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Kimchi and Calamari
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Kimchi and Calamari

4.0 9
by Rose Kent

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Kimchi and calamari. It sounds like a quirky food fusion of Korean and Italian cuisine, and it's exactly how Joseph Calderaro feels about himself. Why wouldn't an adopted Korean drummer—comic book junkie feel like a combo platter given:

(1) his face in the mirror

(2) his proud Italian family.

And now Joseph


Kimchi and calamari. It sounds like a quirky food fusion of Korean and Italian cuisine, and it's exactly how Joseph Calderaro feels about himself. Why wouldn't an adopted Korean drummer—comic book junkie feel like a combo platter given:

(1) his face in the mirror

(2) his proud Italian family.

And now Joseph has to write an essay about his ancestors for social studies. All he knows is that his birth family shipped his diapered butt on a plane to the USA. End of story. But what he writes leads to a catastrophe messier than a table of shattered dishes—and self-discovery that Joseph never could have imagined.

Editorial Reviews

Children's Literature - Carolyn Mott Ford
Boys and girls alike will enjoy this fast-paced story. Although it is basically the tale of a young Korean boy who was adopted by a family of Italian descent and his search for his birth mother, the book will be enjoyed by kids of all backgrounds. The problems faced by Joseph are universal enough in their effect as to allow identification with him by most young readers. When Joseph must write an essay for class about his ancestors, he concocts a tale about an Olympic champion being his grandfather. That lie backfires and Joseph's embarrassment and the reactions of his mother and father are almost overwhelming. While he is dealing with all this, Joseph also is trying to get a date for the middle-school dance and he meets a Korean family whom he slowly comes to regard as friends. His thwarted attempts to find his birth mother are realistic, as is his relationship with his parents. There may be a slight overemphasis on class and moving up from blue-collar jobs or businesses, but that is a minor issue. Kids will enjoy Joseph's exploits as he maneuvers his way through eighth grade.
Children's Literature - Denise Daley
Joseph considers himself an ethnic sandwich. His birth parents are Korean but as a baby, an Italian-American family adopted him. Lately, Joseph has been experiencing inner struggles because he wants to better understand his Korean heritage but he does not want to upset his caring, hardworking adoptive parents. His eighth grade teacher unknowingly brings this issue to the forefront when she assigns the class a heritage essay that requires students to trace their past. Joseph enlists the help of his friend Nash and, while attempting to contact his birth family in Korea, Joseph writes a creative paper inventing someone who is a relative to an Olympic gold medal winner. When the truth comes out, Joseph's teacher and even some of his friends view his creativity as deceitful. Fortunately, the entire situation provides Joseph with a learning experience that helps him to better understand and appreciate his unique position. This book has an honest and light-hearted approach to situations that all teenagers struggle with, especially those with diverse cultural or ethnic backgrounds.
KLIATT - Claire Rosser
The author has two children who were adopted from Korea and she has two biological children who are part Korean, so this, her first novel, about a boy born in Korea, adopted by an Italian American couple and raised in America, is about a subject she knows well. Joseph is the narrator. He has just turned 14 years old, and he is in the 8th grade. He plays the drums, he loves his little sisters and his parents, and he is smart and funny with plenty of friends. Joseph was born in Korea and according to his parents his life started when he was delivered as an infant into the arms of his adoptive parents at the airport when he first arrived in America. The catalyst that starts Joseph thinking is an essay assignment: students are to write about their family tree. His parents think of course he should write about his adoptive family's history—immigrants from Italy. When a Korean family moves to their town and Joseph gets to know them, he realizes he knows nothing about Korea, not even how to pronounce his Korean name. His parents don't understand his confusion. A good friend uses the Internet to find out if there are any Koreans searching for adopted children who are trying to connect with Joseph. In the process, Joseph starts to understand more about Korea; and his essay finally is about a boy who is part this and part that, who likes kimchi and calamari. With good-natured humor and a healthy dose of curiosity, Joseph starts on his way to understanding himself and the combination of influences that have made him who he is and who he will become. His father, who at first is threatened by Joseph's need to know about the Korean part of himself, comes full circle by the end of the story,which ends as the two of them are planning a trip to Korea with a tour group for families and adoptees wanting to visit their birthplace. Since the story is so positive, while dealing honestly with the issues of international adoption, it would be most helpful for middle-school students like Joseph who are searching for information to understand who they are.
School Library Journal

Gr 4-7 - Joseph Calderaro is facing many woes typical of a 14-year-old boy. However, trouble with girls, school, his younger twin sisters, and his parents is complicated by his growing awareness of the gulf between his Korean ethnicity and the Italian heritage of his adoptive family, especially his father. A school assignment is the catalyst for his search for information about his birth family. Communication between father and son reaches a low point when Joseph refuses to wear his birthday present of a corno(golden horn), proudly worn by Italian men to ward off the malocchio. His father insists that Joseph became Italian the day he was adopted. This lack of sensitivity is presented sympathetically, as the Calderaros can only focus on the joy of their bonding. The boy's status as a well-liked student and honest guy is jeopardized when he claims a famous Korean marathoner as his grandfather. A subplot involves an immigrant family from Korea, the Hans. Joseph's parents eventually appreciate his search for his identity, and they reach out to the Hans to help him learn about his culture. Kent has done an excellent job of creating a likable protagonist whose confusion about his status is touching, and also funny. This is one of the best of the recent spate of books about adolescent adoptees facing quests to establish their identities.-Deborah Vose, Highlands Elementary School, Braintree, MA

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
When his eighth-grade class is assigned to write about their ancestors' journey to America, Joseph Calderaro has a problem: Who are his ancestors? Joseph was adopted from Korea. His parents are raising him in their Italian-American tradition. But though his favorite foods are calamari and eggplant parmesan, Joseph wonders about the sturdy Korean kid he sees in the mirror. His parents have no information to share. When Joseph befriends Yongsu, whose Korean-American family has just moved into the neighborhood, Yongsu's mother treats Joseph with wary suspicion. His attempts to uncover his Korean roots frustrated, Joseph makes some up, passing off a famous Korean athlete as his grandfather. After his essay is chosen for submission to a national contest, Joseph must come clean. Despite its lighthearted tone, this first novel does justice to complex issues, from anxious adoptive parents to birth-parent searches. Joseph makes a funny, engaging tour guide to the world of transcultural adoption. Seasoned with familiar angst-provoking adolescent preoccupations-dating and embarrassing parents-Joseph's story makes for an entertaining fictional stew. (Fiction. 9-13)
“This will have special appeal for adoptees, but the questions about family roots that Kent raises are universal.”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.85(d)
750L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Kimchi & Calamari RB/SB

Chapter One

Not So Happy Birthday to Me

You wake up and you're fourteen. The world is your supersized soda waiting to be guzzled, right? Wrong. My birthday tasted more like Coke that went flat.

Make that flat Coke with cookie crumbs from my little sister's backwash.

Not that I planned on a lousy birthday. After all, I'm Joseph Calderaro, eighth-grade optimist. The bag of barbecue chips is always half full in my mind. As I searched for my Yankees T-shirt that morning, I tapped out my favorite band tune with my drumsticks. I was ready to hit the halls of Johansen Middle School bursting with I'm-all-that attitude. I couldn't wait to hear "Happy Birthday to Joseph" chants from cute girls in the hallway between classes. And of course, I expected to uphold my family's tradition of gorging on my favorite dinner. Fried calamari. Eggplant Parmesan. Chocolate cake with gobs of cannoli frosting. Even the whines from Gina and Sophie couldn't ruin that meal.

Little did I know that my burned Pop-Tart breakfast would be a sign of trouble ahead. Or that the day's events would spiral downward, just like that pastry...from strawberry frosted and gooey good to black-on-the-bottom and smoking bad.

I should've known better, what with all the comic books I've read: villains wreak havoc when you least expect it. In this case, the villain struck during second period. I was tilting my desk chair back, feeling mighty proud of the "To Burn or Not to Burn" project I'd turned in, analyzing a constitutional amendment against flag desecration. I'd surrounded the poster's edges with flag toothpicks, and I'd taped powerquotes from two Supreme Court justices.

With ten minutes left in the period, Mrs. Peroutka started lecturing about the upcoming unit: immigration. I was still feeling thirsty and sweaty from the mile run in gym, never mind sleep deprived from gluing toothpicks until eleven thirty last night. Nothing Mrs. Peroutka said was keeping my attention, especially with that warm breeze rattling through the blinds.

Nothing, that is, until she dropped a slab of cement on my head. It came in the form of a handout, but trust me, it caused quite the emotional concussion.

"I have an assignment for you," she announced, with a diabolical twinkle in her eye.

As soon as I read the top line of the paper, my heart started racing like I was back on the track running.

Tracing Your Past: A Heritage Essay

"Before we discuss the assignment, I'd like you to consider this: Who are your ancestors?" she asked.

Next to me, fellow drummer Steve Nestor popped his arm straight up. "Dead people with your same last name?"

Robyn Carleton chuckled in the back row. She appreciates all jokes, especially mine.

"Indeed, our ancestors are dead and related," Mrs. Peroutka replied, "but they are much more than that. Each one of your families owns a patch on America's collective immigrant quilt: the dreams and the struggles of your kin who came before you. Ancestors are your personal link to yesterday."

Ugh. Faces around the room looked pained. Honestly, who gives eighth graders an essay in May? Maybe fall, or even January, when you're guaranteed at least one snow day. But a May essay is a low blow, what with June around the corner, the month in which we break out of the middle-school penitentiary forever.

Mrs. Peroutka droned on, her voice deep like a narrator on the History Channel. Then she gave us the dirty details. Required words: fifteen hundred. Double-spaced. Blah blah blah. She stood poised by the chalkboard, her hand clutching a pen in midair like the Statue of Liberty, and rambled on about digging out old photos and interviewing family members. But I tuned out right after hearing "your ancestors." I didn't know diddly about my ancestors.

Right before the bell rang, Mrs. Peroutka told us the essay was part of a Celebrating Your Heritage campaign that had kids across America tracing their lineages back to over 175 countries.

"Like that's supposed to make us want to join hands with other eighth graders from sea to shining sea," Steve whispered to me.

After class I waited at the lockers for my buddy Nash, and we walked to the cafeteria together. I told him this birthday felt as lousy as the woodwinds playing "Rock with Bach." Nash is in band too...he plays trumpet...so he totally got what I meant.

"I can't believe we have to do a social studies essay in May," I complained.

He groaned. "How many words?"

"Fifteen hundred."

Nash uses the bazooka technique for writing papers. He strings together all these run-on sentences that stretch longer than a wad of bubblegum...just to hit the required word count.

"What kind of teacher serves up a paper after a pro-ject?" Nash said, shaking his head.

I told him the topic of the essay was part of the problem too. "You know what I wanted to tell Mrs. Peroutka? I don't need fifteen hundred words. Two will wrap it up nicely: I'm adopted."

As soon as I sat down at the lunch table, more bad fortune revealed itself from under the plastic wrap. Mom had mixed up my sandwich with Gina's. I was stuck with peanut butter and banana slices, a hideous combo surely created to make POWs talk.

Nash caught my disgusted look and stared down at my sandwich. "Yuck. That looks nasty. Poor you."

"So much for special treatment on my birthday," I said.

He passed me some pretzels. "Your lunch might stink, but at least your mom's making your favorite dinner, right?"

I nodded, thinking about Mom in the kitchen slicing and salting eggplant and sprinkling cheese. She'd taken a day off from the hair salon to shop and cook.

I shoved the sandwich back in the bag and bit into a pretzel. "You're right, Nash. I won't let old Peroutka be the Grinch who steals my birthday. So come over tonight ready for one grandioso Calderaro feast."

Kimchi & Calamari RB/SB. Copyright © by Rose Kent. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Rose Kent turned to kids for help in writing this novel—her own kids, since all four have Korean heritage and two are adopted. She and her family live in Niskayuna, New York, where they have frequent flyer points at Korean restaurants and Italian bakeries. This is her first novel.

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Kimchi and Calamari 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Mother-Daughter-Book-Club More than 1 year ago
Joseph Calderaro is an "eighth-grade optimist" whose "bag of barbecue chips is always half full." That is until he has a lousy 14th birthday and his teacher assigns a 1,500-word paper called Tracing Your Past: A Heritage Essay. The only trouble is, Joseph is adopted. Fourteen years ago he was left on the steps of a police station in Korea. His adopted parents are Italians living in New Jersey, and while he knows he's a Calderaro, he feels he can't claim the Italian heritage as his own. Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent follows Joseph as he questions his own identity and struggles to come up with answers about his heritage. Is he a real Korean? Is he Italian? Does it make a difference to him? I found myself liking Joseph right off the bat. And I loved the assignment he got to write about his heritage. I've done a lot of work tracing my own family's ancestors, so I know that feeling of wanting to identify with the people who came before you. Joseph's desire to know more about where he came from is extra complicated because of his adoption. But I admired the way he treats this issue as just one of many things he's thinking about in life. He is 14 after all, and so he's trying to decide who to ask to the year-end dance. He's also making new friends and trying to figure out how to bring up difficult subjects with his parents. Through it all Joseph mostly maintains his optimism, even while he gets into and out of trouble. I found myself cheering for him and thinking how refreshing it is to get to know a character who is upbeat most of the time. Kimchi and Calamari has many things for mother-daughter book clubs to like and talk about. Issues include communicating with your parents, what makes you part of a family, adoption, your family heritage, dating and more. And don't be surprised if you get hungry while reading it. The Italian food and Asian dishes described should offer plenty of ideas for what you can serve at a book club meeting. I highly recommend it for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 9 to 12.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A fun book to read for an 8 year old who wants a bit of a challenge from everyday normal books. Also teaches about adoption and what a kid may go through in society! Enjoyable and fun book for sure!
the_critic More than 1 year ago
omg, i loved this book! my brother was adopted so it was extra interesting for me.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Believing that his fourteenth birthday will be the best one yet, Joseph Calderaro will be amazed at how quickly it turns sour.

It all happens during second period. After turning in his project on flag burning, Joseph thinks the assignment will be over, especially since it is May and June is just around the corner. But before the last ten minutes of class is up, his teacher assigns a 1,500-word essay about ancestors. Sure, it may seem like an easy one to write. Not for Joseph, though.

Joseph may have an Italian last name; he is anything but. His parents adopted him when they went over to Korea, and Joseph only knows the Italian side of him, which you could say isn't the true side of him. Adopted at such a young age, Joseph has no idea who his ancestors are or who his birth mother is.

Joseph doesn't mind eating calamari and cannoli frosting on a chocolate cake. He just gets a little uncomfortable when his father wants him to show off their Italian heritage, since is just isn't his.

His journey on writing his essay isn't an easy start, especially since the only help his father can give him is his parent's stories, and Joseph has heard them all.

With ancestors to discover, a girl to win over, a new student who will take him on a journey to discover his heritage, and parents who aren't much help but still love him, Joseph is in for the ride of his life. One that will help him see that being both Korean and Italian isn't bad at all.

Wonderfully written, KIMCHI & CALAMARI will take readers on an adventure that they will never forget. The novel shows how having two heritages is absolutely wonderful and that what matters the most is what we learn from it, how we enrich our lives with it. KIMCHI & CALAMARI is one novel that I will never forget.
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