The Runaway Rice Cake

Ying Chang Compestine, Author, Tungwai Chau, Illustrator Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing $17.95 (40p) ISBN 978-0-689-82972-7
Debut children's author Compestine crosses ""The Gingerbread Man"" with the traditional folktale of the bottomless rice jar for this story reinforcing the importance of giving. On the eve of the Chinese New Year, the Chang family prays to the Kitchen God, then prepares to make the holiday rice cakes, the ni n-gao. However, they have only enough rice flour for one, and when it's done, the ni n-gao pops out of the pan and runs away. Like the gingerbread man, the runaway cake leads a rollicking chase, evading livestock (""Ai yo! Pig's too slow!"") and market-goers (""Ai yo! Away I go!""). Finally, it collides with a famished old woman, and, when the Changs offer to share the ni n-gao with her, she gratefully eats the whole thing. Upon their return home, however, a succession of neighbors greets the hungry family with what little they can share. Poppa Chang invites everyone to join in the sparse meal, and, in a magical ending, the bowls of food on the table expand to overflowing--a reward (from the Kitchen God, the text hints) for the family's kindness. Compestine's engaging tale brims with intriguing details of the traditions that surround the holiday (and, as the author of adult cookbooks, she also includes recipes for ni n-gao). First-time picture book artist Chau makes a splash with vibrant acrylics whose textured surface and controlled, sophisticated blending of shades mimic the look of pastels. His backgrounds, costumes and animals are more detailed than the characters' facial expressions, but he succeeds in communicating a warmth between family and neighbors. Ages 5-8. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 01/01/2001
Release date: 01/01/2001
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