The Dinner That Cooked Itself

by J C Hsyu (Author) Kenard Pak (Illustrator)

The Dinner That Cooked Itself
Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade

Long, long ago, in a small town in ancient China, there lived an honest and respectful man called Tuan. Tuan was lonely and looked hard for a wife, but even the matchmaker couldn't help him. One night, however, Tuan's luck changed. And so begins the story of Tuan, White Wave, and the Dinner that Cooked Itself. This beautiful and enchanting Chinese fairytale will captivate the imagination with the perfect blend of magic and realism!

Kirkus Reviews

Hsyu's retelling has a folkloric simplicity, planting just enough details to ground readers in the traditional tale. Pak's mixed-media illustrations evoke a misty, long-ago agrarian China, his expressive, angular faces contrasting pleasingly with fluid, lovingly created backdrops. [...] A breath of fresh air in its beauty and simplicity.

Publishers Weekly

Hsyu debuts with a fine retelling of a Chinese folktale about a hardworking bachelor whose kindness is rewarded. Orphaned as a child, Tuan has been raised by an elderly neighbor, Old Lin; when the time comes for Tuan to marry, Old Lin hires a matchmaker. The three women proposed by the matchmaker don't work out for various reasons--the birth years and names of the first two women clash with Tuan's own, while his poverty means that the third woman's parents won't give her away. Tuan's luck improves after he discovers a large snail in his field, brings it home, and feeds it. Suddenly, delicious dinners are awaiting him every night--"little fried balls of pork, a plump chicken stewed with plums." After some investigation, Tuan learns the mystery cook is a beautiful fairy sent to watch over him by the Lord of Heaven. Working in a pale, muted palette, Pak (Have You Heard the Nesting Bird?) contributes airy, rough-textured compositions that evoke both contemporary animation and ancient, weathered frescoes as the story takes a serpentine path to a happy ending. Ages 3-7. Illustrator's agent: Kirsten Hall, Catbird Agency. (Nov.)

Copyright 2014 Publishers Weekly, LLC Used with permission.

School Library Journal

Gr 1-3--Hsyu and Pak have revived a Chinese folktale, keeping the flavor of ancient China while making the story appealing to a modern audience. The mixed-media illustrations are done in the style of traditional Chinese art and include Chinese characters for several key words. The well-written story offers a familiar lesson on the value of hard work and thoughtfulness. The idea of finding a match based on birth year and name may be unusual to readers but will offer a starting point for talking about Chinese culture. VERDICT A solid choice for multicultural folktale collections.--Laura Stanfield, Campbell County Public Library, Ft. Thomas, KY

Copyright 2015 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

"Kenard Pak's art is undoubtedly what makes Dinner a standout. His elongated characters with expressions he can conjure with just a few lines, the earthy palette of browns, blues, and greens he uses as if to ground the ethereal magic into something of this world, the use of various textures to create infinite backgrounds of mountains and sky, are just a few of his attentive, exquisite details."- Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center

"Everything about The Dinner That Cooked Itself is delicious! The story, the spellbinding illustrations, and its sweetly surprising ending are elegant and magical." —This Picture Book Life
J C Hsyu
J.C. Hsyu was born in Taipei, Taiwan, and raised in Los Angeles. A graduate of UCLA and the Clarion Writers' Workshop, she has worked in the animation, VFX, and video game industries and published speculative fiction short stories. She lives in San Francisco, California, with her husband and reads incessantly. The Dinner That Cooked Itself is her first children's book.

Kenard Pak grew up in Baltimore and Howard County, Maryland. He studied at Syracuse University and California Institute of the Arts, and as a visual development artist worked on films with Dreamworks and Walt Disney Feature Animation. The Dinner that Cooked Itself is his second children's book. Along with his wife, he lives and works in San Francisco. Visit his website at
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Nobrow Press
Publication date
December 20, 2014
BISAC categories
JUV012020 - Juvenile Fiction | Fairy Tales & Folklore | Country & Ethnic - General
Library of Congress categories

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