What makes you pluck a picture book off the shelf? A clever title? The author’s name? What about a charming little girl on the cover, stirring a delicious pot of noodles? That’s what got to me with Cora Cooks Pancit by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore.
Maybe it’s because I love to cook. Maybe the bright little dot that said “Recipe Included!” spoke to me. (And, by the way, the recipe is delicious!)
But more than anything, vibrant primary colors and Cora’s smiling eyes drew me in. Illustrator Kristi Valiant’s paintings evoke a warm feeling as Cora cooks a traditional Filipino dish with her mama for the first time.
Cora is the youngest of many children and always gets the kiddie kitchen tasks, like licking the spoon clean. Valiant’s opening scene shows the family from Cora’s point of view, as she sits on the floor with the family dog. We see her family from the waist down, spread along the kitchen counter, performing their duties. It’s amazing how Valiant can make the poses so varied and expressive, only working with half a body. Some of the pencil lines remain, creating an illusion of movement—the bustle of the family kitchen.
Valiant’s image presents the conflict immediately: little Cora is not involved with family meal preparation. We feel Cora’s longing to be a “real cook.”
One day when her siblings leave the house, Cora asks to cook with Mama. Mama lets Cora choose the dish. Cora wants pancit.
Mama tells the story of how her own father taught her to make pancit, and Cora feels proud when she gets to wear her Lolo’s red apron.
What follows is a delightful, heart-warming exchange between mother/teacher and daughter/student. Valiant’s illustrations are spot-on, from facial expressions to body language. She gets every detail just right. Even Cora’s feet, slightly off-balance, reveal her trepidation as she prepares the noodles. Sunlight streams in through the kitchen window, framing Cora and Mama in a scene that highlights the special bond created with family tradition.
As usual, I won’t reveal the story’s ending. There’s an oopsie along the way, but there’s also a beaming Cora.
I was so impressed with this book’s illustrations, I asked Kristi Valiant for an interview. Luckily, she agreed to talk to me about the making of Cora and other fun illustration stuff. Watch for it soon!
Cora Cooks Pancit
Text by Dorina K. Lazo Gilmore
Illustrations by Kristi Valiant
Shen’s Books, Spring 2009
Want it? Sure you do!