chop chop stick stick: a pair of lip smacking poems

Raise your hand if you know how to use chopsticks! Do you like them?

Just as I can’t remember first feeding myself with a fork or spoon, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t use chopsticks. When it came to eating, I was a quick and early learner. 🙂 I do remember loving a special pair of children’s chopsticks I once had — they were pink plastic with black and gold specks. Naturally, they made everything taste better.

Mr Cornelius’s favorite chopsticks

Back in the dark ages when I was doing school visits for Dumpling Soup, I always brought wooden chopsticks along. The majority of first graders had never used them before, and they had fun trying to pick up M&Ms, Cheerios, and gummy bears. Some were so pleased with their newfound skill that later in the cafeteria they even tried to eat their lunches with them. Ever try to pick up half a PB&J sandwich with chopsticks? 🙂

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friday feast: celebrating fall with a janet wong giveaway!


Happy Poetry Friday!

We’re falling big time for Janet S. Wong today with a special Autumn Giveaway. That’s right — one of you lucky munchkins will win the prize pack pictured above — paperback copies of The Rainbow Hand: Poems About Mothers and Children, Good Luck Gold, Declaration of Interdependence: Poems for an Election Year, and Behind the Wheel: Poems About Driving!

This bounty of goodness represents a wonderful cross section of Janet’s inspiring, funny, heartwarming, conversational, honest, always accessible verse. What I especially love about Janet’s poetry is how she’s able to extract meaning and relevance from almost anything — every situation, ordinary or extraordinary, and tell it true. When you hear the voices in her poems, you feel as though you’ve definitely met that person before, or that she’s talking about you, and you wonder, how did she know? has she been reading my mail? has she always lived in my back pocket?

I love the poems in Declaration of Interdependence — it is the perfect way to stimulate discussion about our very interesting why-isn’t-it-over-yet presidential election. In the back of the book, Janet includes some great discussion and writing ideas that really got me thinking, like, “Write a list of the most ridiculous (or scariest or most impractical) ideas you’ve heard from presidential candidates (official and unofficial).” Or, “What would you say to convince someone that his vote counts?” And yes, kids should get to vote!

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apple pie 4th of july winners!

Why yes. It’s time once again to risk life and limb to select the winners of our Apple Pie 4th of July Summer Giveaway.

As some of you may know, last time we nearly avoided any semblance of monkey business, riots in the ranks, or tetchy tampering with contest results.


Determined to avoid yet another fiasco involving false mustaches, Groucho Marx impersonations, or twitchy dowsing rods gone amok, we sent an urgent missive to the ever steady and reliable Mr. Random Integer Generator, who, after a brief sojourn in the French Riviera, Peugeoted himself across the border and is, at this very moment, relaxing in Tuscany with a glass of Chianti, pecorino, and summer-glorious panzanella.

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the super scrumptious apple pie 4th of july giveaway!

Just because you’re the best looking, smartest, most loyal blog readers ever who deserve nothing but the best, we’re giving away 3, count’em, three (!) signed copies of this wonderful picture book, Apple Pie 4th of July, written by award-winning author/poet Janet S. Wong and illustrated by Caldecott Honor Winner Margaret Chodos-Irvine!!

*cartwheels* *back flips* WooHoo!

Apple Pie is the story of a young girl whose parents own a convenience store. Open every day of the year except Christmas, they sell things like soda, potato chips, milk, candy bars, and best of all — Chinese take-out. *licks lips*  

So what’s the problem?

It’s the fourth of July and the girl is feeling left out and put out, because she hears the parade boom booming down the street and smells her neighbor’s apple pie baking upstairs, and what are her parents doing? Cooking chow mein and sweet-and-sour pork!

(click for Chicken Chow Mein recipe)

This is America! Don’t they understand? Nobody eats Chinese food on the 4th of July!

And she’s right! All day long, customers buy other things — matches, ice cream, ice. No one touches the egg rolls. No one wants the noodles.

But later that afternoon, something unexpected happens. Two people come in to buy Chinese food! Good thing her parents have made fresh batches of everything because more and more and more people keep coming in for Chinese take-out. After they finally close the store, the girl and her parents go up to the roof to watch the fireworks and eat their — apple pie!

(click for Sweet and Sour Pork recipe)

This simple heartwarming story addresses the need to belong, living between cultures, and finding a community. It’s also a great reminder to everyone that America is both apple pie and Chinese food — and a lot of other colorfully delicious things. The definition of what it means to be an American broadens every day; we must keep our minds and hearts open, embrace the differences, and meet each other halfway.

Also cool? The story was inspired by a real incident. In a Reading Rockets interview, author Janet Wong says:

I wrote Apple Pie Fourth of July because my parents actually did own a minimart that sold Chinese food to go. This minimart that they owned was in rural Oregon. I was not a child at the time, but I…You know, you’re always a child of your parents, right? You could be 35 years old, you’re still the child of your parents. So when I would go to visit them and bring my son to go fishing with Grandpa, they would go fishing and I would work in the store.

And so I spent a fair amount of time in the store. And one day, well it happened to be Fourth of July, 1996, I called my father and he answered the phone, Tri-City Market. So I knew he was at the store. He had the same phone number for the house and for the store. So, Tri-City Market. I said, Hi Tri-City Market. Pretty slow today, huh? And he said, oh no, oh no, it’s busy. It was the Fourth of July, right? He said, it’s busy. I said, ice, matches?

Cause I was thinking, well, people are having barbecues, you know, what do they need. He said, oh no, Chinese food. I said, Chinese food? Hello? And I actually said to him, hello, do you know what day it is today? This is the Fourth of July, an all-American holiday. People are cooking burgers, hot dogs, and you’re cooking Chinese food? And he said, yeah, and it’s busy and I got to go, bye. And he hung up the phone.

And I thought, oh, I never would have imagined, in rural Oregon, in a county where there are only a handful of Asians, that Chinese food-to-go would sell. And so I wrote Apple Pie Fourth of July as my apology, as my public apology, because in the book, the girl in the beginning is glum. She can’t believe her parents are so un-American as to cook Chinese food on this all-American holiday.

And yet by the end of the book she’s really surprised because the community, the people in the community have come in and they’re buying Chinese food. They’re buying Chinese food-to-go. And, you know, I think that there, again, authors are not supposed to have ‘message-y’ books and we’re not supposed to be preachy, but I am really happy that I was able to put a message in that book. And to me the message is twofold: On the one hand, to the child who feels left out — and it doesn’t have to be to a child who feels left out because she’s Chinese, all right — but to a child who feels left out, the message is: look around. Look around. Maybe you’re not quite as alone as you think. Maybe you don’t really stick out. Maybe you do have something to offer. And then the message to the community, to the people around that child is, go ahead and surprise people, you know?

Do the unexpected. Look around. Embrace your community. Seek out what’s different and new and try it.



Leave a comment at this post telling us what food you’re most excited about eating on Independence Day. Extra entries for blogging, tweeting, FBing, etc. (mention in your comment).

Yes! You can also enter by sending an email with “Apple Pie” in the subject line to: readermail (at) jamakimrattigan (dot) com.

Deadline: midnight (EDT), Sunday, June 10, 2012. Giveaway open to U.S. residents only, please. I will mail the books out in time for you to enjoy them on or before the Fourth of July.


Want to know how Margaret created the lovely illustrations? Click here to learn a bit more about the printmaking techniques she uses for her children’s books.

Click here for the video of Janet’s Reading Rockets interview.

And now, wrap your lips around this:

(click for Cinnamon Crumble Apple Pie recipe)

Nom, nom, and Good Luck!


*Spreads from Apple Pie 4th of July posted by permission, text copyright © 2002 Janet S. Wong, illustrations © 2002 Margaret Chodos-Irvine, published by Harcourt, Inc. All rights reserved.

**Special thanks to Margaret Chodos-Irvine for providing the digital spreads for this post, and to Janet Wong for donating the books!

Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.