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Review: Dumpling Days December 3, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Book Reviews.
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If you had asked me back in 2004, (when I was starting my education classes) to recommend a chapter book for about third grade with a quirky girl protagonist, I would have had any number of suggestions. Ramona? Pippi Longstocking? There’s so much to choose from! If you had then said “Oh…anything with a protagonist who isn’t white?” I would have had to stop and really think. About the only thing that comes to mind is In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson. Which I love, don’t get me wrong. However, it is without a doubt, historical fiction and now, in the 21st century, I don’t think kids today are quite as apt to relate to characters who hang out at the corner store and listen to baseball on a radio.

So I would have sighed. But ask me the same question NOW and many more titles come to mind. High on my list and ready to join Shirley Temple Wong as a classic middle-grade girl is Pacy Lin. I loved both The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat, so I was thrilled to finally have time to sit down and gallop through Pacy’s latest adventures in Dumpling Days by Grace Lin.

Pacy has dealt with friendships, her family and learning Chinese in previous books, and in this installment, she has to deal with an entirely new country: the Lin family is in Taiwan for the summer, visiting family, learning new skills and most importantly, eating food. Dumplings especially, in case the title didn’t make it clear. Identity has always been a major theme of this series and in this book Pacy has an important decision to make: what will she get carved on her new ‘name chop’–a seal that will be her own special symbol? Should it be her name in Chinese? In English? A Chinese character or phrase? What really represents her?  Lin doesn’t gloss over the challenges of visiting a foreign place, from not being able to communicate to the awkwardness of not knowing how to use a toilet flusher. Pacy certainly has her share of moments when she feels out of place or frustrated and bored. But she has her family, who is always supportive (even if sisters can be annoying!), lots of relatives with stories to share and of course, the delicious food.

Have I mentioned all the descriptions of food in this book? I don’t consider myself that knowledgable about Asian food–I like it but haven’t had much that’s authentic here in the U.S. Every meal in this book had my mouth watering! If I had read this book as an 8 year old, I probably would have made up a game where I played ‘food market’ outside and ate pretend dumplings, rather than the venison and cornbread of Laura Ingalls. I can’t give higher praise to a middle-grade book than to say it will inspire pretend games in children. As a read aloud, read alone, a ‘Just read it!’ book, there’s nothing better than Dumpling Days. 

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