Dumplings for Lili by Melissa Iwai

Hello, Melissa Iwai! Welcome back to Watch. Connect. Read.! Thank you sooooo much for stopping by to celebrate Dumplings for Lili! What planted the seed for this beautiful picture book?

Melissa Iwai: Thank you so much for having me, Mr. Schu! I’m so excited to have Dumplings for Lili featured on your blog and in the company of so many other wonderful books you introduce to your readers!

Dumplings for Lili was inspired by the fact that dumplings can be found in different shapes and flavors in cuisines all over the world. I also think of babies as human dumplings—little packages of goodness swaddled in a wrapping!

I wanted to write about cultural diversity, food, and family, and the story grew from there. Cooking and feasting together can be such a wonderful communal experience, as is welcoming a new member into a family. I wanted to highlight both in this story.

What would you tell a group of 2nd-grade teachers about Dumplings for Lili?

Melissa Iwai: Lili is a making baos with her Nai Nai when they realize they are out of cabbage! Lili volunteers to borrow some from Babcia on the sixth floor who it turns out needs potatoes for her pierogis. Granma on the 2nd floor has potatoes for Babcia, but she needs garlic… And so the story goes with Lili, accompanied by her dog, Kiki, gathering all the ingredients from all the different grandmas each making dumplings from their cultures.

I hope your students have fun following Lili and Kiki on their adventure up and down the stairs and around the globe in her building. Will she and Nai Nai ever be able to finish their baos? What kind of dumplings are each of her grandma neighbors making? And what is the biggest dumpling surprise of all? You’ll have read the whole story to find out!

I’d also love to have teachers ask their students if their families make dumplings and what kind. And if there is a special food that their grandparents make. ☺

The illustrations for Dumplings for Lili were a joy to create! I did a ton of research at the Tenement Museum in New York City as well as the picture collection at the NY Public Library. I also used reference I collected from my neighborhood and my friends’ neighborhoods in Queens. Each of the kitchens of the different grandmas show a lot about who they are. I tried to make all of the kitchens very inviting, warm, and cozy, yet unique with hints of each grandma’s cultural background and personal interests.

Dumplings are an amazing invention! There are so many variations on this theme of wrapping delicious fillings in dough. It was very hard to limit which ones to include in the book. In the end I chose dumplings that are the most different in shape, texture, and flavor and represent a diverse selection of cultures. I also chose them in terms of a shared ingredient that links two different cuisines together.

Mr. Schu, you should have asked me why I used speech bubbles in this book. I wanted kids to have fun saying aloud all the phrases from the different languages the grandmas speak. They can easily guess what they mean from the context of the story!

Thank you so much for having me on your blog! It has been an honor!

Thank you, Melissa! It was an honor to chat with you.
Photo Credit: Denis Markell

Melissa Iwai is a children's book author and illustrator who incorporates both traditional and digital media into her art. When she's not working, Melissa cooks and develops her own recipes. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son.

Borrow Dumplings for Lili from your school or public library. Whenever possible, please support independent bookshops. 


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