A lesson in kindness shifts a child's perspective with lifelong implications in Pearl AuYeung's warm and reflective picture book debut, The Best Kind of Mooncake.
"Once upon a morning in Hong Kong, in the alley of Lee Tung Street," a listless girl passes another day at her family's store amid the "beeping, bickering, and bartering" of the bustling marketplace. Today, though, a "thin, sweaty man" interrupts the routine with a "THWUMP!" and draws in listeners with his wailing journey of survival. The shopkeepers and hawkers quickly turn away, bored with this familiar story--"Bah! We've all been there, brother," one says. Later, over lunch, the child's mother notices the hungry man and prompts the girl to give him a mooncake, the very treat their mother had promised to give her and her brothers at the end of the day. Obediently but begrudgingly, the child delivers the double-yolked delicacy--"the best kind!"--and is appalled when the man "devoured the... mooncake in ONE GULP!" This act of kindness triggers an outpouring of help from other vendors, which, the girl's mother suggests, might be because "they remember that once upon a time, somebody helped them, too." Decades later, the man returns to their shop to offer mooncakes from the store he has opened nearby, closing the circle of kindness.
AuYeung's personal connection to this story is palpable, and an author's note explains it is based on true events in her family's past as Lee Tung Street shopkeepers. The first-person writing is thoughtful and deliberate and balances being inclusive of the reader with maintaining the instructive tone of its fairy-tale beginning. AuYeung creates through her digital illustrations an energetic, specific sense of place, with careful details such as piles of fruit, flapping pajamas and dangling roasted ducks among the stalls. Faces of even the background characters are highly expressive, and the pouting lower lip on the child is incomparable as she s-l-o-w-l-y delivers the mooncake. A wafting ribbon meant to evoke the street's dominant "smell of car fuel, herbal tea, and steamed cakes" reappears as a thematic hug throughout the amber-hued pages. The backmatter includes historical and family photographs as well as brief contextual background on Hong Kong's political history.
Like a double-yolk mooncake, this tender-hearted and culturally specific nod to the golden rule should be best enjoyed by sharing. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf
Shelf Talker: A child who begrudgingly offers her own mooncake to a hungry traveler sets off a cascade of kindness in a warm and empathetic tale inspired by true events.