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Great Books for Kids Reviewed by Michelle Marcotte on


Today we have a story about the resilience, the patience, the optimism and the adventure of moving to a new country. Trading Pizza for Ramen by Brenda Lynn Cohen, has us meet a family whose father’s job takes them from the Pacific NorthWest to Tokyo Japan to live.


There is Dad, who hopes the family will adapt, and puts forth a lot of effort to teach the kids about Japan. The kids of course think he is trying too hard and are not too happy to be taken on so many new experiences so quickly.  There is Mom, who is trying to put a good face on the adventure while trying to pack everything that the household of three kids might need in Japan in a very short period of time before the big move.


And we meet the kids. Our narrator is 13 year old Jacob, a star baseball player and the long-suffering big brother of the family. Jacob is about to star in the All Star Baseball tournament but instead he is moving to Japan. He is not happy. He loves pizza and he figures, rightly as it turns out, that the pizza in Japan will not be as good as the pizza at home.


We meet twins Lily and Dylan who are in fourth grade, about 9 years old. Lily and Dylan are a big part of why Jacob finds life, and moving to Japan to be so irritating. Lily and Dylan also provide many of the laughs in this book with their fun personalities and the crazy things they do. For example, Lily collects insects, loves insects, and gets caught trying to take her pet cockroach on the plane. Needless to say a panic ensues at security, the cockroach is killed, Lily is unhappy and the entire family is mad at her. Dylan is also a bit of a trouble – maker, causing mischief when the two boys try out a skateboard at a small park on their first day in Tokyo. The skateboard hits a water fountain and floods the park.


The terrific message of this book is adaptation. Jacob, the pizza eater, quickly learns to love bowls of ramen noodles and learns how to make ramen by the grandmother of a Japanese boy that Jacob met at the park. He meets other kids who teach him about Japanese comics. We see him literally chased off the girls-only floor of the bookstore. The signs were in Japanese and he couldn’t read them. But Jacob begins to learn Japanese, useful word by useful word. By being open to, and interested in, his new environment he makes friends and learns a new culture.


Trading Pizza for Ramen is a terrific book for  pre-teens and young adults interested in travel or pizza or ramen or both! If your kid is moving to a new location, the resilient attitude of Jacob and his family will be very helpful. Any kid who is going to Japan should read this first because Jacob is a very observant tour guide.


I give special appreciation to book designer Leigha Sherman whose cover, a rift on one of the best known Japanese paintings – The Great Wave off Kanagawa is a triumph.  This book is also illustrated with bold and exciting pen and ink drawings that anyone with an interest in manga will really like. Trading Pizza with Ramen by Brenda Lynn Cohen was published by the Ethos Collective and is available from Amazon and anywhere fun books are sold.