What is the cost of a smell? Debut author Daemicke and veteran artist Bersani (Ocean Counting, 2016, etc.) answer this question by bringing a traditional tale into a present-day setting.
In a modern-looking Chinatown, young Ming is playing with an old-fashioned racing wheel when he smells something delicious. Fantastic aromas are coming from the house of notable curmudgeon Fu Wang, and Ming is suspicious—as well he ought to be. In turns out that Fu Wang’s chefs have created eight delicious dishes, and the chefs announce them to the neighborhood. Later in the day, Fu Wang announces that, as payment for the wonderful smells, he will collect 40 cents from each local family. It doesn’t seem like a large sum, but for the families that live near Fu Wang, it’s enough for them to protest his ridiculous demand and refuse to give him money. Fu Wang presses the issue and takes his neighbors to court. Ming sits in the audience and listens as the wise judge hears out the case. “The smells from Fu Wang’s food were not something we asked for. Why should we pay for them?” one of the neighbors protests. But when the judge asks each neighbor to produce 40 cents each, the neighbors fear they’ve lost the case. The joke, however, is on Fu Wang; the judge has each neighbor jingle their coins to pay for the smell of food with the sound of money. The folktale on which this story is based has versions in Japan, China, Korea, Turkey, and elsewhere, but young American readers will likely see it here for the first time. They’ll laugh at the justice served to Fu Wang and appreciate the wisdom of the judge. Bersani’s illustrations feature a wonderfully diverse cast of men and women of primarily Asian descent, although Fu Wang looks a bit like a stereotypical villain. The text on each page can be lengthy but the vocabulary is appropriate for a mid-elementary-school audience, who will get the most out of the tale; classroom-activity pages about the five senses, as well as a science experiment about diffusion, follow the text. The images also help move the story along at a steady pace.
A folktale retelling that’s well-suited to a new generation of young readers.