Tag Archives: Food

L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food by Roy Choi with Tien Nguyen and Natasha Phan, photographs by Bobby Fisher

L.A. SonCheck out this toothsome battle-cry: “The kimchi revolution: How Korean-American chefs are changing food culture” by Paula Young Lee for Salon.com. The article’s first paragraph introduces a bi-coastal feast: Momofuku‘s NYC bad-boy David Chang (his signature cookbook is posted here) and L.A.-based Roy Choi. [The second paragraph judiciously adds southern Master Chef Edward Lee and his temptingly Koreanized Smoke and Pickles]. In case Choi’s name isn’t part of your household culinary vocabulary, he’s “best known as the L.A. Korean taco truck guy.” Now you’re nodding, I’m sure.

“I had to write this book,” Choi explains in the “Introduction” to his memoir-in-recipes (seemingly a growing genre for 21st-century celebrity chefs). “To tell the story of my journey from immigrant to latchkey kid to lowrider to misfit to gambler to a chef answering his calling.” He invites you to join him “through the crooked journeys of my life,” and along the way, “Let me cook for you.” How can you resist an invite like that??!!

Born in Korea to parents who originally met in L.A., Choi was destined to return to the City of Angels. By age 2, he was a southern Californian. By 5, he was a latchkey kid wandering the city streets “until I put holes in my soles” while his parents worked whatever jobs they could find. By 8, he was helping out in his family’s Anaheim restaurant where for the “first time I picked up on the feeling that food was important and not just a meal to fuel yourself to do something else.”

By the 1980s, his parents were millionaires, re-introduced to the jewelry business by Uncle Edward (as in the legendary Swodoba – “it really was like having Indiana Jones for an uncle”) who married Choi’s maternal aunt. The family moved into Major League Baseball pitcher Nolan Ryan‘s old house in an Orange County enclave – “I didn’t see another Asian, Latino, black, or Indian kid. For days. Literally.” In his new middle school, the 13-year-old Choi joined “all the Asian kids in school. All three of them” in honors classes. Then came high school with the Grove Street Mob, violently losing a buddy, commuter college, and a broken heart that led him to NYC and crack. From that low point (with worse to follow), Choi re-invents himself again and again … until he has plenty to fill this nourishing memoir. [If I tell you any more, you won't buy the book!]

The food, of course, need few words. Everything from “Perfect Instant Ramen” and “Ghetto Pillsbury Fried Doughnuts,” to “Seared Beef Medallions with Sauce Robert” ["This just sounded fancy, so I decided to make it for y'all"] and “Seared Scallops with Chive Beurre Blanc” ["If you can pull this off, then you can start to understand the first step to becoming a French chef"], to how to have a “kinky” spiritual moment washing rice, is included here. As skilled as he is with pots and pans, Choi proves he knows how to wield pen and keyboard, too – his words are as well-seasoned as his cooking. So make sure to grab napkins before you begin: you’ll need them for laughing and crying, not to mention the salivating!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Korean American

Recipe by Angela Petrella and Michaelanne Petrella, illustrated by Mike Bertino and Erin Althea

RecipeIn case you weren’t already aware, whenever you happen upon a McSweeney’s McMullens title, get ready for unpredictable high-jinks and not a little guffawing. Also, always remember to start with the cover: go ahead, it’s made to come off … this one is a two-sided poster that just might leave you … bug-eyed!

For would-be mini-chefs, here’s an adventure of the ‘don’t-try-this-at-home’-variety … unless you have the most indulgent parent in the whole wide world. Kristen, who decides “it was time for me to learn to cook,” has already secured her mother’s helpful agreement: “I’m the boss when it’s my turn, if I ask nicely. And yesterday she said it was my turn.” In case anyone had any doubts, check out Kristen’s definitive orange shirt: “Boss of Sauce”! Go, girl!

Her grocery list is long – not to mention rather eclectic – including 20 bags of marshmallows, a new puppy, a Cleveland Browns sweatshirt, horse meat substitute (she settles for tofu delivered on horseback since “‘tofu tastes good when you dump it into sauce’”), and the all-important helmet!

With Mom’s help, Kristen boils the water but hands over the hot bowl (some kiddie precautions are necessary no matter what!), gives Mom instructions while she takes “the puppy outside to think about my next moves,” goes back to add hot dogs, squirts a duck full of water, and adds the burnt french fries. Her deliciously mountainous creation is so large she decides she needs to share. Come and get it: “Recipe is served! No refunds.”

In an interview included with the PR packet (sadly, I can’t find an online version, although I did stumble on this one which is almost as funny), the Sisters Petrella reveal that their culinary adventure is “an homage to our now-departed great-aunt Katy, who was a nutty old bird with whom we created recipes every weekend.” As for the rambunctiously imaginative chef-in-training, she’s their younger sister: “We named the main character after her so we wouldn’t get grounded from our bikes for not including her.” No clues as to the true identity of the puppy, though. They do applaud their honey and Sriracha-eating illustrators, Mike Bertino and Erin Althea, for being “in sync with our syncs.” And how!

Family affair aside, they also admit to their ultimate goal: to “[empower] reckless children to make giant messes and waste food. Yes.” I have to admit, Recipe sure seems quite timely given our overprivileged post-Turkey weekend food coma hangover, ahem. Besides, the raccoons gotta eat, too, right?

Readers: Children

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, Nonethnic-specific

Smoke & Pickles: Recipes and Stories from a New Southern Kitchen by Edward Lee

Smoke and PicklesIn case you haven’t planned your Turkey Dinner coming up in exactly a week (who, me? menu? what’s that?), here’s a collection filled with irreverently toothsome suggestions. Having grown up eating kimchi with every chestnut-stuffed bird or surreally spiraled pink ham (or both), I couldn’t help especially salivating over the Koreanized southern creations – how about Collards and Kimchi or Kimchi Rémoulade or Kimchi Poutine (“This recipe falls under the category of ‘everything tastes better with kimchi’”!)? Admit it … your taste buds are totally perking up!

Meet Chef Edward Lee. If you’re a television watcher, you may know him from Iron Chef or Top Chef. If you’re southern, you might have visited his James Beard Foundation three-time finalist-ed restaurant, 610 Magnolia, in downtown Louisville, Kentucky; if you’re a theater addict headed to the legendary Humana Festival of New Plays, perhaps you’ve imbibed at his smaller venue, MilkWood, installed in the Actors Theatre of Louisville.

Brooklyn-raised Lee grew up surrounded by multiple cultures – “The great thing about Americans is not the identity we’re born with but our reinvention of it.” His beloved grandmother who cooked daily at home “refused to make ‘American food.’” If he wanted a PB&J sandwich, he had to make it himself. Her ability to recreate “all the Korean dishes she had learned before she immigrated to America … [as] a Korean widow yearning for a homeland that had been destroyed before her eyes,” would become the foundation for Lee’s eclectic palate: his worldly culinary training led him right back to the memories of his grandmother’s meals and inspired Lee to create his unique brand of award-winning Asian-enhanced southern cooking.

Moving to Louisville in 2003, Lee “reinvent[ed his] identity, both culinary and personal, through the lens of tobacco and bourbon and sorghum and horse racing and country ham … Over time, Louisville, and by extension, the American South, embraced me as an adopted son … What I didn’t expect was how I would come full circle and rediscover myself as a child of Korean immigrants.”

Blended with family memoir (his own and his German Catholic Midwestern wife’s – his mother-in-law apparently makes killer sauerkraut which she hides in a secret cupboard!), tidbits and anecdotes from the kitchen and beyond, friendly neighborhood gossip, and, of course, the outrageous recipes, Smoke & Pickles is a cookbook to read cover-to-cover, word-for-word. The immense (shocking) variety of dishes (Grilled Lam Heart Kalbi in Lettuce Wraps, Beef Bone Soup with Kabocha Dumplings, Curry Pork Pies, Bourbon-Ginger-Glazed Carrots, Rhubarb-Mint Tea with Moonshine) are really just a delicious bonus to an already savory, delectable read.

One cautionary reminder: just in case you’re ever tempted, don’t ever use the word ‘fusion’ around Chef Lee! “I can’t stand the word … not only because it is dated, but also because it implies a kind of culinary racism, suggesting that foods from Eastern cultures are so radically different that they need to be artificially introduced or ‘fused’ with Western cuisines to give them legitimacy.” I’m just agreeing: ‘everything tastes better with kimchi’!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Korean American

On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta by Jen Lin-Liu

On Noodle RoadJust in case you’re pressed for time, let me offer this short-cut alternative up front: if you’re looking for a fabulous foodie book that takes you to unexpected corners of the world, bypass Noodle Road and try Jennifer 8. Lee’s The Fortune Cookie Chronicles instead.

If you’re curiously persistent about Noodle, here’s the premise: Peripatetic Chinese American food writer and chef Jen Lin-Liu who founded the Beijing cooking school/restaurant, Black Sesame Kitchen, embarks on a culinary quest to “investigate how noodles had made their way along the Silk Road.” Her east-to-west journey entails eating, comparing, and cooking meals of local specialties with friends, old and new. From Beijing to Rome, she searches for “the links [that] made up the chain connecting two of the world’s greatest cuisines.” For the too many misinformed, Lin-Liu definitively clarifies on page 3 that Marco Polo did not introduce pasta from China to his native Italy.

As she logs thousands of miles through China, Central Asia, Iran, Turkey, and Italy, her food explorations dovetail with her own developing thoughts on a major event that has recently occurred in her life – becoming a wife: “I’d never had to take into account the impact of an extended journey on my partner, or my relationship.” Amidst her spouseless peregrinations (parts of Central Asia, Iran, and Italy reunite the new couple; husband is China policy scholar Craig Simons, former Asian bureau chief of Cox Newspapers and Newsweek China correspondent), she examines what being a partner means, beyond the expectations of society, extended family, and even her own self.

After meeting “the guardian of … a four-thousand-year-old noodle, proof that China was the rightful inventor of the widespread staple” in Beijing, Lin-Liu leaves the capital with two of her Black Sesame employees who are returning to their spouses and their native villages for a brief break from their solo career-driven city lives. Delivering them ‘home’ after sharing noodles and dumplings (whose outside wraps are akin to oversized flour-and-water noodles), Lin-Liu’s destinations take on a similar pattern: meeting locals, shopping and sampling the local fare, learning a few recipes (each chapter ends with a few), all the while observing the interactions between the diverse people who pass through the many kitchens she visits.

She eats endless variations on noodles, rice, and dumplings, as well as unexpected fare best discovered by the reader. She has the requisite bout of tummy shock, even after she declares herself immune to her concerned mother-in-law. Perhaps more memorable than the food are the people she encounters, from a Chinese American friend’s “crazy aunt” who lives alone in a remote Tibetan community, to a “lackadaisical” Iranian guide and translator (the Iran chapter is especially intriguing), to an internationally popular home chef and teacher in Istanbul, to a Chinese transplant in Rome who runs one of the few Chinese Italian restaurants in the world, to an Italian chef and his American Midwestern fiancée who “think too much success was a bad thing.”

Promising ingredients aside, Noodle is more a meandering travel diary than a well-defined memoir. The two narrative strands – culinary and personal – never quite mesh: the noodle search proves haphazard, any relationship insights feel forced. Another major edit surely could have refined this recipe into a more satisfying read.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Chinese, Chinese American

What a Party! by Ana Maria Machado, illustrated by Hélène Moreau, translated by Elisa Amado

What a Party!In the same delightful, sequential fun of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie – if you do x, then y happens – Brazilian überauthor of more than a hundred books, Ana Maria Machado, puts on a party of epic proportions.

“If a few days before your birthday your mother should say, ‘I think I’m going to bake a cake and buy some juice. Why don’t you ask one of your friends to come over to play?’” You welcome your Mother’s suggestion, but ask for a little more: “‘Well, could Jack bring someone and maybe some food too?” When your distracted mother answers, “‘Of course. Invite anyone you’d like,’” well, then … there’s all the permission you ever needed! And you write the invitation just so: “Come to my party. It’s my BIRTHDAY. Bring along whoever you want and whatever you like to eat.”

Jack and his brother Larry bring cookies. Jack tells Beto and Antonieta who can’t bear to leave their parrot home, and arrives with pineapple, mangos, and passion fruit. Of course, Antonieta had to tell her best friend Fatima, who tells her brother Djamel, so their mother sends tajine with olives and pickled lemons. Tony will want to bring cousin Carlo, with pizzas and gelato to share. Which means Hannah and her little brother will come with their canary to meet Antonieta’s parrot, along with a Black Forest cake and springerle, too. Maria is their neighbor, so she shows up with her macaw, as well as flan and cod cakes. Carmen brings paella, and Tamio brings sushi. Along with so many friends and such festive eats, the backyard fills with salsa dancers and a reggae band … and suddenly, “your birthday party could turn out to be the craziest, wildest, funnest party ever!”

Author Machado, who won the 2000 Hans Christian Andersen Award – the world’s highest international recognition for kiddie book writers and illustrators – knows how to party, bringing together all the different friends, families, cuisines from around the world into one multi-culti celebration. Machado’s artistic comrade-in-colors, Hélène Moreau, gives delicious vibrance to every part of the party preparations, gathering friends, foods, animals, and eventually even the parents who just can’t stay away. Machado shows us just how easy every day could be party day … no excuses necessary to gather, laugh, and dance …!

Readers: Children

Published: 2013 (Canada, United States)

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, .Fiction, .Translation, South American

The Hakka Cookbook: Chinese Soul Food from Around the World by Linda Lau Anusasananan, art by Alan Lau, foreword by Martin Yan

Hakka CookbookHow come no one is out there cooking their way through all the recipes of an Asian cookbook and blogging about it, then making a movie with … say, Jackie Chan fighting the good fight with woks and chopsticks?

Really, if I had any talent in the kitchen (the only thing I can do well is eat!), this is the culinary challenge I’d pick. Learning about Hakka cuisine (previously knowing absolutely nothing) and doing so by going around the world, sounds like the perfect premise for a most appetizing peripatetic eats fest. Any media mavens out there getting hungry?

Longtime favorite chef Martin Yan fills his “Foreword” with his own memories of Hakka cooking (which date back to his childhood in Guangzhou), throws in that a formidable 80 million people around the world claim Hakka ancestors (a Chinese subgroup, the Hakka are believed to have originated in what is now central China), exclaims “‘It’s about time!’” for a Hakka cookbook, and ends with the heartfelt query: “Honoring our culture through delicious food: is there a better way?”

Author Linda Lau Anusasananan does just that, taking us on a culinary journey channeled by memories of her beloved Hakka grandmother, Popo, who reminded her and her brother Alan (who contributes his dreamy art throughout the book), “‘You should be proud to be Hakka.’” After spending over 35 years writing predominantly about Western food for renowned Sunset magazine, Anusasananan’s “knowledge of Chinese food was superficial,” she confesses. “With this book, I’ve discovered my family history and how it merges into the Hakka diaspora,” she explains. “I’m recapturing the flavor and spirit of my Hakka culture through [my grandmother's] life and her food.”

Anusasananan begins her journey in “Popo’s Kitchen on Gold Mountain,” in California, where Au Shee arrived in 1921 via Angel Island as a new bride. When Anusasananan was born in 1947, as Au Shee’s first grandchild, Anusasananan’s birth transformed Au Shee into Popo. Decades after Popo’s death – as “reminders of my Hakka identity grew scarce” – Anusasananan returns to the family’s ancestral home in China, where the “taste of true Hakka food” gives her “a baseline for comparison.” She continues her culinary adventures – learning from home cooks and famous chefs – through Beijing, Luodai, and Hong Kong, and onto stops in Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, and Mauritius. She crosses the Pacific to Peru, Hawai’i, and Tahiti, and back to North America to Toronto and New York, before coming back home to Gold Mountain. “Finally, I have fulfilled Popo’s wishes. Yes, Popo, I’m proud to be Hakka.”

Distinctive cooking, little-known history, heartfelt family memoir, and quite the global movable feast. Might I just add: mmm mmm good!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Memoir, .Nonfiction, Chinese, Chinese American

Every Grain of Rice: Simple Chinese Home Cooking by Fuchsia Dunlop

Every Grain of RiceHow’s this for a fabulous first line? “The Chinese know, perhaps better than anyone else, how to eat.” Think about any little small town in the U.S. alone … no matter where you are, the one type of food you can be guaranteed to find sooner than later, is … Chinese. Really. On these here home shores (and everywhere in between), you’ll find more Chinese restaurants than McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, and Domino’s combined [check out this quick Yahoo! video on the all-American history of Chinese food]. That said, American Chinese food is not exactly authentic … so if you’re looking for some real cuisine, this gorgeous cookbook promises basic, fresh, healthy, delicious, and best of all … simple.

Meet Fuchsia Dunlop, who holds the distinction of being “the first Westerner to train as a chef at the Sichuan Institute of Higher Cuisine in central China.” She speaks fluent Mandarin (which always elevates any outsider’s status), and has spent two decades researching, crafting, creating Chinese culinary delights – she’s got two award-winning cookbooks and a memoir as proof.

Her latest is another feast, done simple: “I’m not talking here about [Chinese] exquisite haute cuisine, or their ancient tradition of gastronomy. I’m talking about the ability of ordinary Chinese home cooks to transform humble and largely vegetarian ingredients into wonderful delicacies, and to eat in a way that not only delights the senses, but also makes sense in terms of health, economy and the environment.” She reminds us (more than a few times, because we need it, ahem), “With all the fuss over the Mediterranean diet, people in the West tend to forget that the Chinese have a system of eating that is equally healthy, balanced, sustainable and pleasing. Perhaps it’s the dominance of Chinese restaurant food – with its emphasis on meat, seafood and deep-frying as a cooking method – that has made us overlook the fact that typical Chinese home cooking is centered on grains and vegetables.”

Instead of picking up the phone for that next delivery or take-out, Dunlop gives you the better, healthier, tastier option of staying in. She shows you how to stock your kitchen with easy essentials (including “magic ingredients”!) – sauces, spices, and equipment. She offers a basic primer on cutting (“the first basic skill of the Chinese kitchen”) and other how-to techniques. She helps you plan your table, from beginning to (healthy) dessert, even providing sample menus for two, four, and six. Then there are the recipes … with truly picture-perfect photography for almost every dish. Just leafing through a few pages will get you salivating. Please, do pass the bib!

Readers: Adult

Published: 2013 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, British, Chinese

The Drops of God: New World by Tadashi Agi, illustrated by Shu Okimoto, translated by Vertical, Inc.

I must confess that I’ve been loathe to post about this latest volume of The Drops of God – an intoxicating, ongoing race between faux-siblings to identify 13 bottles of phenomenal wines (“The Twelve Apostles,” plus the eponymous “Drops of God”) as chosen by their late legendary wine critic father – for utterly selfish reasons. I figured if I took the ‘head-in-the-sand’-denial approach, then this couldn’t possibly be the last available volume-in-translation in the series, right?

The late Yutaka Kanzaki’s description of his Seventh Apostle ends with an enigmatic reference to “the eternally to be finished Sagrada Família,” the Barcelona church designed by Antoni Gaudí which remains incomplete more than a century after construction commenced in 1882. The search sends adopted-just-before-his-death son Issei Tomine to Napa Valley. His chosen traveling companion is (surprise, surprise) Loulan, his hapa Japanese Uyghur guide and savior (vital to finding Apostle #2) who now apparently seems to be his assistant of sorts. Issei’s ‘brother’ and rival Shizuku Kanzaki considers the ‘new worlds’ of South America, South Africa, and New Zealand, but eventually flies to the Australian Outback with his usual sidekick Miyabe Shinohara.

While discovering and enjoying some of the new world’s best wine offerings, Issei and Loulan outsmart gun-toting merchants while Shizuku and Miyabe help prevent greedy lumber exporters from setting fire to precious forests. Returning to the Kanzaki mansion with such unique adventures … and a single bottle each, the elusive Apostle is about to be revealed …

In case you hadn’t noticed, New World (which doesn’t have a volume number) is out of synch with the other four published translations thus far; the previous volume (#4) was a search for the Second Apostle, but New World jumps forward five bottles (and at least as many volumes) to the Seventh. We can only hope that fab publisher Vertical, Inc. will both fill in, then resume, this holy oenophilic quest sooner than later … oh please, please, please?

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012 (United States)

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Graphic Novel/Manga/Manwha, .Translation, Japanese

Ten-Minute Bento by Megumi Fujii, translated by Maya Rosewood

Ready for the frenzy of going back to school? So long, summer … hello, morning rush! I shudder …

Since school lunch is not an option at our kids’ school, every weekday (early) morning we make two meals at the same time: breakfast and lunch. We’re constantly searching for quick, healthy, filling options as the kids quickly grow tired of the same-old, same-old. Ten-Minute Bento is full of toothsome, healthy ideas we’ll be trying too soon (how did summer whoosh by so quickly??!!).

“Just cook up some rice, and add a topping and your Ten-Minute Bento is done!” promises trained nutritionist and celebrated Japanese chef Megumi Fujii (who’s published some 40-plus cookbooks already!). She certainly makes the process look easy: a bed of rice with one or two toppings in one container and you’re done!

The good chef offers endless combinations for toppings (with minimal ingredients for non-talented kitchen crew like me, ahem!), that range from favorites like Korean bibimbap, chicken teriyaki, and even a hamburger, to healthy veggie sides and rice combinations, and pasta and bread bentos and more. The enticing photos (complete with various, fun packaging options from a Cool Whip container to Tupperware to takeout boxes) on every page just beg for a pair of chopsticks.

If this is the way I can get fed, maybe it’s time for me to think about going back to school and finally finish my abandoned almost-PhDs! Anything for a good meal, huh?

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Nonfiction, .Translation, Japanese

Food and Faith by Susan Reuben and Sophie Pelham

Six children, six different faiths … while their holy days and festivals vary, the one thing they share – that we all share, regardless of the specifics of our backgrounds – are special foods we share with family and friends to celebrate memorable occasions.

Francesca is Christian and eats turkey for Christmas and chocolate eggs at Easter. Jacob is Jewish and shares challah during Shabbat and matzah during Passover. Aneesa is Muslim, so she only eats foods that are halal, and when she is old enough, she, too, will fast during Ramadan. Francis is Buddhist, and he helps prepare and serve meals to the monks and nuns because Buddhists believe that giving food is an honor. Akhil is Hindu and is vegetarian because Hindus practice ahimsa, or non-violence, including toward animals. And Tavleen is Sikh, and Sikh families take turns preparing the langar, the communal meal everyone enjoys after service.

Originally released by a British press, American readers might notice some slight variations, especially in vocabulary: for example, for Christians across the Pond, the Tuesday before Lent is called Shrove Tuesday, while their American cousins tend to call it Fat Tuesday, or more so Mardi Gras, a name which is French is origin. That variations exist even within the same faith, is a great reminder that god (in all his/her supreme incarnations) is not in the details … while the traditions, rules, texts, foods may be different, the bonds of family and the respect for community are the same throughout.

The overemphasis on our religious differences surely contributed to the country’s latest hate crime. As we mourn for the victims and their families of the Sikh temple shooting in Oak Creek, Wisconsin on August 5, 2012, we need regular reminders that the shared ideals supporting family and community are what should bring us all together.

Through words and photographs, author and artist choose six children and their families, each of whom could easily be your best friend, your neighbor, your colleague, your child’s buddy. At the risk of sounding Pollyanna-ish, gazing at these children’s open, trusting faces offers great hope. Surely our faith in nurturing our families – especially our children – and creating community, can bond us beyond our labels so that we might all celebrate our individual uniqueness … together.

Readers: Children, Middle Grade

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Children/Picture Books, ..Middle Grade Readers, .Nonfiction, British, British Asian, Nonethnic-specific