Illustrated by Dung Ho
Aladdin, January 2020.
Hardcover Early Chapter book, 96 pp.
A lot of things are new for the star of this new chapter book series. Mindy Kim has recently moved to a new state (from California to Florida), into a new house (not a small apartment), and will be starting her school year at a new school. Even changes to her family are relatively new. Her mother “died a few months ago because she was really sick for a long time.” And since they’ve moved, father is working long hours and grieving.
‘You don’t have to be embarrassed, Dad. You can cry. Everyone gets sad sometimes.’
Mom used to always tell me that when I cried.
I didn’t expect her mother’s absence to be the smallest most manageable part of Mindy’s story—at least in this first book. I’m not sure she’s ready to talk about it yet. What’s on Mindy’s mind is adjusting to her new school and convincing her father they need a dog. It’s more than enough to have on one’s mind.
Thinking about New School stories: Mindy’s new school is friendlier in some ways than most, and harder in others. The difficulties are due to the fact that she isn’t a white chapter book protagonist.
“My old school had kids of many different colors. But here, no one looked like me.”
The author weaves observations and experiences into the narrative as naturally as they are lived; which will provide valuable insight and perspective—and solidarity to many. Lyla Lee’s series will be a good one for caregivers to read and realize alongside. This moment here, for example:
Min-jung. She frowned as she tried to say my Korean name. “Do you have an English name?”
“I go by Mindy, “ I told her, like Dad told me to do.
“Oh, Mindy! What a pretty name!” —-let us all cringe together.
I didn’t like Mrs. Potts. I missed Ms. Lin, my teacher in California. Ms. Lin said my Korean name was pretty too.
[italicized line is mine]
Not all the introductions will be cringeworthy. Mindy navigates lunchroom drama with the help of a well-liked student who discovers the seaweed snacks in Mindy’s lunchbox. Sally encourages others to try them, helps start a snack trading business, and will spark Mindy’s big plan that will solve a lot of her concerns: she’ll continue to make friends and earn money to buy a puppy for the family—no one can be sad or lonely with a cute puppy around.
But there are a few problems with this. Appa (Korean for Daddy) has to drive an hour (to Orlando) to find a Korean market (which is still smaller than their California one). Two: Trading snacks wasn’t an issue, but when she tries to sell them, she breaks a school rule. Next: She throws Sally under the proverbial bus for even having suggested she sell them. Yeah. It gets pretty tense there. But Lyla Lee writes pretty marvelous characters into her protagonist and their father; earnest and imperfect; relatable.
“The snack thing was a good idea, but try to find another way to make friends,” Appa tells her. Mindy will. And it will start with an apology.
Mindy Kim and the Yummy Seaweed Business is cute and funny. She is great character and the relationships she has and will make will draw the reader into further pursuit of the series. Lyla Lee writes important, relevant topics of lunchrooms, playgrounds, friendship, family, and puppies—you’ll not want to miss it.
Lyla Lee is the author of the Mindy Kim series as well as the upcoming YA novel, I’ll Be the One. Although she was born in a small town in South Korea, she’s since lived in various parts of the United States, including California, Florida, and Texas. Inspired by her English teacher, she started writing her own stories in fourth grade and finished her first novel at the age of fourteen. After working various jobs in Hollywood and studying psychology and cinematic arts at the University of Southern California, she now lives in Dallas, Texas. When she is not writing, she is teaching kids, petting cute dogs, and searching for the perfect bowl of shaved ice.
Dung Ho was born and raised in Hue, Vietnam, where she studied graphic design at the Hue University College of Arts. After graduating, she worked in the design and advertising industries before discovering a great passion for illustration and picture books and becoming a freelance illustrator. Currently, she lives and works in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam. Ho draws inspiration from nature and the interaction between people and nature and especially loves to draw children. When not drawing, she enjoys cooking and watching movies.