Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Auntie Yang's Great Soybean Picnic

Booklist starred (April 15, 2012 (Vol. 108, No. 16))

Grades K-2. Historical fiction, at its best, makes the specific universal. Here that happens in the story of two sisters, Jinyi and Pei, who live in a small Indiana town in the 1950s. Some of their best times come during visits to their mother’s sister, Auntie Yang, and her family near Chicago. With so few other Chinese families living in the Midwest at the time, the sisters want their children to be like four soybeans in a soybean pod. But real soybeans, a Chinese delicacy, seem impossible to come by until one day, the families are driving through farmland and are shocked to see a soybean field. The soybeans were being grown as animal feed, but after the farmer gives the family enough to take home, the aunts make boiled soybeans, which everyone enjoys at a picnic. The next year, Auntie Yang invites several other Chinese families over, and as the years go on, more than 200 friends and families join the festivities. This heartfelt story (based on the author’s and illustrator’s childhoods) is absolutely delicious. Readers will feel a kinship with the young cousins, who are isolated at first but soon become the center of an annual tradition. Adding an extra layer of delight to the story is the unique artwork. Beth Lo is a ceramic artist, and she painted the illustrations on plates that fill the pages. The winsome pictures, drawn with a childlike charm, capture the warmth of family, friendship, and food. The afterword, with photos, is a bonus.

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