I was exceedingly tickled when my older twin, 7 year-old Joseph, came rushing home from school to show me the two library books he’d picked out. One (which I’ll hopefully get to review later) is about a trumpet player like his older brother. The other was this terrific picture book about one of our favorite foods, instant ramen.
In post-World War II Japan, long lines of the impoverished waiting for a simple bowl of, often over-priced, ramen were a common sight. Momofuku Ando was a businessman and inventor who was haunted by this image. In his backyard kitchen, he worked and worried at the problem of creating a simple, nutritious and cheap ramen that was also flavorful, so that the poor could make their own meals at home without breaking the bank or draining their energy cooking. He endured a good number of reversals before finally coming up with a product he thought would significantly change the world for the better.
And change the world it did! Instant ramen — tho not necessarily the kind that he originally created, which remind me more of Mamee noodle snacks than the noodles + soup packets more popular today — were a hit and are now ubiquitous food items worldwide. It was utterly fascinating to read this story and learn about the creation of instant ramen… even if some of what’s presented here doesn’t necessarily jive with the facts. Like, I get why certain references to Mr Ando’s history were left deliberately vague — the bankruptcy is referenced in passing but not the jail time — tho it seems a bit weird that no mention is made of the fact that the first instant noodles were considered a luxury product. The timeline also feels compacted for the sake of the story, which would be fine if that felt more transparent while reading the story itself. All biographies elide time in places, but this felt more fungible than necessary. That all said, as far as showing off how inventors persevere to make the world a better place, this is a well-written, indeed inspiring book for kids.
Complementing Andrea Wang’s writing are the truly excellent illustrations of Kana Urbanowicz. Ms Urbanowicz’s style is distinctly Japanese while being far more than quick manga-esque drawings; if anything, her illustrations, like the best of any picture book, evoke the movement of animation. Even more absorbingly, her wit and exuberance are on full display from the delightful endpapers to the stunning expressiveness and use of color throughout.
Joseph and I greatly enjoyed reading this book together, tho I think some of the vocabulary went a little over his head. We were both more than a little hungry after finishing it. I only wish I’d had instant ramen handy to help assuage our cravings for the dish — tho even now as I type, I’m still thinking about making myself a bowl!
Magic Ramen: The Story Of Momofuku Ando by Andrea Wang & Kana Urbanowicz was published March 5 2019 by little bee books and is available from all good booksellers, including