Everyone Loves Lunchtime But Zia (A Zia Story)

by Jenny Liao (Author) Dream Chen (Illustrator)

Reading Level: 2nd − 3rd Grade
Series: A Zia Story

A heartwarming picture book about a Chinese-American girl who grows to appreciate the traditional dishes her parents prepare for her and finds a way to share her lunch with her classmates.

Everyone loves lunchtime. Everyone, that is, but Zia.

At school, the other kids are eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese and crackers, and apples on the side. But Zia's always nervous about opening her lunchbox. Her dumpling and noodle dishes look different and smell different. She dreads lunchtime.

Then, during her birthday week, her parents pack her a different Cantonese dish each day and explain what the food represents: a roast pork bun to bring treasure, soy sauce chicken to bring success, and more. At first, Zia doesn't want to eat her lunch, but once she starts, she just may realize her food could bring her good fortune after all!

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Kirkus Reviews

An excellent vehicle for introducing some essential dishes and Chinese culture in a new way. A delicious take on a familiar trope.

School Library Journal

K-Gr 3--A familiar story with a fresh twist grounded in Cantonese cooking. Zia loves the Cantonese food that her family makes at home but when it comes to lunch at school it just makes her feel different from everyone else. The other students ask hurtful questions about her food and when she takes this concern home her parents devise a clever solution. Each of the subsequent days of the week she is sent to school with a Cantonese dish and a special meaning for each item. On Wednesday, for example, Zia brings soy sauce chicken, called see yao gai (also written in Cantonese), and her father explains that it is eaten to bring success. After eating the dish, Zia gets a star on her art project and wonders if there is a connection between her lunch and her reward. By the end of the week it is Zia's birthday and her family sends her to school with a feast for the whole class. Her classmates celebrate Zia and her family's cuisine and Zia now loves lunch time. The ending includes extensive illustration notes on the huge variety of Chinese cuisine and detailed information on Cantonese cooking, plus a recipe for Zia's favorite noodles. VERDICT While the resolution to the protagonist's problem might have come relatively easily in one week, children will connect with Zia's struggles and will be encouraged to share their family traditions with others.--John Scott

Copyright 2023 School Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

Review quotes

Jenny Liao
Jenny Liao is a Chinese American author of stories that inspire children to find pride in every part of their identity. Her work has also been featured in the New Yorker and Bon Appétit. Jenny is the author of Everyone Loves Lunchtime But Zia.

Dream Chen is an artist with a background in both illustration and animation. She received her BFA in animation at Communication University of China and completed her MFA in visual art at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Her illustration and animation work has won awards from competitions and festivals worldwide.
Lexile Measure
Guided Reading Level
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publication date
February 07, 2023
A Zia Story
BISAC categories
JUV035000 - Juvenile Fiction | School & Education
JUV011020 - Juvenile Fiction | People & Places | United States - Asian American
JUV050000 - Juvenile Fiction | Cooking & Food
Library of Congress categories
Picture books
Chinese Americans
Ethnic food

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