The Ugly Dumpling
“The illustrations are adorable . . .”
The Ugly Dumpling by Stephanie Campisi is the unappetizing tale of a dumpling overlooked in a dim sum restaurant until a friendly cockroach shows it the world. Illustrated by Shahar Kober, The Ugly Dumpling isn’t unappealing to look at, even the cockroach is mildly adorable, but it remains that this story is set in a restaurant with a cockroach and a forgotten piece of food as the protagonists of this table fable.
While entomologist parents may enjoy reading a tale about bugs and insects to children, this book is not for the squeamish, and it may be awhile until the reader feels confident that the next Chinese restaurant he or she patronizes doesn’t have a cockroach falling in love with a forgotten dumpling in the kitchen.
This tale is meant to be about finding inner beauty, according to the book’s jacket, but the story does not really show this. The dumpling is ugly and ostracized, yes, and the cockroach decides it loves the dumpling, but there is nothing about finding the inner beauty of the dumpling rather than exploring the outside world. There is no explanation from the cockroach about what it is about the dumpling that it finds so beautiful, and an adult reader is left to cynically conclude that it is a roach and a piece of food—what isn’t there to love for the roach? The friendship aspect of the book could potentially teach a lesson to children about befriending the bereft and sharing joys of the outside world with them, but there are other books that better tell this tale.
The story fails in conveying its stated back cover objectives. The illustrations are adorable, and the book is a simple read for young children ages 2–6. This size of the book, the simple sentences, and the illustrations would make this a good book for group story times.