Review by Meghan McAffee
What is your least favorite food? Yoomi’s is kimchi. No Kimchi for Me tells the story of a young cat, Yoomi, who overcomes her disdain for kimchi. Illustrated by the author, the picturebook journeys into the intersection of Korean food and culture, using Korea’s national dish: kimchi. Yoomi tries everything to improve the funky taste of kimchi, but it is not until she and her grandmother cook kimchi pancakes that she considers it yummy enough to eat.
No Kimchi for Me succeeds in introducing young readers to a staple Korean food. Kim’s illustrations of kimchi ingredients line the front endpapers, and her mother’s kimchi pancake recipe is included for readers to try themselves. Where No Kimchi for Me disappoints is representation of a real-life ethnic culture.
Yoomi and her family are portrayed as cats, which frustrated me. As an Asian-American woman, I grew up not seeing myself in media, and Asian-Americans remain largely underrepresented, even still, in 2019. In a 2017 interview on the blog, Jama’s Alphabet Soup, Kim addresses the creative process the characters underwent, stating that Yoomi was originally a human. Kim feared the book would not be as appealing to a non-Korean audience if it featured both a Korean protagonist and a “very ethnic” ingredient. This decision under-values the selling power of Asian-Americans and underestimates the reader.
On a deeper level, featuring animal characters over ethnically-specific humans disconnects a culturally-specific dish from the culture it seeks to raise up. More than a concern over the story’s appeal, it fosters the idea that there is something to apologize for. Kimchi needs no apology. The book features a rather universal theme: a young child conquering her food fears. Why is that not enough?
No Kimchi for Me. Kim, Aram. (2017). New York: Holiday House. 40 pgs.
Meghan made kimchi for the first time in March 2019.