Quarantine Cooking- Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao

On March 16, my county went into a forced hibernation. School buildings closed, indoor dining (the only winter dining we have in Syracuse) closed. Groceries stores went into overdrive. The libraries closed. Shelves were bare. We were bartering toilet paper for flour and yeast. I could go on, but why? I think you were doing your own bartering as well.

The point is, the libraries closed. This was a very big deal, and would have been a much bigger deal had I not gone to the library on March 12. Well, libraries. I went to four branches on a self-imposed scavenger hunt to stock up on everything I imagined my kids and I would want to read for. . .a while. My friends and parents sighed and shook their heads as I sent them pictures of my haul- three tote bags, 28 books in total. 20 for the kids, eight for me. They sent me pictures of canned beans.

I chose the titles with care- classics that we would have time to dig into, new books that I had heard of and could not wait to get my hands on, and many in between. I thought it would be time to have long conversations about deep issues and time to laugh ourselves silly. I thought we could use the time to explore new places, new cultures, new points of view. In the months of quarantine and protests that followed, we clung to those books like life rafts.

One book thrilled our youngest. We read Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao nightly for six weeks. This book, written by Kat Zhang and illustrated by Charlene Chua is a delight. It has everything I love in a picture book for my boys- strong story line, whimsical illustrations, a kid who creates their own solution to a problem, and a recipe at the end. Bonus points for a female protagonist.

Amy Wu loves bao- steamed, filled buns. She says they are “soft, fluffy, and so so delicious”. While her parents and grandmother seem to fill, pinch, and seal them effortlessly, hers come out all wrong. Amy decides that this is the day she is going to make the perfect bao. As her family rolls up their sleeves for the day (Amy notes that “bao making is an all-day event”), Amy still cannot get it right. Her bao are “sad and empty” or too full. Some have holes and leak. Finally, Amy realizes that the dough pieces are too large for her hands! She asks her grandmother to cut them in half and these “Amy-sized pieces” are perfect! She becomes a bao making master.

This story is a joy to read aloud and the illustrations are such fun. Chua uses a palate of pink, turquoise, and yellow to color Amy’s world. A playful cat makes floats along the pages- my son loved looking for the kitty- and Amy’s face is so expressive! The frustration at being too little to get something right, and the pride at being big enough to solve a problem rings through in this book. In the end, Amy realizes that both her perfect and imperfect bao taste just as good, and she brings them to school to share with friends.

So, we rolled up our sleeves, too! It was a long process- my husband and I kept joking that “bao making IS an all day event!”- but where were we going? Some of our bao were too empty, some too fat, and some had holes in them and they leaked, but they were all “soft, fluffy, and so so delicious.”

  • Amy Wu and the Perfect Bao
    • Written by Kat Zhang
    • Illustrated by Charlene Chua
    • Published by Simon & Schuster, Aladdin imprint, October 2019
    • 40 pages, recommended pre-K-grade 3

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