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Daal and Bao in Diverse Picturebooks for Children

"Amy Wu And The Perfect Bao" by Kay Zhang and Charlene Chua | "Bilal Cooks Daal" by Aisha Saeed and Anoosha Syed.

Myra here.

A few days ago, for Monday Reading, I featured how food can be a reclamation to power and identity – these two picturebooks on the other hand, simply demonstrate family and friends coming together for mouth-watering meals featuring bao and daal.


Bilal Cooks Daal [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Aisha Saeed Illustrated by Anoosha Syed
Published by Salaam Reads / Simon Schuster Books for Young Readers (2019)
ISBN: 1534418105 (ISBN13: 9781534418103). Literary Award: Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature Nominee for Picture Book (2020). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

Bilal’s friends were surprised when his father, Abu, called him in to help prepare dinner when it was way too early in the day for it. They soon found out that “this dish takes time” and would need to be prepared ahead of time.

Bilal’s friends – blonde-haired Morgan and dark-skinned Elias are unfamiliar with this dish, and they were intrigued enough to help out Abu and Bilal. I especially liked the fact that it was Bilal’s father preparing the dish rather than his mother who was pretty much invisible in this narrative.

I also liked the image above, showing Bilal’s insecurity and feelings of anxiety. Morgan’s and Elia’s doubts about this dish were realistically conveyed, as well as Bilal’s response to it. Abu saved the day by encouraging the young children to play outside while the dish is simmering, because after all, it takes time to make daal.

While Bilal’s multicultural set of friends may appear tokenistic to some, I found myself smiling at this diverse array of children coming together to visit Bilal’s place to taste a dish they have zero knowledge of. I also appreciated how Abu’s kitchen was open to all, providing everyone a place in his table. The book ends with a recipe for daal, said to be a staple food in Southeast Asia, including Pakistan where Bilal’s grandparents are said to have originated from.

This book actually inspired me to order in from a nearby Pakistani/Indian restaurant and to have myself a taste of daal that was simply mouth-wateringly delicious, especially when paired with garlic naan and cheese kulcha. Yum!


Amy Wu And The Perfect Bao [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written by Kat Zhang Illustrated by Charlene Chua
Published by Aladdin / Simon & Schuster (2019)
ISBN: 153441133X (ISBN13: 9781534411333). Borrowed from NLB Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

While Amy is quite good at doing plenty of things like brushing her teeth and tying her shoes independently, there is one thing that she is not very good at: making the perfect bao.

It turns out that her bao usually comes out either too small or too big – not the right size that she is aiming for. However, Amy is more than determined to learn.

I really love this image above, as it shows quite clearly Amy’s feisty character. The details of the illustration: from the oversized sunglasses to the pink slippers and the fan (commonly seen among Asian families) with the sign Do Not Disturb is perfection. Amy came up with the “perfect bao plan” so that she will not only be good at eating bao, she will also be able to create the absolute perfect bao.

Her initial attempts, however, seemed to be an exercise in futility. She ended up feeling frustrated and was about to give up entirely, when she came upon the perfect solution. I loved Amy’s sense of agency – and the fact that in this story, the turning point came upon her – rather than imposed by the adults around her.

Naturally, the story ends with the perfect bao recipe simply begging to be tried and eaten by young readers and their caregivers or teachers.


#ReadIntl2020 Update:  38 (out of target 30) – Aisha Saeed is Pakistani-American and Anoosha Syed is Pakistani-Canadian – Pakistan

39 (out of target 30): Charlene Chua is Singaporean based in Canada – Singapore

Kat Zhang is Chinese American – China.

Myra is a Teacher Educator and a registered clinical psychologist based in Al Ain, United Arab Emirates. Prior to moving to the Middle East, she lived for eleven years in Singapore serving as a teacher educator. She has edited five books on rediscovering children’s literature in Asia (with a focus on the Philippines, Malaysia, India, China, Japan) as part of the proceedings for the Asian Festival of Children’s Content where she served as the Chair of the Programme Committee for the Asian Children’s Writers and Illustrators Conference from 2011 until 2019. While she is an academic by day, she is a closet poet and a book hunter at heart. When she is not reading or writing about books or planning her next reads, she is hoping desperately to smash that shuttlecock to smithereens because Badminton Is Life (still looking for badminton courts here at UAE - suggestions are most welcome).

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