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.
|File size:||180 KB|
|Age Range:||8 - 12 Years|
About 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.
Read an Excerpt
Kimchi & Calamari RB/SB
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?"
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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!
omg, i loved this book! my brother was adopted so it was extra interesting for me.
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.