Books

Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu

Author Ying Chang Compestine mixes a smart, clever heroine into her own take on the Rapunzel story, inspired by Chinese culture and food as well as Compestine’s own childhood. In a world of myriad fairy-tale retellings, Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu stands out as delightful, energetic and unique: a fairy tale you will happily devour.

The “Rapunzel” of Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu does, indeed, have a tower and a long braid. But for Pu Zel, daughter of the Emperor and Empress Ra, the tower is a sanctuary where she can cook and eat without hearing constant reminders to be a “perfect princess.” Pu Zel’s mother sends up baskets of food via Pu Zel’s braid, and Pu Zel proceeds to cook for herself and her dog, while happily ignoring the pleas of the many suitors her father sends to woo her down. It will take something much more interesting—and smelly—than songs and kites to get her attention. Compestine, who began telling stories as a child in 1960s China, where Western books were scarce, combines Pu Zel’s straightforward, practical manner with just enough whimsy to make this a great read-aloud.

In her picture book debut, illustrator Crystal Kung creates an enchantingly soft watercolor-and-ink world of mountains and homes that looks as though it could be included in a museum collection of Chinese art. Against this traditional backdrop, Pu Zel and her tower pop in an explosion of vibrant, modern-princess energy. Her family, tutors and suitors are expressive and intricate, clad in exquisite finery. Kung seamlessly blends everything together and fills every page with intriguing details and movement. Her use of light and shadow is especially spectacular; this story feels completely ready for the big screen. Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu is a brilliant first act that will have readers hoping for many more books from this illustrator.

Ra Pu Zel’s story wraps up with an insightful afterward and a recipe for “Non-Stinky Pan-Fried Tofu” that will satisfy curious, hungry readers. Whether this is your first Rapunzel retelling or your 50th, Ra Pu Zel and the Stinky Tofu has all the ingredients to entertain, delight and surprise readers (and fairy tale collectors) of all ages. And for those looking for a happily ever after, it’s stinky tofu for the win.

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