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We asked Sona Shah, the Culture and Arts Education Manager at the Asian American Resource Center here in Austin, what are some of her favorite Asian American authored books? Here is her short list of books.
If you See Me, Don’s Say Hi by Neel Patel
This is a collection of seven short stories that showcases common stereotypes and slowly erode those ideas. These stories primarily feature first-generation Indian Americans and subvert the idea that Asian Americans will idly sit by when challenges arise. It explores the two faces of the same coin in many of the stories; small town vs big city, traditions vs modern rituals. Buy the book here.
How Much of These Hills Is Gold by C Pam Zhang
When Lucy and Sam’s Ba passes away and the mining town that they live in starts to threaten their lives, they flee to find a resting place for their father’s ashes. Their journey brings up family secrets and sibling rivalry as well as buffalo bones and tiger tracks, yet they also find a possible future for themselves. Buy the book here.
Superman Smashed the Klan by Gene Luen Yang
This graphic novel takes place in 1946. Teenagers Roberta and Tommy Lee just moved with their parents from Chinatown to the center of Metropolis, home to the famous hero, Superman. Then one night, the family awakens to find their house surrounded by the Klan of the Fiery Kross! Superman leaps into action, but his exposure to a mysterious green rock has left him weak. Can Roberta and Tommy help him smash the Klan? Buy the book here.
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
This illustrated memoir explores the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family. Bui documents the story of her family’s escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. Buy the book here.
Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares by Aarti Namdev Shahani
The Shahanis came to Queens—from India, by way of Casablanca—in the 1980s. They were undocumented for a few unsteady years and then, with the arrival of their green cards, they thought they’d made it. This memoir is the story of how they did, and didn’t; the unforeseen obstacles that propelled them into years of disillusionment and heartbreak; and the strength of a family determined to stay together. Buy the book here.
Every year during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I try to target one AAPI book that I can sit down and read. While I work at the Texas Book Festival, I actually rarely have time to sit down and read and my usual go-to books are cookbooks and graphic novels. So May feels like a special month to me, where I can say I read this book and I feel more connected to my Asian culture. Last year my book of choice was Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning by Cathy Hong Park, which I would highly recommend. It takes quite a bit of research for me to pick a book for May, so I thought I would share my shortlist as well as the book that I eventually chose for this month’s required reading.
Land of Big Numbers: Stories by Te-Ping Chen
This is a collection of short stories about people in China that weave realism and magical realism and explores how people deal with the struggles of making a name for themselves and climbing the social ladder. The subjects of each story are unique and fascinating, from the differences of how twins choose different paths in life to a group of people who are awaiting official permission to leave a subway platform. The latter was the story that drew me in initially, as a big fan of Samuel Beckett, my senior project in college being a theatrical production of Endgame. Buy the book here.
Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro
Written by Nobel Prize in Literature winner Kazuo Ishiguro, this book is a story of Klara, an artificial intelligence friend that is waiting for the day that someone chooses them from the store. Klara observes the world outside from inside the store and tries to explore the meaning of what is love. I was interested in this book because of the similarities to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. Buy the book here.
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P. Manansala
Lila has arrived home after a terrible breakup and she is tasked to help her Tita Rosie’s failing restaurant. She has to deal with all of her aunties trying to set her up with new beaus and their criticism of her love life. When one particularly harsh restaurant critic, who is also her ex-boyfriend, drops dead after a moment of confrontation, her life turns from a story of romantic comedy tropes to a murder mystery. When the police are suspecting Lila as the murderer, she decides to start searching for answers on her own. I was drawn to this book for the murder mystery elements with some Asian flair, with Lila’s auntie network helping her figure out the case. It has serious Knives Out vibes that I love to see unfold. Buy the book.
Bestiary by K Ming Chang
When Mother tells Daughter about a tiger spirit that lives in a woman’s body, she shrugs it off as an old folk tale and goes to bed, only to find that she has grown a tiger tail overnight. This is the start of several events that are unusual and odd, like her aunt arrives with a snake in her belly and a hole in the backyard the spits up old letters from her grandmother. When Daughter meets Ben, a neighborhood girl with her own powers, they start to read the old letters to uncover why things are happening. This was a 2020 fall book that drew my attention because of how much I love Asian folklore and allegories. Buy the book.
Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner
This book ended up being my pick because it felt like something I could relate to, which is crying in H Mart, a Korean supermarket (which has a store here in Austin). I cry in H Mart for different reasons than this author, but Michelle Zauner’s memoir really hits home with being an outsider in America and in her “mother” country of Korea. This memoir explores grief and coming into her own identity while trying to bridge two cultures, which resonated with me. I’ll be honest that Chapter 4 had me bawling my eyes out as I am still dealing with the grief of my father’s passing, but it is a worthwhile book that deserves its best-seller status. Buy the book.
Cover photo: Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho, illustrated Dung Ho
Growing up in Singapore, I didn’t really have very many books where I saw someone like me. I never really felt like I was part of either my American side or my Singaporean side. It didn’t help that in 6th-grade science class that I was used as the example for gene differences and anomalies, like how my eyes were slanted, my hairline had a widow’s peak, how I had one hitchhiker’s thumb and one regular thumb, and how my second toe on my left leg is longer than my big toe and on the right leg it is not, etc. Quite literally I became the class “specimen” somehow, and I felt so uncomfortable with who I was after that. It felt like my body in some sense was as complex as my personal heritage and the question, “Where are you from?”.
I had no books that showed that I was normal, just different and that is okay. I think the only book that even came close was this book about Singaporean kids, but that book mostly just made me wear swimming goggles while chopping onions (according to that book, all Singaporean children did this). Here are a bunch of newly released kid’s books that celebrate being a proud child of Asian American heritage. I truly wish I had these growing up.
Eyes that Kiss in the Corners by Joanna Ho is about embracing your features as a part of how you are. When a girl notices that other girls have different eye shapes than hers, she finds beauty in her own eyes “that crinkle like crescent moons”.
Toasty by Sarah Hwang
This book is about how you don’t need to change to fulfill your dreams. Toasty is a piece of toast that has a pair of arms and legs and dreams of being a dog. While dogs sleep in a dog house, Toasty sleeps in a toaster. While trying to run with the dogs in a park, Toasty becomes in danger when the dogs try to eat him. But soon Toasty meets a little girl who has always wanted a dog but is allergic to dogs, so Toasty becomes the perfect pet for her!
Amira’s Picture Day by Reem Faruqi, illustrated by Fahmida Azim
Ramadan has come to an end, and Amira can’t wait to stay home from school to celebrate Eid. There’s just one hiccup: it’s also school picture day. How will Amira figure out how to be at two places at once?
Laxmi’s Mooch by Shelly Anand, illustrated by Nabi H. Ali
Laxmi has never really paid attention to the hair on her upper lip until some kids at recess start to bully her saying she looks like an animal. Laxmi starts to notice more body hair and starts to become anxious. When Laxmi’s parents start to teach her that body hair is normal and happens to everybody, regardless of age or gender, she starts to accept her body hair and gains self-esteem.
The Most Beautiful Thing by Kao Kalia Yang
Weaving the story of Kalia and her grandmother, spanning across time from Laos to immigrating to the USA. When Kalia decides that she wants braces to fix her smile, her grandmother, who only has 1 tooth, shows her that true beauty is found between people who love each other the most.
Authors featured in the cover photo: Yaa Gyasi, Jam Sanitchat, and Valeria Luiselli
To commemorate International Women’s Day we have rounded up some great books by female authors that have come to our Festival in the past. Their voices carry a unique perspective that we celebrate here at the Texas Book Festival.
Valeria Luiselli (@ValeriaLuiselli)
Valeria Luiselli was born in Mexico City and grew up in South Korea, South Africa and India. She is the winner of two Los Angeles Times Book Prizes and an American Book Award, and has twice been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Kirkus Prize. She has been a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree and the recipient of a Bearing Witness Fellowship from the Art for Justice Fund. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Granta, and McSweeney’s, among other publications, and has been translated into more than twenty languages. She attended the 2014 Texas Book Festival with her book, Faces in the Crowd.
Buy the book here.
Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. She attended the 2020 Texas Book Festival with her book Transcendent Kingdom.
Buy the book here.
Julia Alvarez (@writerjalvarez)
Julia Alvarez left the Dominican Republic for the United States in 1960 at the age of ten. She is the author of six novels, three books of nonfiction, three collections of poetry, and eleven books for children and young adults. She has taught and mentored writers in schools and communities across America and, until her retirement in 2016, was a writer in residence at Middlebury College. Her work has garnered wide recognition, including a Latina Leader Award in Literature from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the Hispanic Heritage Award in Literature, the Woman of the Year by Latina magazine, and inclusion in the New York Public Library’s program “The Hand of the Poet: Original Manuscripts by 100 Masters, from John Donne to Julia Alvarez.” In the Time of the Butterflies, with over one million copies in print, was selected by the National Endowment for the Arts for its national Big Read program, and in 2013 President Obama awarded Alvarez the National Medal of Arts in recognition of her extraordinary storytelling. Most recently Julia Alvarez attended the 2020 Texas Book Festival with her book, Afterlife.
Buy the book here.
Anika Fajardo (@anikawriter)
Anika Fajardo was born in Colombia and raised in Minnesota. She is the author of a book about that experience, Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family, which was awarded Best Book (Nonfiction) of 2020 from City Pages and was a finalist for the 2020 Minnesota Book Award. She is the author of the middle-grade novel What If a Fish, a 2021 finalist for the Minnesota Book Award. What If a Fish was featured in the 2020 Texas Book Festival.
Buy the book here.
Agustina Bazterrica (@AgusBazterrica)
Agustina Bazterrica is an Argentinian novelist and short story writer. She is a central figure in the Buenos Aires literary scene. She has received several awards for her writing, most notably the prestigious Premio Clarin Novela for her second novel, Tender Is the Flesh. Tender Is the Flesh was featured at the 2020 Texas Book Festival.
Buy the book here.
Jam Sanitchat (@thaifresh)
Born and raised in Thailand, Jam Sanitchat hails from a family of skilled cooks. She learned the craft from her grandmothers and mother beginning at the age of five. Jam moved to the United States to pursue a graduate degree at the University of Texas, then fell in love with Austin and the local food culture. She has fed the community ever since–through her farmers market stand, her cooking classes, and her popular restaurant, Thai Fresh. Her dairy-free ice cream parlor, Gati opened in 2020. Thai Fresh (the cookbook) was featured at the 2020 Texas Book Festival.
Buy the book here.
Ibi Zoboi (@ibizoboi)
Ibi Zoboi was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, and holds an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her YA novel American Street was a National Book Award finalist and her debut middle grade novel, My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, was a New York Times bestseller. She is the author of Pride, a contemporary YA remix of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and editor of the anthology, Black Enough: Stories of Being Young & Black in America. Her most recent bestseller, Punching the Air, is a YA novel-in-verse, co-authored by prison reform activist Yusef Salaam of the Exonerated Five. Raised in New York City, Ibi now lives in New Jersey with her husband and their three children. My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich was a featured title at the 2019 Texas Book Festival.
Buy the book here.
Einat Admony (@chefeinat)
Einat Admony is the author of Balaboosta and chef/owner of New York City’s popular Balaboosta, Kish-Kash, and Taïm restaurants, which have been featured in The New Yorker, the New York Times, and New York magazine, among many other newspapers, magazines, and websites. When Admony is not at her restaurants, she can be found at her home in Brooklyn, cooking for the crowd of family and friends who regularly gather around her dining table. Her book, Shuk, was featured at the 2019 Texas Book Festival.
Buy the book here.
International Women’s Day Website
I recently started watching HBO’s Lovecraft Country and there’s a moment in the first episode where the main characters walk into a restaurant that they thought was Black-owned and were met with white people trying to cause physical harm to them as they pushed them out of town. At this moment, I turned to my boyfriend with a puzzled look.
“Why are they doing that? They clearly just wanted some food.”
“Because they are Black.”
“That’s it?! Just because they are Black?”
“Yes, that was what it was like in America back then.”
As a wave of shock hit my brain, I realized that I still had some work to do. I grew up in Singapore and while prejudice still exists over there, everything I learned about Black American history was from a textbook, and there wasn’t very much written about it in those textbooks. In the back of my brain, I knew that the Black diaspora in America is riddled with these types of experiences, but seeing that scene showed what was lacking in my formal education.
Those characters were looking for refuge in a restaurant that they knew would serve them. They sought comfort in food made and served by one of their own. Food is often used as a way for everyone to sit at the table, and for me, it can be about understanding and experiencing a different culture. But food has also almost always been political. People eat what is affordable to their socioeconomic status, and that often can mean large differences in what food is available to them. This can often lead to racial stereotyping based on food.
This is why I tend to explore food and recipes that aren’t in my own culture so often. With that, here are some Black-authored cookbooks that have featured spots in my kitchen.
Marcus Samuelsson is a favorite amongst Festival staff, as he was a part of the 2016 Texas Book Festival with his restaurant cookbook, The Red Rooster Cookbook: The Story of Food and Hustle in Harlem. This new cookbook goes through so much food history as well as stunning recipes that highlight new Black chefs and their creations. I am a big fan of the Steak Afrique with Yassa sauce as well as the injera recipe, which I never thought I would make until I got this book. Follow Marcus Samuelsson: @marcuscooks
While I am a relatively great cook, I am just an alright baker. I just have very little patience with the precision of baking since I grew up in a “throw some of this in and try it” upbringing. This does not stop me from buying several baking cookbooks each year and one of them has recently been Black Girl Baking. I find the flavor combinations in here just fascinating it and it has made me pull out my kitchen aid more often than normal. Also, the index includes gluten-free recipes, dairy-free recipes, and vegan recipes, which I really appreciate. I love the Lemongrass Meringue with Gingerbread Crust and Lumpia Bananas Foster, but one day I will make the Maque Choux Strada. Follow Jerrelle Guy: @chocolateforbasil
I love everything about tiki cocktails, including amassing several tiki mugs. I often think that I missed the time period in which tiki was all the fashion and I have deep envy when I look at photographs of those days. It also feels like everything bright and fun that I am missing in quarantine, which is why this book is my perfect cocktail companion right now. I’ve been in a Caipirinha kick recently, but I also really love the Royal Dock Cooler. One day I will make the No Woman No Cry, but I just need to get the right bitters for it. Follow Shannon Mustipher: @shannonmustipher
This book is 1 part Black American food culture and history and 1 part recipes. Toni Tipton-Martin’s previous title, The Jemima Code, was a 2015 TBF title and this cookbook is a natural follow up. Jubilee features food and recipes that feel like a hug to your taste palate. I often make her version of sorrel (hibiscus) tea and as an avid lover of meat pies, her curried meat pie is absolutely spectacular. Follow Toni Tipton-Martin: @tonitiptonmartin
It would be Black authored cookbook blasphemy if I did not include a book by Edna Lewis, the renowned chef that helped define Southern cooking and seasonal food. Miss Lewis’s recipes are the epitome of cooking with love and have an abundance of flavor, as advertised in the title. I’m a big fan of this version of Potato and Leek Soup and Beef Tenderloin with Bearnaise Sauce as well as the Apple Brown Betty. It also has a great section about canning and preserving food, which is something that I am learning a lot about these days to stretch my food. Here is info about the Edna Lewis Foundation.
Cooking has often been my way to reset. I get a sense of control and am able to sit down to a meal with my loved ones and get out of my work mode. These days, cooking has changed for me a bit. I need to cook every meal and many times I am exhausted by the necessity of this chore. The thought of cooking dinner after figuring out both breakfast and lunch becomes overwhelming and somehow sad. It’s like the last bit of my mind is Sisyphus rolling a boulder up a hill but about food, and I love food.
Through this difficult reality we are currently facing, I have dived straight into books. That seems to be my quiet place these days, where my brain just has to absorb the text and enjoy its time away from thinking and planning and stressing. And since cooking is more about survival than taste or culinary flair during quarantine, I have found that reading about food has been the escape I needed more than anything else. My brain relaxes more when I can dream up all the things I want to make when I don’t have to watch my budget and can source all those items correctly instead of getting my supermarket substitute ingredients.
Currently, I have been diving into several Asian food books, partially because that is my wheelhouse when it comes to cooking but also because I miss my family. Asian food is the primary food we eat together. I like to read children’s books with recipes with my younger family members to try to get them excited about trying different foods. Along with a few children’s books with Asian recipes, some other suggestions can be found the last time I wrote about this topic, I have also found some wonderful graphic novels with recipes. I’ve been on a bit of a graphic novel kick recently and these books have been a welcome addition to my collection.
Kid’s Books with Recipes
Thupka for All by Praba Ram
This sweet book has a lovely sense of compassion and togetherness that I have been longing for these days. Tsering, a blind boy, is making his way home to eat his grandmother’s thupka (noodle soup). Along the way, he meets several people, who join him on this journey, each bringing a dish. It looks like the evening is set for a wonderful meal with friends and family until the lights go out. Can Tsering help his grandmother cook thupka and save the day? I’ll leave you this cliffhanger, but know that at the end of your reading you probably will want to call someone you love and reminisce about a lovely meal together, I know I did.
Mei-Mei’s Lucky Birthday Noodles by Shan-Shan Chen
This is such a cute story about celebrating culture. Mei-Mei is adopted from China and her parents celebrate her birthday every year by preparing her birthday noodles. She explains that her parents cook these noodles because long noodles signify a long life in Chinese heritage. She is excited to share her birthday noodles with her friends and family. The recipe in the back of this book is so simple that kids would love both making this dish as well as eating it with giant smiles on their faces.
Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan
I am pretty obsessed with dumplings. I love that they can have different fillings and that so many cultures have their own versions. Dumpling Soup is about eating dumplings in a mixed family in Hawaii. Marisa is very excited to be old enough to help make dumplings for New Year’s Day. Her whole family comes together on New Year’s Day and her grandmother and aunties make dumplings in different shapes. When Marisa struggles to make her dumplings look right, she gets frustrated but slowly those feelings disappear when she realizes that her broken dumplings make the soup taste delicious. Everyone who reads this book should definitely try their hands and making dumplings. They are surprisingly easy to make and lots of fun for the whole family.
Graphic Novels with Recipes
When I was a kid my school would hold an international food festival and you could always find me at the Korean booth spending all my tickets on bulgogi. When I ran out of tickets I would likely get free portions since my brother’s best friend’s mother manned that bulgogi. This graphic novel has tons of history about types of Korean food and pantry ingredients that are pivotal to making those dishes. The pictures help share technique and make this unorthodox cookbook really pop. It has some recipes that I didn’t think I would ever try to replicate, but now I am second-guessing those thoughts. I plan on trying my hand at sundubu jjigae (soft tofu soup) and kimchi buchimgae (kimchi pancake). If I am feeling particularly ambitious, I’ll attempt making budaejjigae (army stew). Good thing I have the largest tub of gochujang (Korean red chili paste) in my fridge.
Let’s Make Ramen by Hugo Amano
Some of you might be thinking, “Ramen? I have some 25¢ instant packets in my pantry, why stress about ramen?” Well, for one, freshly made ramen is actually incredibly complex and it can take years for ramen cooks to perfect their bowls. Several years ago I read The Ramen King and I by Andy Raskin, which heavily features Momofuku Ando, the creator of those instant ramen packets. I found the story fascinating, but it still felt like it was missing the thoughtfulness of preparing ramen from scratch. Let’s Make Ramen has been the answer to several ramen related questions. It goes through the rich history of ramen and how it became popular to the different types of broth and what toppings pair with the broths and even ramen etiquette (the major rule I will tell you is never, EVER leave your chopsticks in the bowl sticking out, this goes for all Asian food). It is fascinating how much goes into creating one dish, but the results will make you forget all about that 25¢ packet.
I really enjoyed this graphic novel for all the different ways it asks you to expand your compassion and your palate. Meal is about a young aspiring chef named Yarrow and her desire to work in a new restaurant that features different bugs in every dish. When Yarrow is given the assignment to make a taco featuring insects by the restaurant chef Chanda, who she somehow insulted, she realized that she needs to make her food personal. After seeking out her ingredients from a seller who breeds grasshoppers for consumption, she shares her taco with Chanda. Yarrow explains that as a child she would often collect cicadas with her grandmother in the countrysides of Japan to later eat and her passion for cooking with insects is not a fad, but a part of her desire to share her heritage. Chanda explains that she has a similar history with her mother in Cambodia, who survived the Khmer Rouge partially by eating tarantulas. Several countries around the world eat insects, except for most of Europe, and their food culture heavily influenced America’s food culture. While the ambitious bug-centric recipes in the back might be difficult to source, the story does make me want to expand my view on food and what is deemed by some as daring ingredients.
I was looking at pictures the other day and I realized how much my face has changed over the years. I don’t think I look like a completely different person, but when I was really young I think my features look somehow more Asian. Over time I think it has morphed a bit more into my father’s side features, I very much look like my father and grandfather with a more sturdy, somehow more Polish face now, but when I was young I somehow was a carbon copy of my mother. Weirdly enough, I also have two completely different feet, with my left having the traits of my father’s foot and my right foot is my mother’s duplicate. I somehow have higher arches on my right foot and my toes go in descending order, the opposite of my flatter left foot with a taller second toe than the big toe. While I have both Asian and Polish American traits within me, I literally have a foot on each side of my cultural DNA.
This has been a major factor in why it has been such a difficult journey figuring out who I am within my cultural identity. I’ve struggled with not feeling like I fit into either category that I belong to, and while I know there are other people out there just like me, every story is different and mine includes a large amount of moving. I finally came to the conclusion that I actually wanted to go to boarding school starting my sophomore year of high school, and making that decision on my own with the support of my parents was a crucial moment in my life.
I made a very tough decision right in the middle of my teenage years and was able to grow from that moment into a more clear personal identity. I think this is a significant reason why I like reading coming of age stories with an Asian American voice. I can relate to navigating multiple cultures that vary in social views on everything from what you wear to when you can start dating. It was the reflection in books I craved and it still feels personal.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott
I find this graphic novel incredible poignant today. With Asian American’s being racially targeted for the coronavirus, reading this book made me feel incredibly proud to be an Asian American. They Call Us Enemy was written about George Takei’s time in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. It showcases how these Americans banned together during a time that the American government thought they were enemies and how they survived after everything they worked for was seized. It resonates deeply with how people of different races are viewed in America and is a great reminder of what Asian Americans have had to struggle with and work against.
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
This is a wonderful graphic novel that follows teen Priyanka as she tries to piece together her heritage and who her father is when her mother does not want to talk about it. She finds her mother’s pashmina stuffed in a suitcase and when she puts it around her shoulders, she is transported to a dreamlike India, where things are beautiful. When her mom finally agrees that she can go visit her aunt in India, she sees that while there is beauty, there also is poverty and it is also different than what she imagined. This was something that I grappled with a lot in my time in Singapore and traveling around Asia. Tourism gives off the idea that the continent is “exotic”, but the reality is a lot more complex.
Kampung Boy by Lat
I grew up with this and all of the other Lat graphic novels. They are cherished by my family because they go into detail about what it is like living with Peranakan relatives (Peranakan or Baba Nyonya refers to the mixed culture created by Hainanese immigrants to Malaysia). Kampungs are traditional villages that are often on stilts and my mother grew up in a more rural Singapore where kampungs were still around. This explores how kampung life is like and the unique eccentricities that Peranakans have with their mixture of cultures.
A Very Large Expanse of Sea by Tahereh Mafi
I love this book so much because I can relate to it from moving so much. It tells the story of Shirin, a girl who has moved so much that she has guarded herself with emotional walls incredibly high. This takes place a year after 9/11 and she has become a target of bullies in her past high schools because she wears a hijab. Her older brother, on the other hand, is viewed as the cute foreign teenager that girls love, much like my older brother in high school. When a boy is actually interested in talking to her, she is terrified and finds it challenging to let her guard down.
Permanent Record by Mary H.K. Choi
I find this book incredibly dreamy and lovely. I am not a huge fan of romantic books but this book feels like a different kind of Notting Hill, which is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. Pablo Neruda Rind is a college dropout who is trying to figure out what he wants to with his life. He currently works at a bodega, which gives his Korean mom some frustrations. His Indian father is more forgiving, but then again he was the one who named him after Pablo Neruda. One day while working his shift at the bodega, Leanna Smart, a very famous pop singer and actress, enters and they strike up a conversation. He is both fascinated and confused about how their worlds have collided. I won’t spoil what happens next, but I will tell you that I got to meet Mary H.K. Choi at the 2019 Texas Teen Book Festival and made a complete fool of myself talking to her, much like Pab interacting with Leanna for the first time.
Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier
I read this book when I was a teenager and I don’t think I have ever felt like I related to a character more than Dimple Lala. Dimple has spent her entire life resisting her parent’s traditions as she much prefers to assimilate into American society. When she turns seventeen, her parents try to introduce her to a suitable boy, an Indian American who is an NYU student. She rejects the idea wholeheartedly until she finds him at a club and realizes he is much more complex than she had imagined. While parents might find Dimple too rebellious in this book, she experiments with drinking and smoking pot and she lies to her parents at different points in the book, Dimple feels like a real person with flaws and all. I highly suggest this book to anyone who feels a little bit confused about their identity.
I grew up obsessed with food. Between growing up in Singapore around all sorts of different cuisines and my parents and family cooking up all sorts of homemade deliciousness, I was always around something to taste or nibble on. Whenever my parents were cooking in the kitchen I always wanted to watch and help, and every time my parents would find something for me to help with. As I grew older, I graduated from taking cilantro leaves off of stems to filling and wrapping pierogis and wontons to cracking open a coconut to extract the milk and meat for my mom’s beef rendang.
I try to keep these memories in focus when I buy children’s books for friends and family. I want them to be able to have amazing food experiences together. I’ve been adding to this group of children’s books about food over the years, but my favorite specific group of children’s books is about food with a recipe included. This to me feels like the ultimate way to get kids excited about food and a way I have been able to convince picky eaters to try eating something new- read them a story about something different to eat, involve them in the cooking process based on that book, and they feel so accomplished with helping they give it a try!
With that notion, here are my favorite kids’ books with recipes for you to try at home with tiny humans. Please note: most of these books contain a pretty ambitious recipe for you to try, but I guarantee you that each book will fill up a full day experiencing new tastes, smells, and wonderful new memories with your kid to cherish over a wonderful new dish.
Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore
I read this growing up and it always stuck with me. It’s about a girl who is the youngest of five kids and she always gets stuck with the “kids” food prep. When all of her siblings are occupied doing other things, she finally asks her mom to show her how to make pancit, a Filipino noodle dish. This book and recipe is perfect for kids who want to want to be the boss.
Octopus Stew by Eric Velasquez
This book has made the rounds in the office as it was both 2019 Festival title and a pick for 2020 Reading Rock Stars Houston. It’s a fun story about making, well, octopus stew, that will make children giggle with the silly situation the characters get in when they cook things incorrectly. This book and dish are perfect for the adventurous kid who isn’t afraid of touching an octopus.
This was maybe my favorite kids’ book at the 2019 Festival and it was a pleasure to meet Kat Zhang when she came to the 2020 Reading Rock Stars Dallas / Fort Worth program (I often don’t get to see the authors when I am working at the Festival grounds). It’s about a little girl trying to make to perfect bao, a bread-like dumpling with savory or sweet fillings. This story and recipe are great for kids who like to create their own versions of things or perfectionists.
The Empanadas That Abuela Made/Las Empanadas Que Hacia la Abuela by Diane Gonzales Bertrand
This book was a hit at the 2019 Reading Rock Stars Houston program and has a sweet story about family and togetherness. It’s about a family that comes together to make some empanadas with the grandmother leading the charge. This book and recipe are great for the family that needs to break up a cooking project into smaller projects. That way you can make the filling, dough, and the full empanada creation into three different pieces or days.
Bee-Bim Bop! by Linda Sue Park
This book was a 2017 Reading Rock Stars Austin book and it features one of my favorite recipes of all time. When I cook the wonderful Korean dish, that is also this book’s title, this is the recipe I draw from when I start. The book is about a girl helping prepare the meal and is so cute. The text has a sort of flow to it that I honestly think it would make a really cool rap with a beat behind it. The recipe gives some good info on which parts are better for kids and which parts are more suitable for adults. I would recommend this book to families who are just starting to learn how to cook together since it gives you good guidelines for you and your kids so everyone has a duty.
Fry Bread: A Native American Family Story by Kevin Noble Maillard
I love this book so much because it shares a history that is often overlooked. It celebrates the food and culture of Native Americans and the inception of fry bread. This book is a great way to keep your kids thinking about history and a perfect way to create a multi-leveled lesson for your little one while they are away from school. You can even incorporate a science lesson in cooking with the Maillard reaction and yeast fermentation reaction.
Right now the whole world feels like it is upside down and I’m just waiting for Hopper to come rescue us with Eleven and the Stranger Things gang. While being cooped up in my apartment has been frustrating, I take solace in my cookbook collection. In those pages there is an order to each recipe that calms my nerves and at the end of cooking I’ll be eating something warm and inviting. During this upside down time, I’ve decided to dive into several books about food as well as cookbooks to read about how food brings us together. Here is my quaran-time food reading list.
Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat
If you are new to cooking and want to know the science behind cooking food, this is the book for you. The first part of this book reads like a friend just walking you through each element of good cooking and the second part is more of a regular cookbook. I’m in the middle of rereading the “Heat” section, but my favorite recipe here is the Caesar Salad recipe, which includes a mayonnaise recipe that is also in the book. Don’t miss out on her intro paragraphs to each recipe, which tend to include what else to pair with the dish. Nosrat also did a Netflix special of the same name, which I highly suggest watching as her excitement for cooking and food is contagious. (I wrote this with the miniseries on in the background!)
Eat What You Watch by Andrew Rea
The YouTube “Binging with Babish” star created this book that dives into some of your favorite food from movies. Rea dives into the Il Timpano for Big Night and the Prison Gravy from Goodfellas. I am bookmarking the Ratatouille recipe for when I have some access to better vegetables, but with my pantry pasta I will be diving headfirst into the Chef inspired Pasta Aglio e Olio recipe. I’m even going a step further and will be making the dish and then eating it while watching the movie on my couch! Now if I could find some fresh pineapple I might attempt the Hawaiian Burgers from Pulp Fiction…
Mixtape Potluck by Questlove
If you have talked to me within the last two months, you would have heard me wax poetic about this cookbook. The concept behind this book is just genius. Questlove, the drummer of the band The Roots, would hold dinner parties of his own and invite guests to bring a dish. The twist is that he would also assign them a song that is meant to inspire the dish. While I currently don’t have the ingredients to make Missy Robbins’ Braised Osso Buco with Fennel Soffritto, I will be diving straight into my canned tomatoes for Stanley Tucci’s Eggs in Purgatory and my canned chickpeas for Padma Lakshmi’s Chickpea and Spinach Tapas.
South by Sean Brock
Sean Brock came to the 2019 Festival and I was so excited to snag a copy of his cookbook. Brock has a deep love for Southern cooking and he spent a lot of time reading old Southern cookbooks before making this cookbook. While it doesn’t have the easiest dishes, his book does give you some good aspirations to challenge yourself. I’ll be diving into his fermented vegetables section, particularly to try my hand at some ramp sauerkraut and preserved lemons. And once I get some good koji, I’ll be starting to work on Boiled Peanut Miso and Hot Sauce.
You and I Eat the Same by Chris Ying
If you have been following the Austin360 Book Club powered by Texas Book Fest on Facebook this is already in your “read” pile, but I implore you to take a look at it again when you are feeling a little blue about what is going on. This book was a 2018 Festival pick and it helps remind you that we are all the same when you boil it down. These times have been scary and it can be easy to put blame on one another, but when you read how many different cultures use the same ingredients just in a different way it can be comforting- like how sesame seed can be used on bagels, hamburger buns, scallion pancakes, and in tahini sauce, to name a few. My personal favorite chapters are “Fried Chicken is Common Ground” and “Coffee Saves Lives”. Everything might feel uncertain right now, but remember that we are all in this together, just like that song from High School Musical.