The Dinner That Cooked Itself by J.C. Hysu and Kenard Pak

[I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.  No other compensation was received.]

Everything about The Dinner That Cooked Itself  is delicious!  The story, the spellbinding illustrations, and its sweetly surprising ending are elegant and magical.

The Dinner That Cooked Itself whisks you off to Ancient China and introduces you to concepts such as the five elements, Chinese animal archetypes, and identifying written Chinese characters.  Illustrated in predominantly browns, greens, and black tones with blue hues reserved for a magnificently magical character — this is the story of Tuan’s search for a wife.

Raised by his neighbors, Tuan is a good and hard-working man of a modest income and lifestyle.  As he now lives on his own, he is lonely and would like a wife.  The matchmaker is unsuccessful in finding a woman who is of the same element or animal archetype or possessing approving parents.  Tuan continues to work and goes about his life.  Yet, one night as he is heading home, he comes upon a beautiful snail that is so intriguing that he brings it home for company.  The next night he comes home surprised to find a beautiful and delicious dinner waiting for him.  The following night, there is yet another delicious dinner waiting for him!  Who is making these dinners for him? What does this have to do with his search for a wife?

You may think you know and that it is a forgone conclusion — but the ending is surprising and yet very realistic.  Initially, my husband and son wholeheartedly protested this ending, but it’s brilliant, comforting, and sets reasonable expectations for happily ever after.

Read it!  Go find it and indulge your cravings for a delicious happily-ever-after fable.

Roughly Ages 3 to 7.  Flying Eye Books.  December 2014. 32 pages. ISBN: 978-1909263413  Fiction.

Where to Get it:

Here’s What The Dinner That Cooked Itself Gives Us  

  • The illustrations are beautiful!  The colors and textures of the mountains, the houses, and the use of fog in the scenery are spellbinding.
  • The illustrations are very modern but capture the essence and atmosphere of Ancient China at the same time.  This dichotomy does a wondrous job of taking a story set in an ancient time and weaving it into a tale for the modern-day reader.
  • Oh the food!  The illustrations and talk of the food is warming and comforting!
  • The Dinner That Cooked Itself indulges our desires to come home from a long day to find a delicious dinner waiting for us.  Make a slow-cooker meal in the morning and then read this story right before dinner.  It’ll be delicious and carry the sweet, magical experience of The Dinner That Cooked Itself through with you until bedtime.
  • An unexpected, and yet entirely reasonable, happy ending.  A lot of fables and fairy tales give us happy endings that aren’t reasonable, which is fine, but how wonderful when the ending seems so real.  This book has a happy ending that is surprising and grounding at the same time.
  • The magic gently nudges even the most realistic adults into believing in it.
  • After my son’s initial protests of the fact this this book does not follow the formulaic happily-ever-after ending — it has become one of his favorites (and mine, too).  We read it all the time.  It has a sereneness to it that is useful for helping with transitions from playtime to dinnertime or bedtime.
  • Chinese vocabulary!  Chinese vocabulary (in traditional characters) is placed in the pictures at the beginning and the end.  It doesn’t beat you over the head with them, but they sit there, as a quiet part of the illustration. They’re placed over the pictures so anyone can see what they mean.  There’s also a page dedicated to learning Chinese vocabulary at the end that is artfully done.
  • Seriously, the written Chinese characters are so well placed that my son — who adamantly resists anytime I try to teach him Mandarin — will point to the characters, say what they mean, and then ask me how to say them.  (And that in itself is pure magic!)
  • If you’d like to actually STUDY and learn these words, I’ve made a vocabulary list, with Mandarin pinyin, tones, internet linked pronunciation, and a sheet where you can quiz yourself HERE:  TheDinnerThatCookedItselfVocabularyList (What can I say? All I remember about college is frantically memorizing Mandarin vocabulary.  I used to teach.  I love making handouts — and this book inspired me.)

From The Dinner That Cooked Itself. Images used with permission.

From The Dinner That Cooked Itself. Images used with permission.

From The Dinner That Cooked Itself. Images used with permission.


Book Trailer:

Author and Illustrator Websites:

More Reviews of this Book:

Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

FTC Disclosures:  Some of the links in the post above are Amazon affiliate links and others are IndieBound affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase something, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Which goes to fund my family’s picture book habit.  It’s a vicious cycle, but we manage.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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