Monthly Archives: February 2012

The Sandwich Swap

Of course you know by now that I’m a sucker for a story that features food. Queen Rania’s picture book, The Sandwich Shop, is a food story, but it also encourages kids to be open to new experiences and different traditions. Delicious and instructive – a winning combination.

In general, I’m not a big fan of “celebrity picture books,” but I think this one deserves a recommendation. It is simple, and Tricia Tusa’s winning illustrations are wonderfully whimsical, a combination that makes a charming book that kids will enjoy and that could easily serve as a launch for classroom discussions and lessons.

There is often drama in the lunch room, right? It’s where many friendships begin and end. It’s where trades are negotiated and unwanted sandwiches get surreptitiously tossed so that mom will “never find out.” This story is about two girls who are friends in every way, even though Salma eats a hummus sandwich everyday and Lily goes for PB & J. This isn’t an issue for quite some time until one day Lily can’t keep her true feelings quiet any longer. She tells her friend that her hummus sandwich looks yucky. Salma responds by saying that Lily’s sandwich looks gross and smells bad. That’s all it takes for the perfect friendship to disintegrate. And you know how it goes with insults; they have a way of catching on. In the end, a massive food fight erupts. Eventually the girls mend things. All it takes is a little openmindedness and a few bites of the other’s lunch to realize that different doesn’t mean disgusting. Different can be exciting and interesting and delicious.

The message is not complicated, and it might be a shade too-good-to-be-true, but sometimes you need a book like that and I do think it will achieve its goal, getting kids to consider that diversity is cool and one of the best parts of life. Of course they will relate to the experience of having their lunches “judged.” It happens all the time. I think that this concept was a clever and non-intimidating choice for getting kids talking about themes of tolerance, inclusion and difference.

The Sandwich Shop is published by Disney Hyperion.

Dumpling Days

Grace Lin’s Dumpling Days is a book that is so easy to like. It has believable and sweet family dynamics, gentle humour, a wonderful sense of place, and a lot of talk about dumplings. It’s always great to discover a book that is perfectly written for the age group, that you feel you can place in a child’s hands and know that it is exactly right in terms of reading level, characterization, and thematic development. Grace Lin really understands her audience. As I was reading, I could bring to mind several children who come to the library who would be just right readers for Dumpling Days.

Here’s a lovely video intro to the book:

This is a smiley-face kind of book, meaning that pretty much the whole time you’re reading, you’re also smiling. The interactions between the siblings are spot on, and the extended family members and people they meet on the trip come to life memorably as well. It’s refreshing to read about a family that isn’t messed up, or on the flip side, comes off as too good to be true. The Lins are just real. Sometimes they fight, sometimes they don’t get each other, sometimes they feel misunderstood, but through it all they are glad to be a family.

Perhaps the best part of the book (though it’s hard to name the best because the whole is so well done) is the way that Lin evokes Taiwan and a child’s experience of the country – mostly urban experiences. You learn a lot about the country through this book, with an appealing focus on the food. So much so that a) I now want to eat a lot of dumplings, and b) I would recommend this book to an adult who was thinking of a trip to Taiwan as a way of selling them on the idea. I’d never thought about going to Taiwan and Dumpling Days made me see why I might really enjoy a visit.

If you haven’t read the first two books in this series, you should. As for Dumpling Days, I think kids will find it cozy and friendly and they’ll close the book with smiles on their faces and grumbly tummies. Five dumplings out of five.

Dumpling Days is published by Little, Brown. Thanks for the review copy!