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September 2011


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baby reading

lip-smacking feast: hot, hot roti for dada-ji by f. zia and ken min


Are you hungry, baba?

You've come to the right place! Let's fire up the skillet and cook some lip-smacking, oh-so-yummy, belly-rubbing roti! 

Harry R/flickr

There's so much more to this homey unleavened Indian flatbread than meets the eye (or the stomach). Yes, it's perfect for scooping up curries and vegetables (love love it with dahl), but did you know it also has the power to inspire really good stories? Hunh-ji! Yes Sir!

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji (Lee & Low Books, 2011) contains all the ingredients I love most in a children's story: food, family, and high octane fun. I can say unequivocally that it's my favorite picture book thus far about contemporary Indian American life. How to blend the old with the new? Find an interesting way to bridge the generations? Introduce young readers to an unfamiliar culture? Lace a story with tasty specifics that tap into universal themes? Debut author F. Zia accomplishes all these things with her beautifully crafted "story within a story" that never misses a beat and is an absolute hoot to read aloud.

Young Aneel is thrilled his grandparents have come to stay. He likes Dadi-ma's fragrant incense and soothing prayer song, and Dada-ji is "teaching him to stand on his head and to sit like a serene lotus." But what he loves most are Dada-ji's stories about the "faraway village with the green wheat fields and the swaying coconut palms."

(click to enlarge)

You see, when Dada-ji was a boy (wink, wink), he astonished the villagers with all manner of amazing feats -- he could wrestle snorting water buffalos, tie hissing cobras into knots, even spin three trumpeting elephants by their tails. Everyone stared in amazement and shouted "Wah! Wah! (Wow! Wow!)." 

And where did Dada-ji get such incredible strength? By eating his mother's hot, hot fluffy-puffy roti, of course! It was SO good, people "trampled tall fields and swam angry rivers" for just one taste or sniff of the bread that sizzled and wizzled on Badi-ma's hot tavva pan. Dada-ji ate a tall stack every day with a side of tongue-burning mango pickle, and this gave him the power of the tiger ("ARRE WAH!").

(click to enlarge)

Telling these tall tales makes Dada-ji's tummy rumble. Aneel wonders, does Dada-ji still have the power? Who can make some roti? Everyone is busy, so Aneel will make it! After combining flour, water and salt, Aneel kneads, punches, pulls, then shapes the dough into balls. He rolls them out and Dadi-ma helps him cook up a tall stack. Wah! How Dada-ji loves Aneel's roti! Mmmmmm! Slurrrrrrrrp! Now they are ready to set off for some brand new adventures, like making the earth rumble and shaking apples off a tree for Dadi-ma's pie. :9

Baba, there are so many things to love about this book: the close, heartwarming relationship between grandfather and grandson, the liberal use of sound effects to amp up the fun, the seamless integration of Hindi words in the highly emotive text, and the overall exuberant pluckiness of the narrative. Roti is the perfect bridge between past and present, and I love the emphasis on making it, step by step. The tastiest, most satisfying food is always made with love, and we truly feel Aneel's respect, admiration, and affection for Dada-ji. Zia skillfully balances the two stories and nicely connects "then" with "now." This is a wonderful portrait of intergenerational dynamics that ultimately showcases the enduring power of good old-fashioned storytelling.


Ken Min's lively colored pencil and acrylic illos beautifully incorporate elements of East Indian culture in a contemporary Western setting. The combination of double full-bleed spreads, story panels, and playful perspectives makes every page turn a delight. Of course my favorite spreads are the ones of Aneel making the roti -- the look of serene pride and accomplishment on his face as he shapes those dough balls is priceless, and his tongue sticking out in intense concentration as he works that rolling pin nicely echoes Dada-ji's anticipatory tongue on the cover. The tall stack of cooked roti is a delicious tall tale in itself, and what about that spiraling queue of villagers waiting for Badi-ma's roti? Just like the tiger power being unleashed from within Dada-ji! ARRE WAH!

Hot, Hot Roti for Dada-ji
received a glowing review from Fuse #8 and a starred review from Kirkus, who says the book is "A natural for reading aloud, laced with great tastes, infectious sound effects and happy feelings." Though a roti recipe is not included in the book, there is one available at the publisher's website. Make some roti today, baba, enjoy the book, and lick your salt-tipped fingers one by one. Hunh-ji!

written by F. (Farhana) Zia
illustrated by Ken Min
published by Lee & Low Books, 2011
Full Color Picture Book for ages 5-10, 32 pp.
Includes a Glossary of Hindi words
Cool themes: Multicultural family, grandparents, cooking, East Indian culture, independence, tall tales, humor.


♥ Cool booktalk with F. Zia and Ken Min at Lee & Low's website.

♥ Ken Min's official illustrator website and artist blog.

♥ A look at Ken's Creative Space at From the Mixed Up Files of Jennifer Bertman.

♥ Blog interviews with F. Zia at MymcBooks's Blog, HappyNappy Bookseller.

Don't forget your tongue-burning mango pickle (recipe here)!

*Spreads posted by permission, text copyright © 2011 F. Zia, illustrations © 2011 Ken Min, published by Lee & Low Books. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 Jama Rattigan of jama rattigan's alphabet soup. All rights reserved. 




tanita says:

Goodness, that IS beautiful - that last illustration with all the ladies clustered round, watching him -- is lovely! I love the colors and liveliness of the whole thing. Plus, I love roti and this makes me hungry!

Re: tanita says:

The spread with Aneel rolling those dough balls is definitely my favorite. The facial expressions are perfect: Dadi-ma, so proud, mother, a little apprehensive, sister, disbelief. And such a big pile! The whole book is sheer delight :).
This looks awesome! And it reminds me of a certain other book involving a young child making a treasured family cultural food. :D I thought the Indian flatbread was called naan, though - is roti made differently? Or does this simply reflect the linguistic differences for a different region in India?
Roti is unleavened, naan is leavened. "Roti" is an all encompassing term; there are many variations in different regions of India as well as other parts of South Asia. :)
That looks like a terrific book, Jama. And I wouldn't mind some of that mango pickle to go with it -- it's just like you to provide the recipe! :)
Help yourself to more mango pickle, Amy. Didn't realize you were into spicy foods :).
I really should know better than to read your blog on an empty stomach. :) I haven't had roti before but I can see I'm going to have to give it a try. Love bready-like things! And scoopy things.

The book looks wonderful and I have a couple of friends I am going to point over here to read more about it.
I'm a big bread lover, too. My expanding waistline is a testament to that. :)

Thanks for sharing the love!


Oh man, now I want some flatbread for dinner.

I have a copy of this and can't wait to read it. Lovely post, as always. LOVE the ARRE WAH illustration!

Yeah, isn't that one great? When I first read this book, we went out for Indian food. Now, after writing this review, I need more. :9


Thank you for this lovely review. I am so glad you enjoyed reading the book. I had great fun writing it.
Thanks for stopping by. Always excited to come across a well written multicultural PB about food! And such exuberant telling :). . .