The Dinner That Cooked Itself
By Jennifer C Hsyu and Illustrated by Kenard Pak
Published by Flying Eye Books
From Flying Eye Books comes another aesthetically pleasing title, The Dinner That Cooked Itself is a thing of beauty. The hardcover is textured like Chinese rice paper, and the cover art and title are produced with a gloss finish, making it a title you have to pick up and explore.
Based on a Chinese folk tale, The Dinner That Cooked Itself is a story that encourages the belief that hard work will result in good fortune. Written in a traditional fashion by new author Jennifer C Hsyu and illustrated by Kenard Pak, his second picture book after his debut, Have you heard the nesting bird?
The Dinner That Cooked Itself focusses around a boy called Tuan. As a child he lost his parents and is brought up by his kind neighbours. When he is old enough he leaves home and moves into a small house with a small field. Tuan then finds himself alone and approaches a matchmaker to find him a wife. But because of his circumstances he doesn’t find his wife to be, so he buries himself in his work instead. Then one night whilst tending to his field he comes across a large snail. Seeing it as a good luck charm he takes the snail home and cares for it. The next night he returns home to find a dinner waiting for him. The following night it happens again, so Tuan sets out to discover who is being so kind to him. How does a dinner cook itself?
Kenard Pak’s style adapts seamlessly to an Eastern backdrop, using a full spread approach to a lot of the illustrations and creating space and emptiness when Tuan is feeling alone and unhappy. His illustrations of the White Wave fairy capture the magical essence of her with keeping it simple and as grounded as possible. Each spread is a thing of beauty and I love the Chinese calligraphy that appears above certain animals and objects as they get introduced into the story.
This book is for the slightly older reader (recommended for children who are 5-7 years of age). It’s ideal for children who are curious about other cultures and want a change from the usual picture book. It would also be ideal for introducing school children to Chinese calligraphy – especially with the additional activity spread at the end of the book which explains the Chinese characters that have appeared throughout the book. I could look at Kenard’s illustrations all day and Jennifer’s writing style is traditional but written in a fresh modern tone which I found refreshing. What remains is the strong message it delivers to the reader; work hard and you will be rewarded. A message that’s as old as any Chinese folk tale and still rings true in todays world.
The Dinner That Cooked Itself is available to buy in all in good bookshops and on the Flying Eye Books online shop. To view the trailer take a peek below!