CM . . .
. Volume XXIV Number 15. . . .December 15, 2017
Toronto, ON: Second Story Press, April, 2018.
160 pp., trade pbk., $11.95.
Grades 4-5 / Ages 9-10.
Review by Karen Rankin.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
“Kimbap,” my grandmother started, as we walked into the kitchen, with our hands full of plastic grocery bags. “Everybody’s kimbap little bit different.”
“It’s like sushi right?” I asked.
Grandma had a shocked look in her eyes. “No! Not like sushi! Aigoo! Sushi use vinegar in the rice. Not in kimbap,” Grandma scolded. “Your mother not teach you anything! Korean in name only! Sushi is Jap-an-ese,” Grandma said each syllable slowly and with emphasis. “You NOT Japanese.” She pointed her finger at me.
I kept quiet. She muttered to herself some more in Korean, and I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but sometimes all you need to hear is the tone in somebody’s voice, no matter what the language, and it was pretty clear she was irritated with me. There was no use arguing with her. I was just going to pretend I never mentioned the word sushi.
I watched her lay out the ingredients. Sheets of dried seaweed, eggs, beef, carrots, spinach, yellow pickled radish. “You wash spinach. Wash very well. She bent down into a cabinet and pulled out a colander. “Then you wash carrots,” Grandma ordered.
She proceeded to fry the beef she had bought at the store while I washed. I washed for a long time. I was afraid of doing it wrong. She had started a pot of water to boil and after I finally handed her the spinach she dumped it in the pot of boiling water. “Only one, two minutes,” she instructed. Then she dumped the contents back into the colander in the sink. “You squeeze later when cool.” She moved on to the carrots, which she had started to slice into perfect long, slim sticks.
“Now cook carrots,” she gestured for me to come to the stove and help her. I took the wooden spoon. “Add little sesame oil, not too much!”
The preparation was endless. It was way past dinner time and I was so hungry, but I couldn’t tell Grandma that. She was trying to help me and I was kind of surprised at how nice she was being, especially after how I had stuck my foot in my mouth earlier.
Eleven-year-old Krista Kim has been best friends with Jason since they were three-years- old. They always hang out together at school and have a “standing date” Wednesdays after school at Krista’s place. Krista’s grandmother likes making Korean food for her son, and she drops by regularly with dinner since Krista’s mom doesn’t cook Korean food. Grandma, who is always “dressed very nicely” with hair “in a state of permanent curled perfection”, gets along well with Krista’s fashion-conscious, older sister, Tori. But Krista doesn’t think Grandma really likes her much, especially when she says things like, “[S]he never get married if she dress like that! Tomboy! Krista, she must stop playing with boys and acting like boy. Disgraceful.”
When Krista’s grade five teacher assigns a big Heritage Month project, Krista decides to do hers on Korean food, and this means asking Grandma for help. In the meantime, Madison, one of the popular girls in the class, with whom Krista normally has little interaction, invites most of the girls to her “Red Carpet” themed birthday party. Krista intends to decline the invitation, but after Tori alters a traditional Korean dress for Krista to wear, she decides to go. On the big day, Grandma takes her to a Korean beauty salon to have her hair and make-up done, and Krista is the hit of the party. The next week at school, when Madison asks Krista to start hanging out with her and a few other girls at recess, Krista leaves Jason to fend for himself. And when Madison invites Krista to her house after school on Wednesdays, Krista accepts. Jason is stoic but not pleased. Mom wonders what’s going on as Krista continues to make changes to her schedule, wardrobe, and make-up. When Jason chooses another girl to be his partner for a big, city-wide Celebration of Dance performance, Krista is baffled. While her new friends help her learn the dance moves, both Tori and Grandma help Krista with her Heritage Month project. Eventually Mom, Tori, and Grandma all give Krista enough advice to figure out that she needs “to remember who and what is important to [her].” And at the Celebration of Dance, when both Krista and Jason’s partners are sick just before the performance, Krista and Jason end up dancing together.
Krista Kim-Bap has some mouth-watering descriptions of Korean food, interesting details about Korean eye make-up, and is full of teachable moments. Mom, Grandma, and Tori are all believable, well-rounded characters. However, the protagonist’s voice feels more like that of a grown woman recalling her past than an 11-year-old’s, as per the following excerpts:
[T]he general feeling of approval in the room meant that they liked my dress. I finally relaxed and went into the house, ready to enjoy myself.
Madison had invited almost all the girls in our class, and everybody came as dressed up as they possibly could manage. Most looked like they had raided their mom’s closets.
I had spent years going to school with them, but honestly, couldn’t really say that I knew them very well. I can’t say I was totally involved in a lot of the conversation or dancing[.]
I didn’t feel that Madison and I had hit it off under the tree, but maybe I just didn’t know how to read other people very well. I did mostly just hang out with Jason all the time, and he wasn’t anything like them, so I didn’t really have a good reference point.
“Here, sit on this,” she offered, generously throwing me a lifeline. I think it was called a pouf. I read about them in a design magazine at my dentist’s office last month.
Given her consistently mature voice, Krista’s confusion over Jason’s reaction to her abandonment is barely credible. Also not entirely believable is the way everything winds up happily, from Krista’s making up with Jason just in time to dance with him at the big performance, to Madison – a seemingly power-jockeying, bully in the making – for the first time ever, inviting a boy (Jason) to play under the ‘girls’ tree’ and having no problem with Krista not fulfilling an important wish for her.
Lessons imparted throughout the book – such as, “let’s just embrace what we were born with and like ourselves the way we are,” (as opposed to (eg) resorting to cosmetic surgery to make eyes look bigger, or bleaching skin to make it fairer); “real friends make you feel good about yourself and they just get you;” talking to one another is important in understanding feelings and helping to solve inter-personal problems – are worthy, if far from subtle. Krista Kim-Bap is a book for multi-cultural classrooms.
Karen Rankin is a Toronto, ON, teacher and writer of children’s stories.
© CM Association
University of Manitoba
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