The Dinner that Cooked Itself
Thursday, Apr 23, 2015
Tuan is an orphan, raised by his neighbors. He is a hard worker and buys himself a small house and field, but he is lonely and unable to find a suitable match even with the help of a matchmaker. Yet Tuan continues to work hard and, one day, finds a large snail in his garden that he begins to care for. Shortly thereafter, he finds delicious meals prepared for him when he returns home from work. Every night, the meals become larger and more delicious. Tuan cannot seem to find out who is cooking for him, so he decides to return home early to catch the generous cook. What he finds is a fairy, who has been living in the guise of the snail and has been sent to look after him. Sadly, the fairy must leave now that she's been seen by a human.
This retelling of a classic Chinese folktale introduces multiple Chinese customs—for example: using a matchmaker to find a wife, or creating shrines and leaving offerings. The illustrations include Chinese calligraphy for some of the words that are introduced in the story. At the end of the book is a brief explanation of Chinese calligraphy and a glossary of the characters used in the story. The illustrations are beautifully drawn, and the story is fascinating and compelling. It is especially satisfying that Tuan is rewarded for his hard work, thoughtfulness and generosity. This has been a recent favorite, especially the scenes portraying the delicious dinners and the departure of the fairy. I enjoyed seeing a bit of daily life contrasted with spiritual beliefs. It is a nice introduction to a classic Chinese tale paired with beautiful artwork. I found the artwork alone compelling enough to read it more than once.