Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too! written and illustrated by Maggie P. Chang, 64 pp, RL 2

 

Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too! 
written and illustrated by Maggie P. Chang
Review Copy from Simon & Schuster
There are so many wonderful things that come together in the pages of of Maggie P. Chang's debut, Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too! This makes sense, because the creator herself encompasses many wonderful things! Chang, who describes herself as a "multi-disciplinary creative and educator with an entrepreneurial spirit," began her career as a teacher in Spanish Harlem, going on to open the first children's history museum, and teach at the famed LaGuardia Arts High School where she expanded the Media Technology curriculum and taught talented teen artists. Chang has co-founded service projects that, through the creation of graphic novels, empower young people to connect with the planet's ecosystems, a media company that explores the intersection of spirituality and creativity and a partnership with jewelry designers that allows cancer patients to create personalized, wearable art.

Maggie P. Chang's debut, Geraldine Pu and Her Lunch Box, Too! introduces emerging readers to the graphic novel genre, kicking off with a superb two-page spread, narrated by Geraldine, giving readers tips on how to read a graphic novel. A page turn educates readers on "Words from Geraldine's World," preparing them even more for the food (and feelings) adventure they are about the embark on. Readers meet Geraldine and her family - mom, dad, Amah and little brother - at the table eating breakfast. Geraldine's favorite part of her day at school is LUNCH! She LOVES the lunches her Amah makes just for her, especially the notes that Amah tucks in her lunch box, something else Geraldine loves. She loves her lunch box so much, it has a name, Biandang and it has a voice in the story, communicating in a "bubbly cloud with little circles pointing to them," which Geraldine tells readers indicates someone is thinking.

About to enjoy her lunch of Yellow Chicken Curry, Geraldine is stopped by a loud "EW!" Nico, a new kid at Geraldine's lunch table, is afraid of anything new and not afraid to let the world know it. In a moment that captures way that negativity can spread through a group of kids, Nico's reaction spreads like wildfire. "Gross," "Yuck," and, "SO weird," explode, dampening Geraldine's anticipated enjoyment. Not wanting to face the same ridicule the next day, Geraldine asks Amah to put a sandwich in her lunch. Amah does her best, but her idea of a "special sandwich" (a bao bun) draws even more fire, with the microaggressions continuing on the school bus ride home.

Geraldine struggles, anger and frustration causing her to throw Biandang across her room. An amazing family dinner, filled with dumplings, soup, veggies, noodles, salads, proves restorative for Geraldine. As she helps clear the table, Amah asks her if she wants the leftovers in her lunch. Geraldine hesitates, but agrees, worrying about her decision through a sleepless night. At lunch the next day, Geraldine sits as far away from Nico as possible, but hears his disgust anyway - and before she has even opened Biandang! Nico has found someone new to taunt. In a moment that made me cheer, Geraldine parks herself next to Deven and asks to try a bite of his lunch, exclaiming, "YUMMMMM!"  Deven has shared a fruit they call "stinking toe" in Jamaica. Without missing a beat, Geraldine opens Biandang and shares her leftovers with Deven, telling him that it's called stinky tofu. Cautiously, Deven takes a nibble, telling the table that it's pretty good. "Pretty stinkin' good!," Geraldine responds.

Making fun of someone's lunch is nothing new, in real life and in children's books. When I was growing up, my grandmother shared stories of trading the eggplant sandwich her mother, an immigrant from Italy, always packed in her lunch. What Chang does that is new is take readers into the home of the protagonist, and, employing the graphic novel genre perfectly, detailing the family dinner and the leftover lunches. I especially love that, rather than getting teachers involved or having students participate in a multicultural food fest, Chang has Geraldine, in a moment that feels entirely authentic, extend her enjoyment of her own lunch to share with another student. Kudos to Chang for telling an engaging story with a teachable moment that is both subtle and powerful. 

After reading, cooking is my next passion and I love any book that combines the two. If you do, too, check out this label, BOOKS ABOUT FOOD, that features titles ranging from board books to novels! 




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