Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Maggie's Chopsticks by Alan Woo

Poor Maggie, she has just gotten her first set of chopsticks and now, all she needs to do is learn how to use them.  But no matter how hard she tries, she just isn't getting the hang of it.

And so Maggie goes from person to person in her family, hoping their way of using chopsticks will work for her.  Each one has their own unique way of eating with their chopsticks.  Grandma uses her chopsticks to shovel her food from bowl to mouth; mother can make her shrimp fly from chopsticks to mouth; brother can pluck his food using a strong, sure grip on his chopsticks, while sister daintily crosses her chopsticks back and forth.  But none of these methods works for Maggie.

So Maggie turns to the Kitchen God, but even the Kitchen God can't help her learn to each with chopsticks.  Next, she approaches the ancient ancestors at their altar, but still no help or advice is found.  Finally, father tells Maggie what she really needs to hear: "Everyone is different.  Everyone is unique."  In the end, Maggie tentatively figures out that the method that works best for her is her own special way of using chopsticks.

I liked this book a lot; I liked the illustrations and I liked what it had to say.  I thought there were two different but connected and important ideas in Maggie's Chopsticks.  First, it reminded me of these words from Shakespeare's Hamlet: "To thine own self be true."  I think one of the hardest things to teach a child to to be her/his self and not imitate their friends.  So I found the message in this book to be along the same lines - everyone is different and how you do things should be a reflection of who you are, not an imitation of who someone else is.  This point can be seen in the different eating styles of each member of Maggie's family and the way each style reflected their personality and who they were.

The second idea is that all children must learn new things - some things are easier than others, but often frustrating just the same.  Maggie's chopsticks are a nice metaphor for this sometimes overwhelming time in a child's life, but the message is certainly clear enough for them to understand - you can do it, but you will have to work at it.

In the end, these two ideas converge in the way Maggie handles her chopsticks "like a butterfly emerging" a nice metaphor for her growth from little to big girl: "I am unsure/But ready to fly."

I love the somewhat whimsical watercolor illustrations of Isabelle Malenfant and how she has captured each family member's personality, but especially Maggie's feelings of frustration.  They are really a compliment to Woo's lyrical text.  Maggie's Chopsticks is an excellent choice for younger kids who may also be experiencing the frustrations of learning new things.

This book is recommended for readers age 3+
This book was borrowed from the New York Public Library



  1. Thanks for the wonderful review!! I'm just excited that someone borrowed it from the New York Public Library! I love New York!! I put a link up to your blog on my Facebook page!


    Awesome blog!!

    - alan

  2. I really liked Maggie's Chopsticks, but the story and the art. I like to borrow books from the library to support it, but also to remind people that they can read a good book even if they can't buy it. And, of course, I love NY, too. Thanks for the link, judging by my stats, lots of people have come to take a look at Maggie's Chopsticks.

  3. In my huge family, there's always someone teaching us kids the 'proper' way to hold our chopsticks and I was always the one who didn't get it right ~ I hold chopsticks like I would a pencil. It wasn't a big 'no-no' because I still got my food safely into my bowl without splattering onto others. Till this day, I still hold chopsticks MY way and my family just finds it amusing. This book sounds fun, especially when Maggie asks for advice from the Kitchen God. I want to find out how that goes! Thanks for sharing this book, Alex.

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