[colorful review] Rainbow Shopping by Qing Zhuang

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)!

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a little taste of Spring is for Strawberries by Katherine Pryor and Polina Gortman

Happy National Strawberry Month!

What better way to celebrate the merry month of May than with fresh strawberries? April through June is peak picking season for these sweet delectable beauties, and there’s no better place to score a couple of quarts than your local farmers market.

As we learn in Spring is for Strawberries by Katherine Pryor and Polina Gortman (Schiffer Kids, 2023), the farmers market is much more than a place to buy and sell local seasonal produce. Unlike shopping in a big grocery store, farmers markets offer us a chance to get up close and personal with those who actually grow our food. As we return to our favorite vendors week after week (or year after year), sometimes casual pleasantries can blossom into meaningful friendships.

In this delightful story, two girls — one, a farmer’s daughter whose family has brought their spring crop to the market, and the other, a city child whose family shops there, become friends and continue to celebrate each season’s bounty throughout the year.

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[guest post] Roxanne Troup on My Grandpa, My Tree, and Me

Like many stories, the final product of MY GRANDPA, MY TREE, AND ME is much more than the sum of its parts. And while I don’t know that I set out to write an intergenerational story, it became that through the process of revision.

The first spark of an idea for this story came about when I encountered a YouTube video of a commercial pecan harvest. I watched as a tractor with a padded arm grabbed hold of a tree and shook. Thousands of pecans thundered to the ground like torrential rain!

Though I’d grown up around farming, and knew a bit about mechanized harvesting, I was in awe. I’d never seen pecans harvested by tractor. I didn’t even know they made attachments for that! When we harvested pecans in Missouri, we gathered them by hand like the wild products they were. I was fascinated with the dichotomy of commercial harvesting versus home-harvesting and knew kids would find the process curious as well. But I needed an organic way to highlight both processes. When the phrase, “But not my tree,” came to me, I knew I’d found a story mechanism that could work.

My pre-draft (Yep, I just made that up. It’s the “draft” where all your ideas go—in no particular order.) was messy. It focused on the care and harvesting of pecans but wasn’t really a story. As a matter of fact, I never even finished it. But I also didn’t throw it away. I’d been reading, writing, and critiquing long enough to know it had elements I could work with. It included the refrain—“But not my tree”—that would stay with the story throughout each iteration. It hinted at a seasonal structure. And it had a nice child-like voice. I also never finished my first…or second…or third draft. When something isn’t working, I have a tendency to just stop and start again, taking what I learned in that partial draft to the next one (which I don’t recommend to anyone, but it is part of my process). 

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[spicy review] Anni Dreams of Biryani by Namita Moolani Mehra and Chaaya Prabhat

Right now I am dreaming of the perfect Indian meal: To start, aloo tikki and samosas with a side of black pepper poppadums to wake up the taste buds, followed by chicken tikka masala or chicken korma with a steamy platter of vegetable biryani. Must also have some warm onion kulcha and garlic naan, and for dessert, gulab jamun. Mmmmm!

via Kuwait Times

Savory and oh-so-aromatic – Indian cuisine is all about the spices, many of which begin with the letter ‘c’: cumin, coriander, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom. Let’s not forget mustard seeds, red chili, garum masala, and turmeric. An added bonus is that many of these also have valuable medicinal benefits.

Though I’ve never cooked Indian food at home, the young girl in this new picture book, Anni Dreams of Biryani by Namita Moolani Mehra and Chaaya Prabhat (Two Lions, 2022), has inspired me to give it a try. I’m impressed by her passion for cooking and determination to make the best version of one of her favorite dishes.

Vegetable Biryani via Piping Pot Curry.

When the story opens, we learn Anni lives with her mother and grandmother across the street  from the Biryani Café in Little India. From her kitchen window, she has a bird’s eye view of the comings and goings of the bustling neighborhood. She listens to the “constant chatter of busy bikers, curious tourists, and weary workers” – all of whom are there to eat café owner Mr. Arif’s (Uncle’s) famous biryani.

It was, after all, the best biryani in the world. 

Fluffy and fragrant. Spicy and succulent. Absolutely addictive.

Anni loves it so much she could eat the savory rice dish every single day. But Grandma deems it should be a once-a-week treat, so they only have it on Fridays. 

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[review + recipe + giveaway] Abuelita and I Make Flan by Adriana Hernández Bergstrom

As soon as I saw “flan” in the title, my mouth began to water and I smiled at the little girl’s joyous face as she peeked into the oven with her grandmother.

What could be nicer than spending the day with a loved one making a family recipe? What  could possibly go wrong? Well . . .

Most of us know that without some sort of conflict there really wouldn’t be a story worth telling, and in Abuelita and I Make Flan, author-illustrator Adriana Hernández Bergstrom cooked up a truly engaging, suspenseful, heartwarming tale that will likely resonate with everyone – unless you happen to be absolutely perfect and have never made a mistake. 😇

Young Anita is excited that her abuela is going to teach her how to make flan for Abuelo’s birthday. Not just any flan, mind you, but the best flan!

Before they even get started, Anita accidentally breaks Abuelita’s crystal flan serving plate – it’s from Cuba and she’s had it forever, before Anita was born.


 Anita has already ruined Abuelo’s birthday. 😦

“Maybe no one will notice?”

Anita knows she should tell Abuelita, but worries about angering or disappointing her, so she decides she will instead strive to be the best helper. After all, she’s usually good at helping Abuelita with things she has difficulty doing because of her arthritis (threading needles, opening jars, undoing knots).

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