MMGM and #IMWAYR (12/14/2020): Measuring Up, written by Lily LaMotte and illustrated by Ann Xu
I hope everyone is holding up OK as the winter holidays approach! (So...much...online...shopping...) I'd like to share a teensy bit of news before we get to today's review. A few days ago, Disney held their "Investor Day" when they basically announce all of the things and cause an Internet spectacle to prove to their investors how beloved they are, and although I was personally most excited by the new Disney and Pixar animated movies (just 454 days until Turning Red!), there are a few book-related adaptations coming soon! Flora & Ulysses, a movie based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, is coming to Disney+ on February 19 (it sounds like they have changed the plot somewhat, so I'll hope for the best, I suppose). They are also going to put a new Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie on Disney+ in 2021, this one animated instead of live-action. Finally, they reminded us that they had apparently already announced a show based on the Mysterious Benedict Society series, also coming to Disney+ in 2021, which personally sounds super-exciting!
Now on to the review! Apparently, there really is just an infinite number of delightful books, as I have yet another one to recommend to you all: the graphic novel Measuring Up, written by Lily LaMotte and illustrated by Ann Xu!
Back at the beginning of
the Paleolithic Era June, #IMWAYR blogger Sierra Dertinger at Books. Iced Lattes. Blessed recommended this delightful graphic novel, but because I never bothered to figure out how to read ARCs, I had to wait until it debuted in October to read it, and even then, I didn't get to it for a month! Before I begin my endless praise and blithering, I should also point out that MMGM blogger Natalie Aguirre of Literary Rambles actually interviewed author Lily LaMotte a few weeks ago—it's a fascinating read, so go check it out!
Measuring Up's protagonist, Cici, has lived with her parents in Taiwan her entire life. She loves her grandmother, or A-má, and visits the market and cooks with her every chance she gets. So Cici is distraught when she and her parents move to the United States, leaving her A-má (who was unable to get a green card) behind. Besides navigating new cross-cultural friendships at school, Cici also wonders how to pay for a plane ticket for her A-má to come to the United States for her 70th birthday. Then, Cici stumbles upon the key: a children's cooking competition where the winner wins $1,000! But working with her teammate Miranda, balancing competition practice with schoolwork, and figuring out how her Taiwanese and American sides (and their corresponding cuisine) can coexist are all far from simple, and Cici finds herself dealing with it all as she strives for victory and starts to better understand herself in the process.
I didn't buy this book expecting to enjoy it nearly as much as I did—Measuring Up was actually a wonderful and meaningful story that I am really glad to have read! If you are like me (or if you are like most humans), the inclusion of food as a central point in this story caught your eye. (And if it did, I highly recommend you check out #IMWAYR blogger Crystal Brunelle's recommendations of food-themed books here.) Measuring Up's cooking competition means that there is plenty of food, and cooking, and illustrations of said food and cooking, and requisite drooling to be had, but food plays an even bigger role in the story as well. Since arriving in America, Cici has seen the Taiwanese food she knows and loves devalued by other people, from classmates to chefs, so she starts learning how to make more American-style dishes. Along the way, she discovers the cookbooks and TV show of Julia Child, who not only introduces Cici to new styles of cooking but also shows her that there is a place for all different kinds of cooking in the United States. Cici slowly learns to integrate her beloved Taiwanese cuisine and these new perspectives into a style of cooking that is neither solely Taiwanese nor solely American but is instead a reflection of her identity as Taiwanese-American. So, in short: food is important in this book.
One of the most interesting aspects of Measuring Up is how Cici quickly makes friends with two White girls at her school, Jenna and Emily, who, for once, are not a bunch of racist bullies and instead accept Cici and her culture. Most of the immigrant-focused books that I see involve a lot of isolation and bullying, which I am 100% sure exists in spades, but I am happy to see a book that is either a reflection of the true diversity of immigrant experiences, including difficulty in being accepted, or at least a hopeful blueprint for kids to learn from and become accepting themselves! Cici, Jenna, and Emily's friendship really is a model for intercultural friendships; instead of pretending to ignore their differences or becoming hyper-fixated on them, they acknowledge and talk about them (not without some anxiety, of course, but still) and, in the process, learn how much they actually have in common. Perhaps this book will foster some real-life intercultural friendships between kids; it certainly gives kids the resources to make that happen.
I also wanted to give special attention to Cici's relationship with Miranda, her teammate during the cooking competition. Cici and Miranda do not exactly start off on the right foot, but they also find that despite their differences (which are substantial, considering Miranda's family is super-rich and Cici's is middle-class), they are quite similar as well. If I really loved any character in the book besides the delightful Cici, it was Miranda; she really grows and develops through the story right alongside Cici, and they both support each other in really sweet ways. Cici and Miranda are both grappling with fathers who are keen on pushing them into certain careers instead of letting them explore. Cici's father, who remembers his parents' and grandparents' lives of poverty in the not-too-distant past, wants Cici to do well in school to get a high-paying job in spite of the discrimination that comes with being an immigrant. And Miranda's father...well, he's just a pretty bad father, to be honest. I appreciated how all of this was handled; it is a reminder that (a) just because parents have expectations for their children does not mean they do not love them and listen to them, (b) despite the stereotypes of Asian parents, parents of any race can have high or strict expectations of their children, and (c) immigrant parents often have to have high expectations of their children so that their children can overcome the systemic racism that was instituted in every corner of this nation by problematic White people! So there.
Some final thoughts: Illustrator Ann Xu and colorist Sunmi do a wonderful job bringing this book to life, with too-cute character illustrations (the eyes! oh, the eyes!), vivid and joyous colors, and inventive page layouts. You might think that having two different people write and illustrate the book would prevent the drawings from really telling the story, but guess what? You'd be wrong. Also, I always say this, but Measuring Up is seriously one of the most uplifting graphic novels you can read! The complex topics are managed in a way that, besides being utterly and wonderfully accessible to young and not-so-young readers alike, also never drag the book down! We get so much delightful screen time of Cici, A-má, Jenna, Emily, Miranda, and, of course, the cooking that it is really hard to not have fun reading this book! Speaking of A-má, she is awesome; I see so few books that point out how wonderful grandparents can be (I'll chalk it up to ageism, I suppose), so this book is yet again very original in that aspect! This book also mentions a few real-life books, which is always a great way to get easy fan-points from readers! Lastly, I need to make it totally and completely clear that Cici's work ethic, love of cooking, strong insight expressed in a realistically childlike manner, and general greatness make her a wonderful protagonist who you will instantly root for!
Really, I am so impressed that I just grabbed a book out of my to-be-read stack and found something so well-done and delightful! Measuring Up deals with really complex ideas about the experience of immigrants in our country, but it does so while remaining upbeat and accessible to even elementary school readers (it helps that Cici narrates from a 10-year-old-ish perspective). And also, there's food. So really, why would you not buy this book? (Especially since there's a paperback; I have the hardcover, which is quite expensive, but the paperback is actually very reasonable!) Make a space in your to-be-read stack/list/shelf for Measuring Up today; I very much don't think you'll regret it!
My rating is: Really good!
Update (2/6/2021): My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 3!