In today’s divisive climate, I appreciate books that highlight our commonality instead of our differences. We have more things in common with other people and cultures than things that separate us. In all cultures around the world, families come together to share meals, make music, celebrate joys and shoulder sorrows. Rice and Rocks written by Sandra L. Richards and illustrated by Megan Kayleigh Sullivan uses food as a theme to bring home this point.
Like most kids Giovanni seeks his friends’ acceptance and fears their disapproval of his family’s traditional Jamaican rice and beans dish which he disparagingly calls “rice and rocks.” His fear of being an outsider cause him to feel shamed by this cultural tradition. Jasper, his chatty pet parrot, intervenes to set Giovanni straight. With a bit of magic, Giovanni, his aunt and his two dogs shrink and become small enough to ride on Jasper’s back. They embark on a journey around the globe.
In every country which they visit, the boy and his parrot meet the national bird and learn about the local version of “rice and rocks.” (These various national symbols serves as another way differing cultures are alike. Each has a national bird but the particular species varies by country.) Sullivan’s elaborate illustrations complement the fantasy story line. Variations in scale enhance the sense of dream-world magic.
When Giovanni’s friends join his family for a meal, one of them asks if they are celebrating anything. The story comes full circle because “Rice and Rocks” no longer embarrass him. He understands that they reflect the common desire of people to gather together at table and enjoy one another. So, Giovanni responds with pride, “We are celebrating family, friends, and traditions,” I said. I grinned, glad that my friends liked rice and rocks. “It’s really nice to spend time with all of you.” That is indeed something worth celebrating.
Adoption-attuned Lens: Trans-national and transcultural adoptees will particularly appreciate a book that validates the unique traditions of many cultures. This book does a good job of showing how similar the individual traditions are which reinforces the universality that all people and cultures share. This story can lead to conversations about the specific cultural and family heritage of all adoptees whether trans-racially, trans-culturally adopted or not.
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