A celebration of community, multiculturalism through cuisine

Dumplings for Lili

By Melissa Iwai (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2021, 48 pp., $17.95, hard cover)

“Dumplings for Lili” is a heartwarming intergenerational story of heritage, culture and food. Lili is thrilled when her Nai Nai asks her to help make bao. The “bundles of warm, doughy, juicy yumminess” are Lili’s favorite food. Nai Nai has taught her the eight secrets for making scrumptious bao. Everything goes smoothly until Nai Nai realizes that they don’t have cabbage for Secret #8. “Zao gao!”

Nai Nai asks Lili to see if Babcia on the sixth floor has cabbage and what ensues next is an adventure for Lili and her dog, Kiki. All of the grandmothers in the building are making dumplings from their respective cultures and many need to borrow an ingredient, so Lili and Kiki race up and down the stairs of their apartment building taking ingredients from one grandmother to another. The story ends with Lili and all of the grandmothers having an outdoor dumpling party with a surprise “dumpling treasure.”

Melissa Iwai’s illustrations, created with traditional and digital methods, are colorful and warm. She lovingly portrays the kitchens of Nai Nai, Babcia, Granma, Abuela, Nonna and Teta with items from their respective cultures.

Iwai also has labeled drawings of the dumplings made on the endpapers. Children will like Lili’s giant speech bubble with a map detailing Lili and Kiki’s travels up and down the stairs.

Families will enjoy reading this sweet story about family, community and diverse cultures. Adventurous souls can make Nai Nai’s bao with the recipe included at the back of the book (secrets included). There is also a YouTube tutorial of the author making bao entitled “Make Bao with Melissa Iwai!” I wish there were recipes and tutorials for all of the delicious dumplings.

As a kindergarten teacher, I think my students will delight in seeing themselves and their families represented in the book while also appreciating the culture and heritage of other families. In addition, “Dumplings for Lili” is excellent to spark conversation around the themes of community, culture, and intergenerational relationships. I recommend this heartfelt book and will make it a part of my classroom library.

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