In Andrea Cheng’s The Key Collection, a chapter book for young readers, Xiao (“Little”) Jimmy and his Grandma Ni Ni share a special bond. She lives in the small house behind his, and they watch each other’s lights go out at night through their windows. Ni Ni and Jimmy make jiao zi (dumplings) together, and she teaches him to write Chinese characters. At first Jimmy’s best friend doesn’t understand Ni Ni’s English and wrinkles his nose at their food. When his grandmother leaves cold Cincinnati to live with his aunt in California, Jimmy inherits and adds to the jar of keys she left behind, including a key to her old house in Shanghai and one to the trunk where her mother’s quilt is stored. When Jimmy is reunited with Ni Ni, she has “the same smell as the kitchen of her old house.”
Inspired by memories of the author’s own Hungarian grandmother, this compassionate story reveals the power of love between generations and the language/cultural knowledge passed between them. Cheng, who married a son of Chinese immigrants (together they have three children), has based several of her children’s books on similar themes of separation and love. Check out the illustrated books Goldfish and Chrysanthemums and Grandfather Counts, also about these cross-generational bonds. Her newest chapter book is Only One Year.
The Key Collection includes a recipe and directions to making Jiao Zi. Or, watch our bonus aha!Chinese live action video featurette of children making dumplings, with step-by-step instructions, included in our Let’s Go Guang! Chinese for Children Learning Kit.