BITTER DUMPLINGS

A tender story about kindness and trust, with illustrations that combine elements of both East and West in their silken colors and fine line. Mei Mei’s parents are dead, and her brothers, who had always been jealous of her, have abandoned her. She tries to live on her own by the sea, but one day, starving, she begs food from the gnarled old woman, Po Po, who sells shrimp-and-bitter-melon dumplings at the market. Po Po is cold and sullen, but lets Mei Mei follow her home, and soon teaches her to catch the shrimp, make the paste, and harvest and cook the melons. Eventually, Mei Mei even takes over the selling. The old woman is often in pain, however, and when Mei Mei massages her back, she tells the story of a youthful injury and hopes lost. Mei Mei sees in this a reflection of her own sorrow. Sailors from dragon ships come ashore to wrest food from the village, and a young slave sailor eats the bitter melon dumplings and finds in their strange taste a memory of his childhood. He seeks out Mei Mei, and Po Po hides them both while she scares off the sailors who come seeking the slave. Po Po offers her own wedding clothes and dowry to Mei Mei, and the last moment of the tale finds the three glimpsing a future of love and happiness for all of them. Lee’s colors are like watered silk and the sea: pinks and teals, rose and turquoise, contrast with the dark accents of Mei Mei’s long hair and Po Po’s white locks. A fine tale told with subtlety and beauty. (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 4, 2002

ISBN: 0-374-39966-2

Page Count: 32

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2002

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TWENTY-ONE ELEPHANTS

Fact and fiction dovetail neatly in this tale of a wonderfully resolute child who finds a memorable way to convince her father that the newly-finished Brooklyn Bridge is safe to cross. Having watched the great bridge going up for most of her young life, Hannah is eager to walk it, but despite repeated, fact-laced appeals to reason (and Hannah is a positive fount of information about its materials and design), her father won’t be moved: “No little girl of mine will cross that metal monster!” Hannah finally hatches a far-fetched plan to convince him once and for all; can she persuade the renowned P.T. Barnum to march his corps of elephants across? She can, and does (actually, he was already planning to do it). Pham places Hannah, radiating sturdy confidence, within sepia-toned, exactly rendered period scenes that capture both the grandeur of the bridge in its various stages of construction, and the range of expressions on the faces of onlookers during its opening ceremonies and after. Readers will applaud Hannah’s polite persistence. (afterword, resources) (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-689-87011-6

Page Count: 40

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2004

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A rousing introduction to the life of a voyageur told from a unique perspective.

THE LITTLEST VOYAGEUR

Stowing away with French Canadian fur traders in 1792, a loquacious red squirrel embarks on a life-changing adventure.

Each spring, Jean Pierre Petit Le Rouge, a squirrel with wanderlust, watches brave, strong voyageurs depart in canoes from Montreal and return the following autumn. Determined to be a voyageur, Le Rouge hides in a canoe paddled by eight stout voyageurs, part of a brigade of five. Soon his incessant chattering distracts the voyageurs, who become separated from the rest of the brigade, but, after ascending the highest tree, he points the crew back on course. More than once, pesky Le Rouge barely escapes becoming squirrel ragout. He’s just beginning to feel like a real voyageur when they reach the trading post on Lake Superior, where he discovers the voyageurs exchanging their cargo for animal skins to return to Montreal. Heartsick, Le Rouge decides he cannot be a voyageur if it involves trading animal skins, unless he can change things. Le Rouge relates his story with drama and flair, presenting a colorful prism through which to view the daily life of a voyageur. Peppered with historical facts and (italicized) French phrases and names, this exciting, well-documented tale (with a contemporary animal-rights subtext) proves educational and entertaining. Realistic pencil drawings highlight Le Rouge’s memorable journey.

A rousing introduction to the life of a voyageur told from a unique perspective. (map, pronunciation guide, historical and biological notes, recipe, further reading) (Historical fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8234-4247-8

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Margaret Ferguson/Holiday House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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