PPBF – Dumplings for Lili

Happy New Year! I hope your year is off to a super start!

To say that 2021 ended with a bang is a bit of an understatement. From Covid striking 4 of our 7 family members right after Christmas to a mad dash through 110 MPH winds past the Boulder wildfires to the safety of our daughter’s home, and an early return to the east coast, the end of our holidays were not, to say the least, as we’d planned. BUT, we are all safe, recovering, and thankful for being spared the worst of these disasters.

Now, it’s upward and onward, as I scramble to coordinate a move to a rental home I haven’t seen in a part of the country I’ve never visited (Florida, just north of Miami). “Never a dull moment,” so sayeth this Serial Mover!

None of this has anything to do with today’s Perfect Picture Book. But it’s the reason I’m posting this review earlier than originally intended, which was late January, to celebrate Lunar New Year. Thankfully, I thought ahead and wrote it in early December. Hopefully, I’ll carve out a few minutes in the next week or so to write a few more for the month. And if for some reason I don’t post one week (like being buried under boxes or lost along the I-95 corridor), I will be back!

Title: Dumplings for Lili

Written & Illustrated By: Melissa Iwai

Publisher/Date: Norton Young Readers/2021

Suitable for Ages: 6-8

Themes/Topics: dumplings, cooking, grandmothers, sharing, multicultural, intergenerational

Opening:

It’s a special day when Nai Nai says, “Lili, do you want to help me make baos?”

Brief Synopsis: Lili is happy to help her grandmother make baos, but when they lack cabbage for the recipe, Lili is off to visit the many other grandmothers in the building who also lack ingredients for their special dumpling recipes.

Links to Resources:

  • Learn how to make bao with Iwai by watching this YouTube video;
  • Celebrate Lunar New Year, this year on 1 February 2022, with these activities and by making Chinese dumplings;
  • Ask an older relative or friend to share a favorite family recipe, and bake or cook it together.

Why I Like this Book:

In this charming intergenerational picture book, Iwai takes readers on a journey to visit older women of many nationalities as Lili seeks missing ingredients for different types of dumplings. I love how Iwai has chosen one type of food, dumplings, and shows how they vary across culinary traditions. I also love how this community of women help each other by sharing ingredients.

As the story begins, Lili’s Nai Nai invites Lili to help her prepare baos, Chinese dumplings. It’s clear that the two enjoy the process, as the dumpling dough ingredients become “friends”, the filling dances “with joy” in the wok, and the pair have big smiles on their faces. But when the pair lack cabbage to include in the steamer, Lili is off and running to visit the friendly neighbors, each of whom needs to borrow something from someone else for a special recipe.

Readers see the various ethnicities displayed in the many kitchens. Each grandmother bears an ethnically-distinct name, and each prepares a type of dumpling from her culture, including pierogi, fatayer, tamales, ravioli, and beef patties. Interestingly, many of these dishes include foods used by several of the women.

Although all of the back and forth and characters could get confusing, Iwai helpfully includes an illustrated map of Lili’s journey, along with a chart showing the grandmothers and their creations. She also includes a simplified bao recipe within the text and a more detailed version in the back matter.

I won’t spoil the ending by telling you why Lili and Nai Nai were making baos, but you can be sure that there is a celebration involved.

Dumplings for Lili is a perfect choice for classroom and family reading, as it showcases so many cultures and delicious foods, and as it is filled with such joy.

A Note about Craft:

Like a bao recipe, Dumplings for Lili includes so many ingredients that make this a Perfect Picture Book. From the loving and joy-filled relationship of Lili and Nai Nai evident from the text, to the helpful neighbors and the colorful illustrations, Iwai layers the story in a way that showcases Lili’s cultural traditions and shows how several other cultures share similar ingredients and traditions.

This Perfect Picture Book entry is being added to Susanna Hill’s Perfect Picture Book list. Check out the other great picture books featured there!

2 responses to “PPBF – Dumplings for Lili

  1. You know I love intergenerational stories! This book is quite unusual and I love the idea of grandmothers of different ethnicities making their own version of New Year dumplings! Lovely choice. You certainly have had your share of family concerns over the holidays. Glad everyone is safe and on the mend. Wow, a move. Wish I could join you. I have a niece in Boca Raton.

  2. Thanks! Intergenerational stories are favorites of mine, too, and this one is truly delightful. I hope you can find & read it soon.
    What a small world! If I recall correctly, you live in Dayton, where my mother grew up and where my grandparents, and an aunt lived. Perhaps that’s why we’re drawn to many of the same types of picture books!

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