From Children's Literature
Well-written children's books are a pleasure to read, but there are times when the stories would be fine without the pictures and vise versa. Grace Lin's book, however, is one of those rare picture books in which the text and illustrations really depend on each other--and with charming results. The story starts with an experience familiar to many families; opening the fortune cookies at the end of a meal at a Chinese restaurant. The main character, an anonymous young Chinese girl, believes that all the fortunes in the cookies will come true. The reader follows each member of her family to see how their fortunes are fulfilled. Thestory is fun to read aloud, but without the illustrations the audience would not be able to see the fortunes come about to such spectacular effect. The illustrations are consistently vibrant and playful. By the end, young children will probably all agree that fortune cookies truly are prophetic.
The middle daughter of three girls in a Chinese-American family is the narrator of this exploration of the paper fortunes found in those irresistible cookies, leading to a wider look at good luck and good fortune in general. After dining in a Chinese restaurant, each member of the family receives a different fortune, and the first-person narration explains how each fortune is true in some way. The paper fortune slips (with a tiny smiley face on each) are incorporated into each illustration, with each different attribute or talent creatively illustrated in bright colors, busy patterns, and a somewhat flattened perspective that lends a cheerful simplicity to the art. The narrator's fortune indicates that she sees the world in a different way, illustrated by a whole page of fortune cookie papers attached like labels to an outdoor scene. An author's note provides information about the fortune cookie's history and its roots in both Chinese and Japanese culture.
The family from Dim Sum for Everyone (2001) returns, dining out again in a Chinese restaurant, where fortune cookies end the meal. Do the messages mean anything? The narrator, the middle sister, isn't so sure. But Ma-ma's fortune reads, "Attention and care will make great things happen," and her garden bursts with fruits and flowers. Sister Jei-Jei's fortune reads, "Your imagination will create many friends," and the narrator spies Jei-Jei surrounded by origami animals. Lin contributes a clever take on a fresh topic, but it's too bad she begins with dad's fortune, "Your moods are contagious." Even when children see the fortune become manifest (dad sleeping in the park with others sleeping around him), they may not understand the term contagious, even in context. What's more, being sleepy isn't exactly a "mood." However, as always, Lin's pen-and-watercolor-artwork is totally engaging. Bright, lively colors and scenes presented from unusual perspectives are hallmarks of Lin's art, and the illustrations here are no exception. An afterword tells the real, rather surprising story of fortune cookies.