Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Dumpling Days written and illustrated by Grace Lin
The Lins arrive in Taiwan right at the beginning of Ghost Month, a time when the ghosts and spirits of people's ancestors visit the realm of the living. Pacy isn't really in touch with her Taiwanese roots, and finds herself worrying about these ghosts, and, feeling invisible much of the time anyway, becoming one. This introduction to Chinese beliefs is a stark reminder to Pacy that even though she has always felt different from everyone else at home in upstate New York because she is Asian, now in Taiwan, where she may look just like everyone else, she doesn't know much about Chinese culture, and can't speak the language or understand social cues. One thing she has no trouble understanding, though, is the disapproving look on the faces of the Taiwanese people who try to speak Chinese with her.
But her relatives are a fun and friendly bunch, and the food, especially the dumplings, is spectacular. And there is sightseeing to do, and things to learn. When Pacy finds out that her mother has signed her up for a painting class, she isn't very happy until she sees the tubes of color paint she needs. But, the class is in Chinese painting, which means it is done differently than what she is accustomed to, from the way she must hold the paintbrush to never erasing her mistakes to painting the same bamboo over and over again. It frustrates Pacy, who keeps waiting for her art talent to show up and, to make matters worse, the girl next to her, competitive Audrey Chiang, keeps shooting her disapproving, condescending looks that at first shake Pacy's confidence somewhat.
As the Lin family experiences Taiwan, plus a few days in Taichung, Pacy (and the reader) learns all about her family as well as Taiwanese history, customs, culture, and traditions. Dumpling Day is an episodic novel, describing the different experiences Pacy has on her own journey to self-discover and acceptance. Lin has masterfully worked in so much information without making it sound too teachy about it. Occasionally, there are some short interesting culturally historical folktales or family stories set off from Pacy's narrative that add more depth to the story, such as the Thanking the Emperor, the Story of Dumpling Soup, and Grandma Breaks Tradition .
For the most part, however, Pacy's adventures are the day-to-day kind, things such as the fortune tellers at the market, using the squat toilet, eating chicken feet by mistake, and so much more. These were the things that made this a particularly enjoyable book to read. Many of Pacy's adventures are similar to my Kiddo's when she went to China for a few years, particularly the food. I have email after email telling me how wonderful Chinese food is, with dumplings being the favorite.
I should say that I have not read the previous two Pacy novels, The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat, but I feel like Dumpling Days is really a stand alone novel. And I did choose it intentionally because I felt it expresses the idea behind Asian Pacific American Heritage Month perfectly.
Besides that, Dumpling Days is one of the best novels I've read about what it is like to grow up in a family that is multicultural, plus it is also an engaging story that will easily appeal to most young readers. Lin has included simple line drawings throughout the novel that also reflect Pacy's experience (after all, how many of middle graders know what a squat toilet looks like).
This book is recommended for readers age 8+
This book was purchased for my personal library