WARNING! Today’s picture book will make you hungry!
Francie Dekker is a youth gardening and nutrition educator in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She was a contributing writer for Edible Milwaukee Magazine, where she wrote a quarterly “Kids Table” column that explored how gardening, food, culture, and youth intersect. In 2016, she received a Food Writing Fellowship from the Culinary Trust. You can learn more about her at her website.
OUR WORLD OF DUMPLINGS is her debut picture book and I have to say I’m impressed! I’m a self-confessed foodie and I never thought of all the different kinds of dumplings there are in the world. I also never thought to make it a wonderful picture book premise. In this story, an entire apartment complex comes together to create dumplings of many different kinds. A young girl, Sylvia, runs from apartment to apartment meeting up with friends, helping to make dumplings from different cultures, and ending up on the roof for a Dumpling Day party that makes me jealous. I wish Dumpling Day was real!
Me: This story seems like a perfect extension of your experiences, given your background as a food writer and with a food writing fellowship exploring how gardening, food, culture, and youth intersect. But how did you make the leap from that background to picture books? What drew you to them?
Francie: Working as a gardening educator, I used picture books a lot in my lessons as they are the perfect medium for teaching children just about everything. After a few years of researching and picking books to go along with my lessons, I decided to try my hand at writing my own! Back in college, I used to joke about wanting to write picture books, but it finally struck me that I could actually do this!
Me: This story of an apartment building full of so many different cultures, all sharing one food in common, and bonding over the deliciousness of dumplings makes me wish I could live there! What gave you the idea for this story?
Francie: I love exploring, cooking and eating cuisines from around the world. In doing so, I realized how many cultures have their own variation on a dumpling. As a child, I never appreciated my family’s Polish food traditions. I was inspired to write OUR WORLD OF DUMPLINGS as a way to connect young readers to their food heritage, as well as to expose youth to similar dishes from around the world. While we may come from different places, and speak many languages, I believe the best way to get to know someone is over a plate of something delicious.
Me: How did you pick the nationalities of each kiddo in the story and the dumplings they would use. Did you always know which countries you wanted to include? Or did you research first? Or did that come after many revisions?
Francie: Researching which dumplings to include in the book was definitely the part of the writing process that took the longest! First off, there is no one universal definition agreed on by chefs, food historians, food lovers, etc. of “what is a dumpling?” So after years (no joke) of research, and lots of debates with friends and family, I developed my own “definition” for the purpose of the book that is included in the book’s back matter.
In selecting which dumplings to include in the story, I tried to choose a range based on geography and cooking techniques. In some of the story’s original drafts, about a quarter of the dumplings are different from the final book !
Me: Wow! Dumpling research. That has to be the best kind of research. I love the back matter in this book! I love that you included even MORE dumplings from other cultures that you weren’t able to include in the story. How much more research did you have to do for this section? Were there dumplings from other cultures that never made it into the book?
Francie: I had such a long list of potential dumplings, we decided to include them in the back matter for the book. And in theory, we could have included two more pages with additional dumplings! And this connects back to what gave me the idea for this story: While we all come from different places and cultures, a shared love of dumplings is something we have in common.
Me: I love that. What is your favorite type of dumpling and why? Have you ever made them yourself?
Francie: Well, our family is Polish, so I’d have to say Pierogi! Specifically sauerkraut and mushroom. My cousins and I get together before Christmas every year to make dozens to serve on Christmas Eve. My children now join in on this tradition.
I also love learning to make dumplings with friends from their cultures (sound familiar? haha) It’s such a fun way to slow down, chat, and catch up while making something delicious. No matter the dumpling, I always seem to overfill – whoops!
Me: Ha! Me too! The illustrations by Sarah Jung are absolutely wonderful! I love the warm color palette she used and how she drew the cat that followed along with the children. Were there any illustration surprises for you? Do you have any favorite illustrations?
Francie: My daughter loves finding the cat on each page too! Sarah’s illustrations are so beautiful, I especially love all the cultural details included in each home! We have Polish pottery at home that looks just like the bowls on Busha’s table.
Me: What advice do you have for new picture book writers?
Francie: Don’t give up! Navigating the publishing industry as a new picture book writer can be daunting but stick with it!
That is so true. Thank you for stopping by my blog Francie.
Dear readers, this book is released September 6th. It combines food, culture, and friendship in a way I wish was happening in reality right now. Trust me when I say, you won’t want to miss this one.