Caldecott Honor-winner Rachel Isadora puts forth a unique look at a hustling-bustling Chinese restaurant. While some picture books require a full plot, a happy ending, or a tale with a message, Happy Belly, Happy Smile is much simpler in its delivery. Instead, it is more like a slice-of-life book for kids to enjoy than anything else.
A young boy named Louie runs around in the Chinese restaurant that his Grandfather owns. He watches as the delivery boy dashes in and out, picking up food to deliver it to houses far away. He gazes at the chef whose chopping skills and speed are amazing as whole vegetables quickly transform into little chunks. Waiters rush around in a flurry of movement, demanding orders and calling out new ones. Though it seems like chaos, the restaurant is like a well-oiled machine with every person doing their job to make it all come together. Eventually, it is time for Louie to have some food, and though his Grandfather offers him a whole fish with crabs, Louie instead opts for some chow mein, dumplings, and egg rolls. Yum!
Of course, he can’t eat all that and then not have a fortune cookie at the end of his meal! It is here that the book gets its title with the words, “Happy food, Happy belly, Happy smile.”
Extra life is brought into the pages by Rachel Isadora’s collage and oil illustrations. She uses real objects and puts them together in fun, dynamic ways to emphasize the reality and excitement of the Chinese restaurant. Within the pages, children can find things like real fortune cookies, photos of real food, actual take-out menus, paper pieces, and more. It may remind some parents of other familiar authors such as Ezra Jack Keats or Eric Carle.
Happy Belly, Happy Smile gives kids a little snippet of the life that other children may actually have. This gives the title a bit of something different from other books, and can spark plenty of interest from kids 3 to 7. Don’t be surprised if they suddenly ask you for more books along a similar vein.