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Book: “Measuring Up” by Lily LaMotte & Anne Xu (Ill.)
Publishing Info: HarperAlley, October 2020
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Book Description: Twelve-year-old Cici has just moved from Taiwan to Seattle, and the only thing she wants more than to fit in at her new school is to celebrate her grandmother, A-má’s, seventieth birthday together.
Since she can’t go to A-má, Cici cooks up a plan to bring A-má to her by winning the grand prize in a kids’ cooking contest to pay for A-má’s plane ticket! There’s just one problem: Cici only knows how to cook Taiwanese food.
And after her pickled cucumber debacle at lunch, she’s determined to channel her inner Julia Child. Can Cici find a winning recipe to reunite with A-má, a way to fit in with her new friends, and somehow find herself too?
Review: We have once again come upon a whim book, as I was wanting to read more graphic novels on the day that I requested “Measuring Up” by Lily MaMotte and Anne Xu. One of the other graphic novels I read recently was food based, and given how I enjoyed that one I thought I would give this one a try! Especially since it sounded like it had some other themes that it was going to tackle, along with the food.
The coming of age story at the heart of “Measuring Up” is very sweet and gentle. Cici is a preteen girl who finds herself in a new country and culture, and who is nervous about what that means for herself and for her place in the world around her. Her desperation to see her A-má again, who stayed behind in Taiwan, motivates her to sign up for a junior cooking contest, as cooking with her grandmother was a true joy and she is pretty good at it. The story is fairly simple, which makes sense for the middle grade audience, and I thought that Cici’s initial struggles with making friends and her conflicts with her parents regarding her priorities (cooking contest vs studying) were well conveyed in a middle grade narrative. At times it may have felt perhaps a little too simplistic for me, but I’m absolutely not the audience for this story so that doesn’t reflect the story as a whole. As Cici works through the cooking contest and starts to feel more at home, she is also repressing her identity because of how Taiwanese food and culture is viewed in a Western culinary world (more on that aspects in a bit), which drives her to experiment with more Western foods. This is also because of her cooking partner Miranda, whose Italian restaurant owning father has basically told her to focus on Italian food. The contrast between Miranda and Cici could be pretty start, but LaMotte finds ways to show that they may have more in common than they initially realize. Again, simplistic, but ultimately sweet.
Along with the coming of age story we get a tale about a girl who is adjusting to a new culture, while trying to keep her identity as well as finding a new one. As Cici starts to acclimate to her new home, she feels a need to keep her Taiwanese identity close to the vest, partially because of micro aggressions or flat out racism, but also because of her insecurities about herself as a tween girl. LaMotte touches upon preconceived notions of Asian food, from classmates telling Cici her lunch is ‘stinky’ to adults writing it off as low brow or cheap. I thought that LaMotte did a good job of balancing the broader themes within the story itself, and I liked that Cici had moments of pushing back, as well as moments of Cici being pleasantly surprised beyond her expectations. The important moments of Cici having to deal with micro aggressions are explained in a way that will resonate with the target audience, and I liked how Cici not only got to push back against it, but also got to pursue her own identity that may not line up with the one that her parents have laid out for her. It just felt like it all handled some complex issues in an accessible way.
And the drawing style is cute and fits the tone. I liked the way that Anne Xu could bring out emotional moments and feelings even in the simplistic art style that will probably resonate with the target audience. And it also just made me so hungry for basically all of the foods that we were seeing on the page.
“Measuring Up” was cute and a good fit for middle grade audiences! I know exactly who I would recommend this to, and it will make the reader ready to take on some culinary adventures of their own!
Rating 7: A cute story about cooking, friendship, culture, and finding oneself.
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