One of America’s most famous 20th-century immigrants, Joyce Chen, gained notoriety the hard way.
Brought up in pre-revolutionary China, Chen left Shanghai with her husband and two children in 1949 to immigrate to the U.S., where she settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lively cartoonish pastel-and-crayon illustrations and rhyming couplets show how young Jia (later renamed Joyce) learned to cook with a man the text simply calls Cook, possibly a family servant, mastering the traditional art of making dumplings, noodles, and sweet rice balls. At the dragon boat festival, she proudly presents her father with her own creation, zongzi rice packages tightly tied “with five bright strings.” Once in the U.S., Joyce and her children face the challenge of life in America: “New words to learn. Strange food to try.” Chen becomes a mentor to other Chinese immigrants and is soon inspired to open a restaurant. The restaurant is immediately popular, but her dumplings aren’t. She overcomes the perception of Chinese food as “gluey stew” by rebranding her dumplings as “Peking Ravioli.” A cookbook and a TV show soon follow, and she has successfully introduced authentic Chinese cuisine to the East Coast. A timeline, glossary, bibliography, and dumpling recipes are included.
A fascinating historical character is presented in terms easy for young children to appreciate, and requests to experiment with dumpling dough will certainly ensue. (Picture book/biography. 5-8)