Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Kimchi and Calamari, by Rose Kent

Title:  Kimchi and Calamari
Author:  Rose Kent
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Year:  2007
Pages:  220
Genre:  Realistic Fiction
Themes:  Adoption, Family, Identity
Age Range:  3rd-6th Grade

Summary: from Goodreads
Kimchi and calamari. It sounds like a quirky food fusion of Korean and Italian cuisine, and it's exactly how Joseph Calderaro feels about himself. Why wouldn't an adopted Korean drummer-comic book junkie feel like a combo platter given: (1) his face in the mirror (2) his proud Italian family.
And now Joseph has to write an essay about his ancestors for social studies. All he knows is that his birth family shipped his diapered butt on a plane to the USA. End of story. But what he writes leads to a catastrophe messier than a table of shattered dishes—and self-discovery that Joseph never could have imagined

I've been considering using this book as a part of a "one school, one book" type project for the school where I work.  I've been looking for books with multicultural characters that have depth and substance.  I am happy to report that this book has both, with some self-deprecating humor thrown in.  Kimchi and Calamari is an entertaining read that also has lots of avenues for discussion, and that highlights issues of identity, both cultural and familial, with grace and charm.

The character of Joseph is a good kid.  He loves his parents, dotes on his little sisters, and tries hard to be a good student.  It is this last thing that gets him in trouble.  When asked to write a paper about his ancestry, which he sadly knows almost nothing about, it never even occurs to him to just not do it, or to explain to his teacher his situation.  Instead, he makes up a fantasy about being the grandson of a famous Korean Olympian, which only makes the situation worse.  His very proud Italian father can't understand why he doesn't write about the family he does know (the Italian one), but Joseph feels like that would be lying, and he clearly isn't comfortable claiming an Italian heritage for himself.  His mother seems to understand a little bit better, but you can tell how ambivalent she is to his desire to learn more about his birth mother.  Add in confusion about girls and the new Korean neighbors who act like he's a "fake" Korean, and poor Joseph finds himself in quite a mess.

I think that the adoption angle is handled well in this book, and while it ends very satisfactorily, it does not end with a "Hallmark moment" reunion between Joseph and his birth family.  But as Joseph struggles along on his journey of self-discovery, everyone learns a little something about what family actually means.

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