Tomatoes for Neela by Padma Lakshmi, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal

Tomatoes for Neela by Padma Lakshmi, illustrated by Juana Martinez-Neal. Viking, Penguin Random House, 2021. 9780593202708

Rating:  1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5

Format: Hardcover picture book 

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book?  Neela loves everything about helping her amma with cooking: going to the market, cutting and prepping ingredients, and combining them to make delicious meals.  Most of all, Neela loves tomatoes and making her paati’s famous sauce; the sauce is special both because of how tasty it is and because it helps Neela and Amma feel connected to Paati, who lives in India.  As she works by her mother’s side, Neela learns about family traditions as well as the global history of tomatoes, all while making a sauce to put by for winter months and looking forward to sharing it with Paati when she comes to visit.

This beautiful book is loaded with cultural and agricultural information.  Cookbook author and television host Lakshmi writes with mouth-watering detail about Neela’s culinary skills, and will engage readers’ other senses as well as she describes the sights, sounds, and smells of this family kitchen.  Those sensory treats are conveyed through the colorful, flowing illustrations and charming details in the backgrounds of most pages, as Martinez-Neal shows Neela and Amma dancing, hugging, and working under the watchful eye of Paati’s portrait.  Back matter includes Tomato Fun Facts, information about farmworkers (particularly César Chávez and Dolores Huerta), and an author’s note.  Tomatoes for Neela is a lovely tribute to mothers and daughters, and the connections that food can create between generations and cultures.  

Anything you did not like about the book?  No

To whom would you recommend this book? A welcome addition for elementary libraries and classroom collections in grades 2 and 3, particularly those in need of new diverse titles that focus on family or cultural traditions.  It would make a nice read aloud as part of a cooking club or food-themed programming as well.

Who should buy this book? Public and elementary school libraries

Where would you shelve it?  Picture books

Should we (librarians) put this on the top of our “to read” piles?  no

Reviewer’s Name, Library (or school), City:  Leigh Russell King, Lincoln Street School, Northborough, Massachusetts.

Date of review: March 3, 2022

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