Food is a fabulous way for kids to explore culture. As a child, I learned so much about my Chinese heritage while helping my parents in the kitchen—and got a lot of delicious snacks out of it, too! From learning about cultural holidays to listening to my parents describe the things they ate growing up in China, this was always a special time for my family and me to work together and share stories.
My upcoming picture book, Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao, was borne out of some of those wonderful experiences. In it, a little Chinese-American girl hatches a plan to make the Perfect Bao, just like those made by her mother, father, and grandma. I hoped to share a little of the joy (and frustrations!) of making these tasty treats with young readers…as well as converting more children into bao-lovers!
Check out these seven picture books that explore family, culture, and community through food, as well as two bonus ones that will be out soon!
"Thank You, Omu" illustrated and written by Oge Mora
The author’s note in the back of this beautifully-illustrated picture book explains that “omu” means “queen” in Igbo, a Nigerian language, but that growing up, it was what she called her grandma. The Omu in the story lovingly shares the big pot of scrumptious red stew she’d been saving for dinner with everyone in the neighborhood, and when her kindness means that she has no soup left for herself, her neighbors band together to repay her generosity.
"Magic Ramen: The Story Of Momofuku Ando" by Andrea Wang, illustrated by Kana Urbanowicz
Instant ramen is ubiquitous nowadays, but many people don’t know about its origins! Magic Ramen tells the story in a fun, kid-friendly manner that touches on Japanese history and the power of perseverance and problem-solving. The illustrations are charming and the story of Momofuku Ando’s journey to create a nutritious, easy-to-make ramen after experiencing the food-shortages of post-WWII Japan is sure to please noodle-lovers everywhere.
"Cora Cooks Pancit" by Dorina Lazo Gilmore, illustrated by Kristi Valiant
This is a lively, adorable story about the youngest in a family who longs to be allowed “grown-up” jobs in the kitchen like her older brothers and sisters. When she finally gets her chance, she makes a Filipino noodle dish, pancit, with her mother that has her whole family raving. Younger children eager for more “grown up” tasks in the kitchen will definitely sympathize!
"What Can You Do With A Paleta?" by Carmen Tafolla, illustrated by Magaly Morales
A little girl shares the scrumptious sounds, smells, and colors of her barrio, then wonders “You can dance to the accordion, you can smell the tacos, but…what can you do with a paleta?” She comes up with a whole host of things (including painting her tongue green, and giving herself a blue mustache!) that will delight young readers—and send them running for paletas of their own!
"Chicken Soup, Chicken Soup" by Pamela Mayer, illustrated by Deborah Melmon
Sophie loves the chicken soup made by the grandmas on both sides of her family—her Nai Nai’s Chinese chicken soup with wontons, and her Bubbe’s Jewish chicken soup with kreplach. When her grandmothers become concerned that Sophie doesn't know the difference between wontons and kreplach, Sophie brings the whole family together to show everyone that while she definitely knows her wontons from her kreplach, she can also make “a wonderful blend” of both soups that has her grandmas agreeing it’s “the best of both,” just like Sophie!
"Lailah’s Lunchbox: A Ramadan Story" by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Lea Lyon
Lailah is finally old enough to join her family in fasting during the month of Ramadan, and she couldn’t be more excited. But she’s also just moved from Abu Dhabi to the United States, and is nervous about explaining fasting to her new classmates and teacher. This is a lovely book based on the author’s own experiences moving to the United States as a child, and is not only a great introduction to Ramadan, but will also ring true to children in situations similar to Lailah’s.
"Bilal Cooks Daal" by Aisha Saeed, illustrated by Anoosha Syed
Bilal, his father, and all his friends come together to make daal in this cute book about cooking, patience, and trying new foods. Bilal is concerned that his friends won’t like his favorite dish as they wait for it to slowly come together over the course of a day — but it turns out he had nothing to worry about!
And finally, I’m very excited for two books are coming out later this year:
"Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story" by Kevin Noble Maillard, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal (October 2019)
This verse picture book will celebrate fry bread in the context of a modern Native American family!
"Freedom Soup" by Tami Charles, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcántara (December 2019)
I can’t wait to learn more about how Haitian independence came to be, as well as the traditional Haitian New Year’s soup!
HUNGRY FOR MORE? You can watch "Amy" cooking up the ~perfect~ bao in this clip.