Gigi and Ojiji: Food for Thought

HarperCollins. (I Can Read Level 3). Sept. 2023. 32p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780063208124; pap. $5.99. ISBN 9780063208117.
K-Gr 3–One morning, Gigi rises early to make her favorite peanut butter breakfast for her family. However, she is stunned when her Japanese grandpa, Ojiji, expresses gratitude but neglects to eat it. Her mother suggests that maybe Ojiji doesn’t like peanut butter. Gigi is surprised: How can anyone dislike peanut butter? She wants to give Ojiji something he likes, so the next morning her mother makes a traditional Japanese breakfast of pickles, salmon, rice, miso soup, and natto (soybeans). But as Gigi takes a bite of natto, she realizes she doesn’t like it. With kindness to her grandfather, Gigi is brave—she tries it again when her mother adds it to pancakes. But she still doesn’t like it! In this endearing tale, Gigi learns firsthand that not everyone likes what she likes. Ojiji, originally from Japan, prefers traditional Japanese fare. Through both pictures and narrative, this story demonstrates empathy. The illustrations, presented in a muted primary color palette, show the warmth and love between family members as Gigi and Ojiji share the foods they love and the understanding that it’s okay not to love everything. This early reader also presents acculturation themes, with Gigi enjoying the tastes of a traditional American childhood, but also learning the foods of her family’s culture. Back matter includes an offering of Japanese vocabulary words.
VERDICT A fine-tuned depiction of empathy and cultural identity development. Celebrating Japanese culture, this is a heartwarming family story for independent readers.

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