Books Features Genre Lifespan of a Reader Reading Themes Saturday Reads Voices From The Fringe: Social Justice

[Saturday Reads] Community Service and Social Justice in Tamaki’s “Our Little Kitchen”

Bon Appetit!


Myra here.

Every Saturday we hope to share with you our thoughts on reading and books. We thought that it would be good practice to reflect on our reading lives and our thoughts about reading in general. While on occasion, we would feature a few books in keeping with this, there would be a few posts where we will just write about our thoughts on read-alouds, libraries, reading journals, upcoming literary conferences, books that we are excited about, and just book love miscellany in general.

Our Little Kitchen [Amazon | Book Depository]

Written and Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Published by Harry N. Abrams (2020)
ISBN: 1419746553 (ISBN13: 9781419746550). Borrowed from Overdrive. Book photos taken by me.

I have been a fan of Jillian Tamaki since This One Summer (Amazon | Book Depository) days. Most of her picturebooks also stun me into awe-inspired silence – with They Say Blue (Amazon | Book Depository – see my review here) and my recent favourite My Best Friend (in collaboration with Julie Fogliano – Amazon | Book Depository – see my review here). How fortunate for the kidlit community that Jillian Tamaki is so prolific this 2020. I will have to say, though, that this one right here, is one of her best yet.

While the phrase bustling kitchen seems like a truism, Tamaki has made it scream out loud in these pages – with bursting text bubbles, exclamation points, all caps – and this is just the typography I am talking about.

There is no explanation at the start of the story why this group of very diverse people came together to prepare a meal, but one thing is clear: they are all frenzied, making do with what they can find in their little kitchen, and quite ingenious in putting stuff together – complaints or side comments are not welcome, thank you very much. There is very little time for that.

Eventually, the reader realizes that this is not a party for friends, nor is this a family gathering. It is a community kitchen whipping up beans, vegetables, apples together with just the right amount of cinnamon sugar and splash of ketchup. It is not romanticized nor did Tamaki make a big deal of the storyline – it simply is: the busy hands and comfort food doing all the talking and loving that were neither expressed nor articulated in a mushy manner.

In the Author’s Note she shared:

I wasn’t welcomed with open arms or even a hello. ‘You can start by peeling those potatoes,’ maybe. It was a busy, working kitchen – there was just too much to do. I put my head down, did as I was told, and tried not to get in the way.

There is a matter-of-fact vibe to the entire narrative – not really business-like, but efficient and sharp and for lack of a better term (and very much pun-intended), chop-chop.

Despite the evident lack of enthusiasm by the kitchen community and the sense of despair she felt knowing that their little kitchen is hardly sufficient to address issues such as economic hardship, hunger, disenfranchisment, Tamaki shared what kept her coming every Wednesday, week after week:

Still, we kept showing up. We activated our spirits, used our hands. Nourished our bodies so that we might shout NO to injustice, and stood arm in arm as we faced down our different struggles. We are often told that a single person can change the world. Just think about what many of us can accomplish – with our bodies, voices, votes, and hearts – together.

Oftentimes, the best picturebooks about social justice do not necessarily have to scream its message out loud to be heard. This little kitchen with its bustling activity did it so powerfully with a slice, a peel, and a splash!

#ReadIntl2020 Update: Jillian Tamaki (POC)

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).

2 comments on “[Saturday Reads] Community Service and Social Justice in Tamaki’s “Our Little Kitchen”

  1. Love this book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: [My 2020 in Books] Favourite Books Read in 2020 – Gathering Books

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