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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Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers.

THE CREATURE OF THE PINES

From the Unicorn Rescue Society series , Vol. 1

Elliot’s first day of school turns out to be more than he bargained for.

Elliot Eisner—skinny and pale with curly brown hair—is a bit nervous about being the new kid. Thankfully, he hits it off with fellow new student, “punk rock”–looking Uchenna Devereaux, a black girl with twists (though they actually look like dreads in Aly’s illustrations). On a first-day field trip to New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, the pair investigates a noise in the trees. The cause? A Jersey Devil: a blue-furred, red-bellied and -winged mythical creature that looks like “a tiny dragon” with cloven hooves, like a deer’s, on its hind feet. Unwittingly, the duo bonds with the creature by feeding it, and it later follows them back to the bus. Unsurprisingly, they lose the creature (which they alternately nickname Jersey and Bonechewer), which forces them to go to their intimidating, decidedly odd teacher, Peruvian Professor Fauna, for help in recovering it. The book closes with Professor Fauna revealing the truth—he heads a secret organization committed to protecting mythical creatures—and inviting the children to join, a neat setup for what is obviously intended to be a series. The predictable plot is geared to newly independent readers who are not yet ready for the usual heft of contemporary fantasies. A brief history lesson given by a mixed-race associate of Fauna’s in which she compares herself to the American “melting pot” manages to come across as simultaneously corrective and appropriative.

Fantasy training wheels for chapter-book readers. (Fantasy. 7-10)

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-3170-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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Moving and accessible.

BEAR AND FRED

A WORLD WAR II STORY

A bear and his boy survive the Holocaust.

A stuffed bear tells the story of his life with a young Dutch Jewish boy as World War II engulfs the Netherlands. The bear’s words are never maudlin or precious. Rather, he is an observer with keen eyes and ears and a loving heart. Fred, the boy, lives with his parents and brothers in Delft but is then taken to Amsterdam to stay with his grandfather. Fred is warned to keep silent about his family. After Grandpa sews a yellow star onto Fred’s coat, Mama returns, rips off the star, and takes Fred to live with a “nice lady.” The war ends, and Fred and his family are all happily united. In her author’s note, Argaman describes how she saw the bear at Yad Vashem, Israel‘s Holocaust museum, and exchanged letters with Fred Lessing, now living in America, because she wanted to share the story. Translated from Hebrew, it reads seamlessly and beautifully presents a family caught up in war as seen from the perspective of a caring but historically naïve eyewitness. Without in any manner diminishing the actual horrors of World War II or any current fighting, the author enables a child to grasp in some small manner the impact of conflict on a family. Loose-lined, simply colored illustrations focus attention on the titular characters.

Moving and accessible. (author’s note, photograph) (Picture book. 7-10)

Pub Date: May 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-1821-0

Page Count: 48

Publisher: Amazon Crossing Kids

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2019

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