Lynne Barasch, illustrated by the author
Lee and Low Books, 2007
Ages 5 - 11
Award-winning author Lynne Barasch's latest children's book, Hiromi's Hands, was inspired by the true story of her daughter's childhood friend, Hiromi Suzuki, who became one of the first women sushi chefs in New York City.
Shifting from the present to past and back again, Barasch creates a sophisticated narrative line. She begins her charming account with Hiromi's parents first return to Japan after more than 30 years, then traces Hiromi's father's childhood in the Japan countryside and his arduous traditional training in Tokyo to become a sushi chef. A decade later, he's transferred to New York, where he meets his Japanese future wife and subsequently opens his own sushi restaurant.
When at age 8 daughter Hiromi expresses an interest in her father's profession, he takes her to the old Fulton Fish Market and soon begins teaching her as he was taught, first to scrub the floors of the shop, then to find the best fish at the market, and later to make and season the rice. Only after three years of apprenticeship does Hiromi at last wield a sushi knife herself. By age 20, she's an "itamae-san," a fully-credentialed sushi chef, and takes over for her father during her parents' long-awaited trip back to Japan.
An author's note at the back of the book includes Hiromi Suzuki's photograph, with sushi knife in hand. Now 27, she has attended culinary school and is a sushi chef in a New York City restaurant. The note also gives a brief history of sushi. A glossary with pronunciation hints follows.
Barasch's delicate water color illustrations document Hiromi's story in fresh, soft images of Japan and New York, of sushi makers, sushi eaters and sushi itself. New York City's wharves, markets, and people are lovingly rendered. Although the copyright page explains that the illustrations with Japanese writing are not "actual words," a story and artwork of this quality merit authentic Japanese characters.
Hiromi's Hands will be a treasured storybook for many children and an inspiration for young girls, whether they aspire to break cultural traditions or update them.