cover image What’s That?

What’s That?

Karen Chan, illus. by Basia Tran. Gloo, $19.95 (40p) ISBN 978-1-73724-040-2

Cooking in the kitchen with his grandma is a special time for Jaxon, a boy with “discerning taste.” Despite his love of lu rou fan and cong you bing, he becomes self-conscious on his first day of school when he sees how different his lunch is from those of his peers, who claim his food “looks weird.” When bespectacled classmate Meena asks, “ ‘What’s that?’ in a kind and eager tone,” the duo, emboldened by the opportunity to connect, describe each dish in their respective lunch boxes. Tran’s digitally colored graphite illustrations render slim characters with large heads in varying skin tones, and reflect the homey warmth of food cooked by loved ones. While most spreads use a soft, subdued palette, a handful explode with saturation and texture in fantastical imagined food journeys, as when the two cross a bridge suspended over a pot of “tangy, crunchy chaat.” Debut author Chan uses a common children’s query to title this upbeat rhyming volume, redirecting the “lunch box moment” and culminating in an inquisitive exploration of the intersection of food and community. Jaxon’s family reads as Chinese; Meena’s family is Indian-cued. A Mandarin and Hindi glossary detailing featured dishes concludes. Ages 3–up. (Self-published)