A Celebration of Family and Food in Jama Rattigan’s ‘Dumpling Soup’

I just knew that I had to write a review of this lovely book the minute we launched our bimonthly theme ‘Festival of Asian Literature and the Immigrant Experience’ theme. For one, it is written by one of our favorite ultra-magnifique blogger of all times, Jama Rattigan. And this book is a celebration of diversity and delectable tastes, what’s not to like?

Family Feasts = A Festival of Food. From the cover alone, you’d know that this is a book you should not open if you’re hungry – unless of course you’re the book-eating sort and you relish tasting soup through the pages. We make an effort to suspend judgment about these things. The book begins with seven year old Marisa sharing about her excitement about the New Year:

Every year on New Year’s Eve, my whole family goes to Grandma’s house for dumpling soup. My aunties and uncles and cousins come from all around Oahu. Most of them are Korean, but some are Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, or haole (Hawaiian for white people). Grandma calls our family “chop suey” which means “all mixed up” in pidgin. I like it that way. So does Grandma. “More spice,” she says.

I love chop suey, it’s one of the dishes that is usually prepared in Filipino family gatherings. In fact, as I read through the book, I am delighted that peeling the layers of the book is like unwrapping the gift from my own memories of huge festive family celebrations. One can distinctly overhear the women’s chatter (oh yes, this is the book that shall speak to you), smell the mouth-watering scents from the kitchen (I can hear my stomach growl and I’ve already eaten breakfast), and hear the squealing laughter (and the occasional and inevitable cries) from the children as they play “shoe store” and queue up to hug Grandma and feel her tummy. Even the illustrations show movement and dynamism – filled with life, laughter, and good cheer.

Hugs for Grandma! 🙂

I also love how Korean words (mandoo, taegu) are interspersed with Japanese terms (mochi) and Hawaiian too! (haole, ono – everything about this book is ono!). And this is done with ease and with grace – never contrived as it blends seamlessly and naturally into the narrative.

The Lumpy yet Succulent Dumpling. This occasion is extra-special for Marisa because she gets to help in the kitchen! For the first time, she is initiated into the wonders of preparing food!

“Tomorrow, Marisa,” answers Grandma. “You can help us wrap.”

So tonight I watch Grandma mix everything in a big metal pan – more tofu, more onion, more salt, more soy sauce. My aunties keep working, and I fall asleep listening to the chop-chop pounding, chop-scrape-scrape. Later, when my mother wakes me up to go to bed, her hands smell like garlic.

As a novice in wrapping dumpling, Marisa feels a tad unsure about her funny-looking dumplings. While Auntie Faye’s dumplings are perfect rectangles, and Auntie Ruth’s have fancy-looking edges, and Auntie Grace has rich and luscious fillings in the middle, Marisa’s poor dumplings look misshapen, sad, and lumpy. It warmed my heart seeing how Marisa is so eager to please and so determined to make the best dumplings ever for her family. But what really made my eyes twinkle was how affirming, encouraging, and supportive her Grandma and the entire family are as she joins in the time-honored tradition of literally bringing food into the table with grace, panache, and good humor.

Publisher’s Note. The very first New Voices, New World contest was held in the fall of 1990 and received a total of 500 manuscripts sent in from all over the world. The premise was to provide support for writers coming from diverse racial backgrounds. Not surprisingly, this lovely book about an Asian American girl stood out as it captures the experience of ‘honoring a mixed heritage’, the sense of pride in celebrating family traditions, and the comfort and joy of being home, surrounded by loved ones. As the publishers noted:

Today, when our country is faced with the challenge of creating one nation out of many peoples, we see a special place in children’s literature for a story that fosters such love and respect for diversity.

About the Authors (taken from the jacketflap of the book)

Click on the image to be taken to the websource.

Jama Kim Rattigan, a third-generation Korean-American, was born and raised on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. After receiving a master’s degree in English from the University of Hawaii, she taught school for four years and then began writing full-time. This is her first book. Jama and her husband now live in Herndon, Virginia.

Lillian Hsu-Flanders was born in Camden, New Jersey. She studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, in Boston, and her sculptures and drawings have been exhibited throughout New England. This is her first book. Lillian lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with her husband and their two children.

Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan and Illustrations by Lillian Hsu-Flanders. Published by Little, Brown and Company, New York & Boston, 1993. Book borrowed from the community library. Book photos were taken by me.

Winner of New Voices, New World contest in the fall of 1990. AWB Reading Challenge Update: 64 (35)

PictureBook Challenge Update: 66 of 120

PoC Reading Challenge Update: 24 of 25

4 Comments on A Celebration of Family and Food in Jama Rattigan’s ‘Dumpling Soup’

  1. It is a beautiful book, which I’ve sent to my Korean-born niece, Myra. And of course, I think all thing Jama are wonderful too. Thank you for this ‘delicious’ post!

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  2. Thank you so much for the thoughtful, thorough review! I still miss those wonderful New Year’s celebrations at my grandmother’s house.

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  3. What a beautiful review of such a lovely book! How wonderful that it is still available after all these years — a real tribute to Jama and her story. 🙂

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  4. I love this book. Excellent review, Myra!

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