Written by Lily LaMotte
Illustrated by Ann Xu
HarperAlley, 2020, 205 pp
In this graphic novel, a twelve-year-old girl Cici, who has moved from Taiwan to Seattle with her parents, competes in a cooking contest and discovers herself as both Taiwanese and American. The novel shows how food bridges and connects immigrants’ former and new sense of identity. She always cooked with her A-má in Taiwan, but A-má cannot come to Seattle with her. Cici enters a cooking contest to win an award to buy an airplane ticket for her A-má to come to Seattle for her 70th birthday. Cici cooks American food in the first half of the contest because she teams up with Miranda, but in the second half they cook separately. When Cici is told the special required ingredient for the final half is lavender, she does not know what to do. Then, she remembers how A-má used lavender for some of her recipes, and decides to cook a Taiwanese rice dish, yooo-bung, with a twist. Cici wins the contest. When her A-má comes, Cici shows her own special spice, which, unlike A-má’s, includes lavender. Her special mix represents herself as both Taiwanese and American. Thus, cooking has helped her to combine two cultures within herself.
Measuring Up shows that food is a way to make friends from diverse backgrounds, and reunite people. When Cici first brings Taiwanese food (pickled cucumber) to school for lunch, some boys laugh at her and think she eats worms. Two girls approach Cici, explaining how these boys are always mischievous. Cici makes friends with the girls, and they trade desserts. During the contest, Cici also uses a Taiwanese cooking method to customize an Italian dish by adding chicken livers to make it taste stronger, which makes her team win the contest.
The drawing style of the characters is minimalist in this graphic novel, representing happiness with crescent moon eyes when Cici’s friends enjoy the food. The graphics are colored cartoons with high intensity which create “vibrancy, warmth, and familiarity” (Painter et al., 2013, p. 36). The images shown in the book represent authentic Taiwanese food such as dumpling, shaved rice, and minced pork over rice.
The story in the book is well written and integrates Asian cultural values like high expectations from parents, going to market and living with grandparents. This graphic novel also includes some cultural conflict between old and new generations. For example, A-má believes that “tables of three and eight are lucky numbers for the going-away party” (p. 12), but Cici’s dad does not believe in numerology. This book creates a window into values that represent the Taiwanese culture.
Measuring Up could be paired with another graphic novel around desserts: Yummy: A History of Dessert written by Victoria Grace Elliott (2021). Elliot’s book is more informative because it shows the history of dessert from around the world, but it does not have an independent storyline of friendship and family like Measuring Up. Another pair could be Bloom by Kevin Panetta and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau (2019), an Asian-American graphic novel that tells the story of how two gay characters fall in love as they bake bread together.
Lily LaMotte earned a Master of Fine Arts in Writing for Children and Young Adults at Hamline University. She is an Asian American of Taiwanese descent who lives in Washington. Visit her website to learn more about her work.
Ann Xu is from San Jose, CA. She is an Ignatz-nominated cartoonist and illustrator who is Chinese American. She received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art. Visit her website to learn more about her work.
Painter, C., Martin, J. R., & Unsworth, L. (2013). Reading visual narratives: Image analysis of children’s picture books. Equinox Publishing Ltd.
Xuejiao Li, Washington State University, Pullman
© 2023 by Xuejiao Li