Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Karthik Delivers and Alice Waters Cooks Up a Food Revolution

Chari, Sheela. Karthik Delivers
April 5th 2022 by Amulet Books
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Karthik lives with his parents and sister in Boston in 2009, where they have an Indian grocery store in the Allston neighborhood. Karthik has two friends that live nearby, Miles, who loves Boston history, and Binh, whose family runs a Vietnamese restaurant. Because the grocery store isn't doing all that well, Karthik's father has a new scheme for him to deliver groceries to customers within a two mile radius. It's a lot of work, and requires frequent ice cream breaks with his friends. During these, other kids from his school, Jacob and Hoodie, give him a hard time and make fun of his name. At one point, they even steal his money. They are friends with Juhi Shah, whom Karthik likes, and Sara Rimsky, a girl on whome Binh has a crush. The girls don't correct the boys, which is confusing to Karthik, especially after he and Juhi have a good conversation at temple while his sister is involved in a dance recital. One frequent customer of the store, Shanthi, is a student at Boston University in the playwriting program. She isn't talking to her parents, since they disagree with her path. She thinks that Karthik would be a great choice to play the lead in her short play about Leonard Bernstein, since he bears a passing resemblance to the musician and also has a good ability to memorize things, especially lists. Knowing his parents wouldn't want him to take time away from deliveries to do this, Shanthi places an order every day for two Fantas and a bag of spicy chips, and the two rehearse when he delivers. The grocery store continues to struggle, especially when a new restaurant, House of Chaat, opens nearby. This is run by Juhi's uncle, who had worked with Karthik's dad in the past. As the performance of the play approaches, Shanthi has Karthik participate in some local performance art, and sends out a flyer with his name on it. His parents aren't thrilled when they find out, especially since there are big changes in store for the family. Will Karthik be able to convince them that he can follow his own dreams and not necessarily theirs?
Strengths: This was a great book about a character in a specific setting doing several very interesting things! Just hanging out with his friends, eating ice cream and going to the different restaurants seemed like fun, and delivering the groceries introduced him to lots of different people whose lives he was able to positively affect. Add to that Shanthi and her play, which he hides from his well meaning but academically focued parents, and the story becomes a really fun juggling act. I loved how Karthik got to know more about his customers and started to like them more, and how his mother decides to go to school to become a doctor, since she is always pushing Karthik to do this so she can live vicariously. The 2009 setting makes sense, given the economic downturn of the time, and the father's struggles with the store were shown just enough-- we see how the family situation impacts Karthik. Juhi is a complicated character, and her interactions with Karthik are complicated but instructive. The racial problems are not a huge part of the story, but their inclusion gives depth to the characters. I really enjoyed this one, even if it did make me hungry for ice cream and Indian food!
Weaknesses: I got a bit confused as to where the family lived-- they seemed to hang out at the store a lot, and Karthik goes to school nearby, but they get a train to their home? Perhaps if I were more familiar with Boston, I would have understood this better. 
What I really think: Definitely purchasing, and this cover will appeal strongly to my readers. Chari has done interesting work with Finding Mighty and the Mars Patel series, but I think she's hit her stride here with this humorous, realistic story. A must purchase for middle school libraries. 

Stanley, Diane and Hartland, Jessie (illus.) Alice Waters Cooks Up a Food Revolution
January 18th 2022 by Simon Schuster/Paula Wiseman Books
Copy provided by Young Adult Books Central

Born in 1948, Alice Waters was very much a product of her time. Her family grew food on their property, so she was familiar with fresh produce, but they also embraced the convenience food trend of the 1950s, with it's canned and premade items. She went to college and was able to study in France, and came back with no particular purpose. Cooking French food, which was her passion "wasn't a job", but with the financial backing of family and the help of friends, she managed to start a restaurant in 1971, which she named Chez Panisse. It was dedicated to the freshest ingredients, and the untrained but dedicated staff produced one set menu every night. It was difficult to find organic ingredients that didn't come from industrial farms, but Waters scoured the Bay Area for ingredients, and was part of a movement of California Cuisine that spread through the United States in the 1970s. Later, in the 1990s, she worked with local schools to start gardens in schoolyards so that children could learn about science and also have tasty and healthy food. There are now over 5,000 school garden projects, and her restaurant is still in business. 

I loved the illustrations in this one, because they had a fun, 1960s vibe, with lots of detailed scenes and sense of movement, with a turquoise palette with pops of red. Even the font (Tox Typewriter) captures the retro feel. 

This is more of a story than a biography, and there are anecdotes about a friend who bet someone that he would eat his shoe if he lost the bet, and Alice helped him cook it, pages that detail the themed menus, where garlic might even appear at desert, and stories about the people who worked in the restaurant. There is a little bit of information about food during this time period, but most of the text is concerned with Alice's interests. 

There is certainly a lot of privilege in Waters' efforts to put together a restaurant-- the price of a meal there in 2022 is $175, which I can't even imagine. The same could be said of most food innovations that are heralded by the public. There's not an exciting story to tell about those of us whose diets consist of lots of canned food and the occasional fresh fruit! I did like that Waters was able to use her influence after the success of her restaurant to help children learn more about healthier and more planet friendly ways to arrange their diets. 
With the notable exception of Julia Child, who has had a number of picture books written about her, there are not a lot of books about cooks who have had an impact on society. Rockliff's Try It! How Frieda Caplan Changed the Way We Eat being a notable exception. There is also the interesting European publication Veggie Power by Olaf Hajek, but that's just an overview of vegetables. Alice Waters Cooks Up a Food Revolution is a great choice for young readers who want to experience the Best. Food. Ever.!, and also a fun inclusion in a list of biographies for women's history month. 

1 comment:

  1. I love the Alice Waters cover. I was about to say I'm not sure I would have picked this up as a child but then I remembered I read every single Childhood of Famous Americans biography in my school and public library (and I know I wasn't interested in Robert Fulton and his ilk) so who knows.