REVIEW: Kitchen Dance by Maurie Manning

I have a crappy New York kitchen.  Seriously.  Granted, it’s not one of those really long and narrow “railroad” type kitchens, but still…

Nevertheless, it’s the room I love most.  I have a chair set up in the corner by the window and anyone who has ever had dinner with us has declared it “my chair” (I will admit, though, that Lori has sat there more than anyone…it’s kind of her chair).  I love that people sit in that chair and keep me company (and, subsequently, stay out of my way).  I love that there is always music playing in the kitchen.  I love that Adam, Kiddo, and I dance in there.  And we jokingly, lovingly call our kitchen the “Silent Room” because, when you are in it, you can’t hear a single thing going on elsewhere in the apartment.  I have laughed, sang, danced, argued, and cried in my kitchen.  My crappy kitchen has seen every important event in my family’s life.

Kitchen Dance by Maurie Manning (Clarion, 2008) gets this about kitchens.  Magic (of the emotional, child-like sort), love, and joy happen in the midst of washing dishes and making tamales.  Two children are trying to sleep but they’re awakened by the Clang! Scrape! Clunk! sounds from downstairs.  They tiptoe down to investigate and find their parents dancing, cooking, and singing in the kitchen: “My father sings a Spanish song into a wooden spoon.  Como te quiero!  Oh, how I love you.  Umm,hmm.’”  When the parents spy their children watching, rather than send them packing off to bed (as Adam and I would no doubt do), they sweep the children into their celebration, laughing and dancing: “We twirl around and around in a circle of family.”  Then “the kitchen dance slows” and Mama and Papa sway slowly with their children, lulling them to sleep.  They carry the kids to bed and tuck them in, as the little girl contentedly sighs “Umm, hmm” as she drifts off to sleep.

There is so much to recommend this book.  First, I love the multicultural aspect of it – the Spanish words peppered throughout the text, the tamales, the tango.  Unfortunately, there’s an elitist label that has been attached to being a foodie, and this story embodies the idea that all cultures, all races, all classes can have joy in the kitchen – even doing the dishes can be an opportunity to connect with someone. 

Second, I love the illustrations.  At the beginning, when we see the children upstairs in their rooms, the colors are muted; darkness is a deep lavender color.  This tone follows them downstairs but, when the kitchen door is opened, vibrant colors burst all over the page.  Mama is wearing a multi-colored tiered skirt, the dishes are vivid, the cabinets are lime green.  Papa’s bright white shirt glows against his dark skin, and his bright purple socks perhaps echo the deep lavender of the dark hallways outside the kitchen.  The children are brought from the darkness and into the brightness of their parents’ celebration.  As they drift off to sleep in their parents’ arms, dark purple seeps into the edges of the kitchen and the children once more enter that world of drowsiness and dreams. 

Lastly, this is storytime-ready, people.  Put on some samba music and encourage the kids to dance.  Heck, the text of this story begs you to dance: “A bump of her soft hips and cabinet doors shut – bang!”  How can you not do that hip motion as you read it? Pair this with Chicks and Salsa by Aaron Reynolds and you’ll have a party.

As if you didn’t already need enough motivation to pick this book up, here is a video that the author/illustrator created:



I know, right?

Ultimately, this book captures my deeply held belief that it doesn’t matter what you cook in your kitchen.  It doesn’t.  Being a foodie doesn’t mean truffles and soft-shell crabs and other such fancy accoutrements.  A foodie is someone who cooks from the heart, finds joy in the kitchen, and strives to bring happiness through what he lovingly prepares for family and friends.  Anyone who gets that is a foodie.  Kitchen Dance exemplifies that in a way that I haven’t seen yet in children’s literature, and it is a must-have in the canon of foodie books for children*. 

Eat, drink, and celebrate life in your kitchen.



* Didn’t know there was a canon?  Well, I just declared there was one. 


Anonymous said...

I just ordered this one for my library last week - now you've got me all excited about it!

Kristi Valiant said...

Great review. I'm looking forward to seeing this book in person.

Debby Andrews said...

I used to work with Maurie Manning, and have always loved her attention to detail and the unique perspective in her illustrations. She has a rare talent for capturing the imagination of children of all ages. This book is a wonderful example of her talent, and I agree wholeheartedly with your review!

Koekkener said...

This is such a very exciting book story. I hope that I will get this one. Thank you for posting...