cover image The Dinner That Cooked Itself

The Dinner That Cooked Itself

J.C. Hsyu, illus. by Kenard Pak. Nobrow/Flying Eye (Consortium, dist.), $17.95 (32p) ISBN 978-1-909263-41-3

Hsyu debuts with a fine retelling of a Chinese folktale about a hardworking bachelor whose kindness is rewarded. Orphaned as a child, Tuan has been raised by an elderly neighbor, Old Lin; when the time comes for Tuan to marry, Old Lin hires a matchmaker. The three women proposed by the matchmaker don’t work out for various reasons—the birth years and names of the first two women clash with Tuan’s own, while his poverty means that the third woman’s parents won’t give her away. Tuan’s luck improves after he discovers a large snail in his field, brings it home, and feeds it. Suddenly, delicious dinners are awaiting him every night—“little fried balls of pork, a plump chicken stewed with plums.” After some investigation, Tuan learns the mystery cook is a beautiful fairy sent to watch over him by the Lord of Heaven. Working in a pale, muted palette, Pak (Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?) contributes airy, rough-textured compositions that evoke both contemporary animation and ancient, weathered frescoes as the story takes a serpentine path to a happy ending. Ages 3–7. Illustrator’s agent: Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency. (Nov.)