even writing their own poems and stories.

In “Love at First Sight,” the first of Janet’s Korean Poems from Part One, she imagines her parents in the early days of their courtship. They somehow met while her father, an American soldier stationed in Korea, would purchase fresh food for the troops from her mother’s family farm. Her mom could not speak English, and her father did not know Korean, but somehow they managed to communicate. It seems love has its own language.

*

 

Park Hang-Ryul (1950 – )

 

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

I like to imagine Mother
when her face was full and smooth
and she wore her hair in a long braid,

and I like to imagine Father
with his crooked smile and his crooked crew cut,
wearing an American uniform,

running after her
in the narrow dirt streets
of her Korean village,

as she rushes away
laughing,
her long braid

wagging like the tail of a dog
that has found
a fresh bone.

*

Continue reading