English, Mandarin & Taiwanese
Maggie P. Chang
Geraldine loves her lunchbox, and that’s a hard same from me too. This introductory graphic novel follows Geraldine Pu as she brings her beloved biandang filled with delicious food that her Amah lovingly packs for her. Unfortunately, a classmate named Nico (who is afraid of anything new) loudly declares that her lunch is stinky. Initially, Geraldine feels embarrassed and asks Amah to make her a sandwich, so Amah makes her special bao (one of the greatest foods ever in my opinion). When Nico starts to make a fuss about another student’s unfamiliar lunch, Geraldine decides she has to advocate for all “stinky” lunches everywhere. But, will anything change?
I like this story because it’s something that inevitably plays out in lunchrooms everywhere, but Geraldine understands that it’s not on her to not eat the foods she loves. She’s embarrassed at first, of course, like any kid is when they’re perceived as different, but it only lasts a couple of days. It also taps into that innate feeling of “what did you say to my friend?!” that we have, better able to solve problems for others than ourselves (what? personal experience creeping in here? maybe.) which is what Geraldine resolves to do.
This book was kindly sent by Simon & Schuster, but all opinions are my own. This graphic novel is out today! This book and the conversations it starts is also in the wake of the racist segments in James Cordon’s talk show. Something else I love about the book is the bao recipe in the back! I actually made it (you can see some photos of them below) and they were delicious! Mine are gluten free and I used chicken instead of pork (because that’s what I had in my fridge) and am definitely excited to put them into my regular cooking routine.
I also got the chance to interview Maggie briefly, and am thrilled to share the conversation below:
TTA: How did you become interested in graphic novels? What was your favorite one when you were younger?
Maggie: So, I have a confession to make: I didn’t actually read any graphic novels as a kid! I certainly read the Sunday comics, but I didn’t come across a graphic novel–or really understand what they are and the power they have–until I was in college. Art Spiegelman, the creator of MAUS came to campus for a talk, and I purchased a ticket and a copy of his graphic novel. In MAUS, Spiegelman interviews his father, a Holocaust survivor, and depicts Jews as mice (himself and father included); the Germans are cats; and the Poles are pigs. The format and the imaginative possibilities it came with, like the anthropomorphic symbolism–I didn’t feel like I read MAUS. I felt like I experienced it. At the time, I was already somewhat fascinated by the interplay of words and images, but Spiegelman’s work made my brain tingle and cracked my heart wide open. There’s a reason why it’s the only graphic novel to date that’s ever won the Pulitzer Prize!
Now, up until that point, I’m sure I was under the impression that graphic novels were essentially comic books that were only for children (they’re not!) and that they weren’t taken seriously as “real” books. For a while, there’s been a stigma with graphic novels. Well, Spiegelman shattered that for me. From there, I read PERSEPOLIS and was hooked on the format. I love that graphic novels can be rich, informative, moving, and truly for all ages. I’m really glad that educators, parents/caregivers, and the publishing industry are acknowledging their benefits now–like how they can boost literacy skills, teach what emotions look like, encourage kids to have fun while reading–just to name a few!
TTA: What’s your favorite part of creating art?
Maggie: I enjoy so many different phases of the creative process! I can’t just pick one! I love when an idea for a book first hits me. It looks something like this: I’m daydreaming about a story concept, when bam–I can see and hear nearly the whole thing, and it feels electric. Then it’s often a drop-everything-you’re-doing moment to scratch down notes and run it by my husband to see if it’s a decent idea! That phase makes me giddy. Next, I love the coloring phase because it soothes me. In fact, I colored nearly half of GERALDINE PU AND HER LUNCHBOX, TOO! while pregnant and enduring pregnancy challenges, and then colored the last chapters while recovering postpartum. Thank goodness I had coloring because it was SO healing and therapeutic! Also, coloring is the very last step in illustrating my books, and gosh, is it satisfying to see the characters and environments come to life!
Finally, I love sharing the art I create. How the GERALDINE PU books impact young readers is the reward that keeps me dedicated during the long process. As the first book in the series makes its way into the world, I’ve heard young readers giggle with delight as they read it; they engage in discussions about topics like bullying, empathy, and self-confidence; and I’m told kids want to read the book many, many nights in a row for bedtime! All of this while they’re starting their journey of reading on their own! Sigh … it all just makes my heart sing.
TTA: What’s your favorite stinky food to eat? (mine is cheese!)
Maggie: You might think I’m going to say stinky tofu because it’s featured so prominently in GERALDINE PU AND HER LUNCHBOX, TOO! … but my favorite is also cheese! I do love eating stinky tofu though. Really anything stinky. I get that not everyone does! And as the book describes–it’s ok to have your preferences. I think it’s important for our kids to recognize their likes and dislikes, to honor them and feel comfortable voicing them–but open minds, trying new things, and showing respect for what others eat and love are also important.
I have stinky cheese pretty regularly, but the last time I ate stinky tofu was a few years ago, back when I was visiting Taipei. You can buy the dish at these big, outdoor night markets that Taiwan is famous for. There are so many different street eats to try at these fun markets, but the stalls selling stinky tofu are easy to find–just follow your nose!
TTA: If you could have anyone pack your lunch today, who would it be?
Maggie: I find that food can be a fun and meaningful love language. One that can be creative, nourishing, and delicious. So I’d choose between a few chef friends that love me dearly to pack my lunch. (Shout out to Jin and Simpson!!) When they’ve cooked for me in the past, it’s incredibly yummy, of course, and made with such care and attention to detail because … I actually have a gluten intolerance. I know! It’s tragic–I can no longer eat dumplings and baos and many sauces used in Asian cooking unless they’re made gluten free. I’m so grateful that these chef friends of mine have occasionally transformed into food scientists, engineering dishes I can enjoy. It feels like an abundance of love!
Otherwise, I’d choose a kid who’s interested in food and cooking. Some of my cousins’ young kids have gotten really skilled at making creative breakfasts and wrapping dumplings. I imagine a lunch they’d pack would also taste like loads of sweetness and love!
Maggie P. Chang grew up in Kansas, where she constantly had her nose in a book and art supplies close by. She began her career in art education, but after teaching the most fabulous and talented teens at LaGuardia Arts High School (a.k.a. the Fame school), she was inspired to follow her own passion for children’s books. This Taiwanese American is the author-illustrator of the Geraldine Pu series and is also the cofounder of two education nonprofits. Maggie lives in California with her husband, their daughter, and their dog, Benihana.