The Picture Book Buzz

The Picture Book Buzz - Interview w/ Francie Dekker and Review of Our World of Dumplings

While growing up in the suburbs of Chicago, Francie Dekker spent her summer days walking to the local library and checking out as many books as she could carry home. Despite a love of reading, Francie never imagined a career in writing was possible. She had (still has) horrible grammar skills and never managed to earn a grade higher than a C+ on a spelling test.


After graduating from the University of Missouri with duel degrees in journalism and plant science, Francie began working as garden educator in Wisconsin. A part-time gig as a garden and food writer for Edible Milwaukee Magazine showed her that with hard work (and a good editor!), a writing career might be possible after all. In 2016, Francie received a Food Writing Fellowship from the Culinary Trust for her work exploring how gardening, food, culture, and youth intersect.


She is passionate about writing children’s books designed to engage and excite young minds about growing, eating, and enjoying food. Francie lives in the Milwaukee area with her husband and two kids. When not writing, she can be found enjoying the four seasons with her family outside.

Francie’s debut picture book, Our World of Dumplings, releases TODAY.

Happy Book Birthday, Francie & Sarah Jung!

Welcome Francie, thank you so much for stopping by to talk about your debut book and your writing.


Hello! Thank you for having me, Maria!


Tell us a little about yourself. (Where/when do you write? How long have you been writing? What is your favorite type of book to write?)


I love reading and writing picture books with our two toddlers. I joke that I get to do lots of picture book research during my day job as a mom. With the kiddos still at home, my writing is not as routine as I’d like it to be, but there will be a time in life for that! Right now, I do most of my writing at 5 AM from our dining room while the rest of the house is quiet. I’m also a very seasonal writer. Living in Wisconsin, I love cozying up on winter days to write, while in the summer, I want to spend every moment outside!


What is something no one (or few) knows about you?


Growing up I always wanted a pet. Once my parents firmly said no to a dog, I set my sights on a guinea pig. I checked out the same book on guinea pigs out from our school library each week for a whole year to prepare for my future pet…which I never got. Cheers to school libraries/librarians for always helping students find just the book for them!

Sorry you didn't get the guinea pig. Have you found anything particularly helpful in keeping you inspired and writing these past couple of years?

Constantly reading! There are so many wonderful, new pictures out there that inspire me. My favorite new book this summer is It Began With Lemonade by written by Gideon Sterer and illustrated by Lian Cho. I love how they take the classic summer lemonade stand in a whimsical, new direction.


With life being so busy these days, I find I need quiet to hear the ideas in my head. I’ve stopped listening to music or podcasts when driving or walking alone so I can brainstorm.

With two toddlers, I'm impressed you get to walk alone! What was your inspiration for Our World of Dumplings?

I love exploring, cooking, and eating cuisines from around the world. In doing so, I realized how many cultures have their own variation on a dumpling. As a child, I never appreciated my family’s Polish food traditions. I was inspired to write Our World of Dumplings as a way to connect young readers to their food heritage, as well as to expose youth to similar dishes from around the world. While we may come from different places, and speak many languages, I believe the best way to get to know someone is over a plate of something delicious.

I'd never thought about variations on dumplings, though I have investigated the many varieties of flat breads. How many revisions did Our World of Dumplings take from first draft to publication?


I don’t have a tally, but probably about 10! The story always revolved around a community making and sharing dumplings but the setting, characters and dumplings themselves changed a few times from first draft to publication. In selecting which dumplings to include in the story, I tried to choose a range based on geography and cooking techniques. In some of the story’s original drafts, about a quarter of the dumplings are different from the final book !


I had such a long list of potential dumplings, we decided to include them in the back matter for the book. And this connects back to what gave me the idea for this story: while we all come from different places and cultures, a shared love of dumplings is something we have in common

I am glad you got to include the rest as back matter. What was the toughest aspect of writing Our World of Dumplings?


Researching which dumplings to include in the book was definitely the part of the writing process that took the longest! First off, there is no one universal definition agreed on by chefs, food historians, food lovers, etc. of “what is a dumpling?” So after years (no joke) of research, and lots of debates with friends and family, I developed my own “definition” for the purpose of the book that is included in the book’s back matter.

“Dumplings can be sweet or savory, stuffed or rolled, fried, baked, boiled, or steamed. All dumplings though, are a labor of love. Often requiring multi-step processes, dumplings are best prepared and shared in the company of friends and family.”

What a fun definition. As a child, who was your favorite author, illustrator, and/or favorite book?

I’ve always loved book series and following my favorite characters on their various adventures. Two of my favorite picture book series that I remember vividly are The Berenstain Bears and Arthur. As I got older, I loved The Boxcar Children, The Babysitters Club and of course, Harry Potter.

When you first saw Sarah Jung’s illustrations did anything surprise or amaze you? Which is your favorite spread?

Text © Francie Dekker, 2022. Image © Sarah Jung, 2022.


Sarah’s illustrations are so beautiful, I especially love all the cultural details included in each home! We have Polish pottery that looks just like the bowls on Busha’s table. I think my favorite spread is the last one depicting the dumpling party. It’s exactly as I imagined!


They'll have to check out the book to see how awesome this final image is. What’s something you’ve learned from your journey, so far?


Never give up and find a great critique group! I always look forward to hearing feedback on a new manuscript from so many different perspectives!


Great advice. Are there any projects you are working on now that you can share a tidbit with us?


I have a couple projects finished and a few new ideas I’m playing with. They all also cover topics related to food and/or community.


We'll have to keep our eyes open. Good luck. What is your favorite National Park or Forest, regional park, or city park? Or the one you’re longing to visit. Why?

Great question! For city parks, I love Central Park in NYC, I can’t visit without taking a stroll! And for National Park, I’d have to say Grand Teton National Park. The overnight backpacking trip was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but the experience was worth it!


© NPS Photo/J. Bonney


Thank you, Francie for stopping by and sharing your time and thoughts with us. It was wonderful to chat with you.


To find out more about Francie Dekker, or contact her:

Website: https://www.franciedekkerbooks.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/franciedekker/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/francie.dekker/


Review of Our World of Dumplings


This fun book follows nine kids through an apartment complex as they help each other prepare for their dumpling potluck, with a combination of culture, community, friendship, and delicious food.

Our World Of Dumplings


Author: Francie Dekker


Illustrator: Sarah Jung


Publisher: little bee books (2022)


Ages: 4-8


Fiction


Themes:

Food, dumplings, customs, friends, celebrations, and cultures.


Synopsis:

This delicious story celebrates the many different types of dumplings that exist in our world and how food brings people and cultures together!


An apartment complex is having a dumpling festival, and all the kids are excited to watch and help each family cook up different versions of the delicious treats. From kreplach to khinkali and Johnny cakes to jiao zi, each household has its own way of making dumplings, uniquely hand-crafted and based upon their culture. As the children wrap, cook, and eat all the different types of dumplings, they learn how dumplings are the ultimate labor of love!


Underscoring the power of food to both bring us together and help us celebrate our differences, Our World of Dumplings is a rich story that shows the tender relationship between food and company and its natural ability to create a sense of community-and will leave you hungry for more!


Opening Lines:

“Sylvia, wake up!” Mom calls.

My eyes snap open

and I jump out of bed to get ready.


No time to snooze; today is

DUMPLING DAY!


What I LIKED about this book:

Today, Sylvia and her friends are celebrating Dumpling Day. Each child & their family in the complex are making a dumpling special to their family in preparation for an apartment-wide feast. Sylvia and her grey cat excitedly follow the scents of "garlic sautéing. Ginger simmering. Tomatoes stewing" to Prisha’s apartment and Indian momos.

Text © Francie Dekker, 2022. Image © Sarah Jung, 2022.


Then the "scent of fried dough" leads Sylvia and Prisha to Moria's and her family's Jamaican johnnycakes. Continuing to build on this cumulative format, the three girls and the cat follow the smell of chicken broth to Aaron's apartment and his "Jewish bubbe’s kreplach." The four kids are then led by sautéing ground pork to help Cindy's family make Chinese jiao zi. Then the five kids follow "a trail of fragrant spices" to Niko’s "juicy, plump Georgian khinkali."

Text © Francie Dekker, 2022. Image © Sarah Jung, 2022.


At each location, the kids help with the construction of the dumpling and learn a little about its importance. Sarah's addition of the cat adds a little humor as we watch the cat try to take part in the dumpling making, or tasting, with the kids. Using muted colors, the illustrations not only show the finished dumplings, but many of the ingredients and the process of cooking them. They also show elements of the diverse cast of the children's cultures through the clothing, apartment furnishings, and table settings in each apartment.


The group helps Alva make "Peruvian empanadas filled with beef, hard-boiled eggs, and olives." Then the seven children follow "the sweet scent of cinnamon" to Brian's South African souskluitjies. I like the way the text and the illustrations show the kids actively helping make or stuff each dumpling. And how specific scents of spices or meats waft through the illustrations and lead the children to each apartment - enticing the kids to keep climbing the stairs and hinting at the next dumpling.

Text © Francie Dekker, 2022. Image © Sarah Jung, 2022.

After making Italian gnocchi with Marco, nine kids troop into to Sylvia's apartment to make Polish pierogi. The final two spreads and Francie's closing line are a heart-warming celebration of food and family. An image of each kid with their family's dumpling is accompanied by a card with pronunciation assistance. And ending back matter offer an additional ten dumplings for readers to discover and try. It's a fun, multicultural introduction to dumplings around the world and international friendships.


Resources:

- does your family have a dumpling recipe? Can you think of one not mentioned in the book? How about apple dumplings or Spanakopita?

©allrecipes


- if you could create your own dumpling, what filling and seasonings would you use? What would you name it?

- pair this with Dumplings for Lili by Melissa Iwai.

Decorative scroll design
Maria Marshall

 Photograph © A. Marshall

Decorative scroll design

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