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8 Picture Books About Food and Fellowship

From soul food on Sundays and tamales on Christmas Eve to wu gok on Dumpling Day.

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By Jennifer Krauss

TOMATOES FOR NEELA
Written by Padma Lakshmi
Illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

A twinkly-eyed Indian American girl makes tomato sauce with her amma every summer, when the juicy, plump fruits are in season. Lakshmi’s language infuses the ritual with magic — a cookbook from the girl’s paati looks “old and important,” as if it’s “full of spells” — and Martinez-Neal’s acrylic and colored-pencil illustrations on hand-textured paper conjure the sweet flavors of chutney. The text and art simmer and swirl in sync, from Amma’s cooking dance (“faster beats” when she shakes spices, her bracelets “clicking and clacking”) to the pungent aromas wafting through the air.

40 pp. Viking. $17.99. (Ages 3 to 7)

MAY YOUR LIFE BE DELICIOSA
Written by Michael Genhart
Illustrated by Loris Lora

Each Christmas Eve, a Mexican American girl and her mamá, tía, sister and cousins make tamales in her abuela’s kitchen. The recipe is in Abuela’s heart, and the molding and folding of corn husks into nourishing treats is paired with her metaphoric blessings (for flexibility, support, protection and loving hugs). Inspired by midcentury illustration and design, Lora’s cutout, paper-doll-style art matches the 1960s and ’70s Southern California setting of Genhart’s childhood, where members of his family worked in produce fields and packing houses.

40 pp. Cameron Kids. $17.99. (Ages 5 to 7)

DUMPLING DAY
Written by Meera Sriram
Illustrated by Inés de Antuñano
Recipes by Laurel P. Jackson

A neighborhood dumpling party brings together 10 families representing 10 cultures (though many of the families are themselves a mix of ethnicities) to share 10 recipes for this savory treat — which are all basically, though ingredients vary, dough wrapped around a filling. Samosas, wu gok, fufu balls, gyoza, bourekas, tamales, shish barak, pelmeni, ravioli and apple dumplings are all included in this, you guessed it, counting book. While there isn’t much of a story and the rhyme is a bit sing-songy, it provides a solid pre-Thanksgiving introduction to what people eat around the world.

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    40 pp. Barefoot Books. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 9)

    FAMILY REUNION
    Written by Chad and Dad Richardson
    Illustrated by Ashleigh Corrin

    “No reunion. NOPE.” This boy won’t go. But go he does, only to find a sea of people he doesn’t know wearing red family-tree T-shirts. “Dad shugs, Mom hugs. Not me. NO. Force field activate.” (Corrin draws him inside a bubble, scowling as a relative pokes it with her finger.) Suddenly he notices these “strangers” look like him. “Is that ME?” Soon he’s having a blast. While the son-father writing team’s debut is uneven, Corrin’s spirited, quirky illustrations save the day.

    24 pp. Barefoot Books. $16.99. (Ages 5 to 10)

    A SONG OF FRUTAS
    Written by Margarita Engle.
    Illustrated by Sara Palacios.

    When a young girl visits her grandfather in Cuba, she helps him sell frutas from his cart, singing the names of each one as they walk, while competing pregoneros sing louder to be heard. Happily, camaraderie prevails: “Our voices are bridges that reach up to windows.” The girl’s favorite day is New Year’s Eve, when everyone buys 12 grapes — one wish for each month, to be gobbled at midnight. Her last wish is friendship between countries, so her abuelo can visit her.

    40 pp. Atheneum. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

    SOUL FOOD SUNDAY
    Written by Winsome Bingham
    Illustrated by C.G. Esperanza

    To capture this sprawling, high-energy extended family gathering, Esperanza’s vibrant, kinetic oil-paint illustrations stretch edge to edge, sometimes tilted to reflect the changing perspectives of people in motion. A boy finally big enough to put on Grandpa’s chef jacket and help Granny make mac ’n’ cheese narrates with awe, his excitement palpable: “Cheeses stack high like a mountain.” Next Granny fills the sink with water, vinegar and lemon juice. “Greens got to be clean, baby,” she says, the music of Bingham’s conversational poetry rich and real.

    48 pp. Abrams. $17.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

    LET ME FIX YOU A PLATE
    A Tale of Two Kitchens
    Written and illustrated by Elizabeth Lilly

    Based on the author’s and her sisters’ experience growing up in Maryland with an American father and a Colombian mother, this tale of a family’s very, very long road trip once a year to visit both sets of tchotchke-loving, food-obsessed grandparents — one in West Virginia; the other in Florida — is written and drawn with a refreshingly droll realism, like the best offbeat documentaries. People fall asleep at the table and mostly don’t smile (thank goodness!), but the love they share is evident on every page.

    40 pp. Neal Porter/Holiday House. $18.99. (Ages 4 to 8)

    A FEAST FOR JOSEPH
    Written by Terry Farish and OD Bonny
    Illustrated by Ken Daley

    At the East African refugee camp, aunties stirred kwon at night in the hot wind. Boys played the awal. Now Joseph and Mama live in an apartment and “there are not enough people to eat with.” The girl upstairs says, “I’m here,” but Joseph waits for others: his abuba across the ocean, his cousins across town. Then one day the girl and her mami pop in with cake. “Slowly a hum settles around them. A rhythm, a beat of people eating together,” even if it’s “only two more.”

    32 pp. Groundwood. $18.99. (Ages 3 to 6)

    Jennifer Krauss is the children’s books editor of the Book Review.

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