cover image Tomatoes for Neela

Tomatoes for Neela

Padma Lakshmi, illus. by Juana Martinez-Neal. Viking, $17.99 (40p) ISBN 978-0-593-20270-8

Top Chef and Taste the Nation host Lakshmi lends her expertise to this stuffed picture book, exploring how cooking can preserve both intergenerational bonds and summer’s bounty. Neela, a brown-skinned child, adores cooking with her amma, who pens recipes in a notebook passed down from Neela’s paati. On Saturdays, Neela and her amma visit the green market, “now brimming with crops from the end of summer.” After surveying lusciously painted tomatoes across two spreads, which are described in scribbled addenda (“Big like a softball. Slice them thick for toast with mayonnaise”), the duo returns home to preserve them, using a family recipe. As the story moves along, each step includes additional facts: “Did you know that ‘tomato’ comes from an old Aztec word, ‘tomatl’?” In acrylic paint and colored pencil, Caldecott Honoree Martinez-Neal contributes warmly expressive, toothsome spreads that emphasize food, family, and the natural world. While copious factual asides would serve better as back matter, the sweet, lushly illustrated tale succeeds in showing the importance of food as connection within one Indian American family. Back matter includes recipes for tomato sauce and tomato chutney, as well as tomato fun facts, resources on farmworkers, and an author’s note. Ages 3–7. [em](Aug.) [/em]