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Auntie Yang's Great Soybean Picnic by Ginnie…
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Auntie Yang's Great Soybean Picnic

by Ginnie Lo

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This lovely story was inspired by memories of visits to their Auntie Yang's in the Chicago area by the author and illustrator sisters. Auntie Yang made sure their family visited often, so the four cousins would grow up “as close as four soybeans in a soybean pod.”

One Sunday, after dinner, the two families went for a drive, and they discovered a field of soybeans. As the author explains: “In Illinois, soybeans were grown to feed cows and pigs, not people - but in China, soybeans were one of the most important foods of all.” Auntie Yang yelled “Stop the car!” They spoke to the farmer, who allowed them to take some soybean plants home. They cooked them, and Auntie Yang taught them how to eat them. That, the author, reports, was our family’s first soybean picnic.

The next summer they did it again, this time inviting other Chinese families from around Chicago. Word spread, and the picnic eventually got too big to hold in Auntie Yang’s yard:

“Eventually, more than two hundred Chinese mothers, fathers, grandparents, and children gathered at a city park for the annual soybean event.”

When Auntie and Uncle Yang were in their seventies, all their brothers and sisters from China were finally able to come to America and they held a special soybean picnic in their honor, declaring it the greatest soybean picnic ever.

The author and illustrator sisters have notes at the end of the book, including real pictures of the four cousins, photos of picking soybeans, and of the actual picnic buffet table. There is also a sidebar with information about soybeans, called mao dou in Chinese (known as edamame by the Japanese and by American consumers, who do not always realize the “exotic” edamame is actually a soybean).

There is also a glossary at the end with an “approximate” pronunciation guide for some Mandarin words. (Mandarin, the official language of China and Taiwan, as well as one of four official languages of Singapore, uses tones in addition to letters to convey meaning, so it is hard to reproduce just by seeing the letters.)

Beth Lo is an award-winning ceramic artist, and she came up with the idea of painting the pictures for the story on porcelain plates. The results are not only gorgeous, but exemplify the theme of feasting.

At a charming website dedicated to the book, you can see each character with their names written in Mandarin and English. You can also check out the wonderful review by Jama, who reveals she has six Auntie Yangs, as well as many fond memories of eating boiled soybeans just like the characters in the story.

Evaluation: The story is lovely, but the enchanting illustrations alone are worth the price of the ticket! ( )
  nbmars | May 10, 2018 |
I thought this was a good story. It was based on true events in the authors life. Since emigrating from China to America it was difficult to find anything that reminded them of home. One day they found a farm with soybeans they asked the farmer for some and began a tradition of a soybean picnic that got larger every year. This event brought together many Chinese American families in Chicago and the surrounding area. This book could act as a mirror for someone who emigrated to the US. I can imagine how happy they were to find a delicacy that reminds them of home. ( )
  pconle1 | Oct 25, 2016 |
Jinyi and her little sister Pei are headed to their auntie's house to visit with their cousins. The story follows their families as they spend time together doing things the two mothers did when they were little; watercolor paintings, folded papers into shapes and games of mahjong. The girls and their cousins hear about China, listen to the language and learn about their family's traditions and culture. They discover a wonderful treat at a farm which the mothers enjoyed growing up in China. The families begin a tradition of hosting a soybean picnic for others in the neighborhood to celebrate their Chinese heritage.

This cultural story of China is contemporary realistic fiction and could also fall into a historical fiction genre because of its focus on what the mothers learned from growing up in China.

I would use this book with 2nd and 3rd graders and focus on a description activity. After small groups spend time describing the characteristics of Jinyi and Pei's families using post it notes, posters, t-charts or other chosen method, I'd like the students to then draw pictures, write stories, or even use their technology to describe their own families, their traditions, cultures, and history. ( )
  JessicaRojas | Jul 17, 2016 |
The author and illustrator recall the family soybean picnics of their youth and how they came to be. A pleasing multicultural story that kids will follow with great interest as they pick up cultural tidbits of food, traditions and vocabulary. ( )
  Salsabrarian | May 24, 2016 |
I was surprised by the difficult vocabulary in this book (All on one page is graduating, boiled, and treasures. On another page is tromped and croquet). There are long paragraphs on every page, and it feels like it drops you in the middle of the story.I would not recommend this story for young students or a read-aloud. I feel like the message of the story gets lost in the wordiness.
I find this a difficult book to create an assignment or discussion for. On one hand, younger students could talk about their favorite food, but as I said earlier, I would not recommend reading this story to younger children. It could be used in a lit circle, for an older group of students who are struggling with reading, or for an advance group of young readers. ( )
  MareeTos | Feb 17, 2016 |
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In loving memory of our aunt Jean Chiaching Yang, 1913-2006 and our uncle Richard Fu Hsien Yang, 1917-2010 --G.L. and B.L.
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"A Chinese American girl's Auntie Yang discovers soybeans-a favorite Chinese food-growing in Illinois, leading her family to a soybean picnic tradition that grows into an annual community event. Includes author's note and glossary"--Provided by publisher.… (more)

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