Week-end Book Review: Arroz con Leche: Un poema para cocinar / Rice Pudding: A Cooking Poem by Jorge Argueta, illustrations by Fernando Vilela,
Rice is an important staple all over the planet, but each cuisine that features rice often makes it seem as if the simple grain belongs to that tradition alone. The young boy at the center of Jorge Argueta’s latest bilingual cooking poem is aware of rice’s versatility, however, and he likes “all kinds of rice”:
I like white rice,
chicken and rice,
beans and rice.
I guess I like rice with anything.
“But what I like best and love the most” he goes on to say “is rice pudding.” And, just as his counterpart in Argueta’s 2009 poem Sopa de Frijoles/Bean Soup did, this child wastes no time showing the reader how to make this simple yet special Latin dish.
Listing utensils and ingredients as he gathers them together in the playful illustrations by award-winning Brazilian illustrator Fernando Vilela, the boy gets to work while his mother, a silhouette in the background, watches from a distance.
Each step is more joyful and poetic than the last. Filling the pot with water “makes me feel like/ there is a creek flowing through the kitchen.” “The flames heating the pot/ are rainbow hands…hugging the pot.” Boiling water makes “maraca music,” and “Foamy waves and clouds turn the pot into sea and sky.” When he pours the milk, “there is a white waterfall in the kitchen” to which the child adds “salt stars and sugar snow.” The excitement of creating is equaled only by the anticipation of the delicious arroz con leche the boy looks forward to serving his family.
Like Bean Soup, Rice Pudding celebrates traditional foods—and the values they embody: family, warmth, sharing—along with a child’s growing independence. Vilela’s illustrations contrast the cool grey-green-blue of the creative kitchen with the warm comfort of gold and orange in the rest of the home. When the whole family joins hands around the table to “slurp up” this delicious treat, readers will wish they could actually be there. This sweet, joyful poem about a sweet, comforting food will surely inspire new cooks and perhaps some new poets as well.