two scoops rice: hiromi suzuki and sammy lee

For this last Nonfiction Monday of Asian Pacific Heritage Month, here are two exceptional picture book biographies. First up is Hiromi’s Hands by Lynne Barasch (Lee and Low, 2007).

This is my favorite PB biography from last year. Sure, I might be a tad partial to a book about food. But the story of how Hiromi Suzuki became one of the first female sushi chefs in New York City touches on so many inspiring themes — the value of hard work and determination, respect for tradition, family love, and the importance of progressive thinking in realizing goals.

Told from Hiromi’s point of view, we see how her father, Akira, trained to be a sushi chef in Japan, working long hours for three years before he was even allowed to slice the fish. He is hired by a restaurant in NYC, and shortly thereafter opens his own restaurant, Akasaka. This is rewarding but demanding work, and Hiromi misses her father. When she is eight, she begs him to take her to the fish market where he purchases for the restaurant.

Recognizing her desire to become a sushi chef, Akira allows Hiromi to help in his restaurant when she is 13, even though the profession has always been dominated by males. Like her father, Hiromi works long and hard for 3 years before she is given her own yanagi (sushi knife), to truly begin her apprenticeship. The first person point of view will engage and endear readers, young and old alike.

Lynne Barasch’s ink and pastel watercolours are light, airy, and just detailed enough for depicting the bustling fish markets in Japan and NYC, trays of colorful sushi, and the warmth of father and daughter. There is an excellent glossary and pronunciation guide listing all kinds of sushi, as well as an author’s note about Hiromi, who was a childhood friend of the author’s daughter. Did I already mention the mouthwatering pictures of sushi?

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