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“This empowering picture book biography is both lively and thoughtful, and a strong choice for primary grade readers who enjoy exploring culture through food, as in Salma the Syrian Chef by Danny Ramadan.”
School Library Journal

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites

Written by Jamie Michalak and Debbi Michiko Florence
Illustrated by Yuko Jones
Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites is a picture book biography that tells the story of the powerhouse female Japanese-American chef and her rise to fame

As a child and adult, Niki faced many naysayers in her pursuit of haute cuisine. Using the structure of a traditional kaiseki meal, the authors Debbi Michiko Florence and Jamie Michalak playfully detail Niki’s hunger for success in thirteen “bites” — from wonton wrappers she used to make pizza as a kid to yuzu-tomatillo sauce in her own upscale Los Angeles Michelin-starred restaurant, n/naka.

To anyone who tells her a woman can’t be a master chef, Niki lets her food do the talking. And oh, does it talk. Niki was featured on the first season of Netflix’s culinary documentary series Chef’s Table. And Chrissy Teigen proclaimed that Niki’s restaurant was one of her absolute favorites. She’s currently a featured teacher on MasterClass.

A smart, strong woman with starpower, Niki is only just getting started — like the young readers who will devour this book, featuring illustrations by Yuko Jones!

Primary ISBN: 9780374313876
Available As: Hardcover
Picture Book, Nonfiction, Age 06 or older

Community Represented:

Themes: , , , , , , , , ,

Setting: United States (California), Japan

Character's Place in the Immigration Journey: 1st Generation

Book Creator(s) Connection to the Community Represented: Own Voices/Lived Experience

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Engagement Projects & Resources:

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Classroom Activities

Source: Created by I’m Your Neighbor Books

DOWNLOAD Classroom Activities

The activities include:

13 Bites: Telling Your Story
ELA Activity

Like the staged, connected, (and absolutely delicious) courses of the Japanese storytelling meal kaiseki, the authors tell Niki Nakayama’s story in 13 parts or “bites.” This writing activity invites readers of the biography to become writers of their own story. Invite your readers to choose 13 objects, meals, books, or people as the anchors 
for writing their own biography.

Kaiseki: Food & Memory
STEAM Activity

Food is often connected to memory. Niki Nakayama discovered that kaiseki or a storytelling feast was 
designed to evoke memories. The tastes and smells remind the eater of something from their past.Can you use this picture book biography to build a STEM lesson on the five senses?

Asakusa to Takasaki: Mapping Food

Geography Activity

On the “Bite 5” spread in Niki Nakayama: A Chef’s Tale in 13 Bites, illustrator Yuko Jones uses a pictorial map to depict Niki’s eating tour of Japan. Can you use this image as the stepping off point for a local geography lesson?

Inventing Dishes & Making Menus
ELA & Math Activity

Young Niki invented her own dishes like Wonton Pizza. She now invents new kaiseki dishes every night to serve her guests at her award-winning restaurant. Can your readers invent 13 dishes they would like to serve at an imagined restaurant?

Each Dish a Work of Art
Art Activity

Yuko Jones’ illustrations open many doors to exploring Niki’s story through art. The artistry of Japanese food presentation alone could launch several projects. Art educator Kelly McConnell offers up these ideas for creating a food sculpture from paper.

Nihongo & Other Languages

Non-English Language Activity

To explore how Americans of all backgrounds retain and integrate the non-English words for food and family, consider having your readers partner with a person in their classroom, home, or community to learn six words about food and sharing meals together. A provided template allows the pair to collaboratively create language flash cards. Cards could be combined for a whole global eating deck!

Kuyashii! vs. Your Hopes & Dreams

Social Emotional Learning Activity

In Japanese, there’s a word for the defeated feeling that happens when people put you down or say you can’t do something: kuyashii. Every reader will recognize Niki’s frustration with kuyashii or being told her culinary dreams were not attainable or sustainable. Child therapist LCSW Bonnie Thomas explores these frustrations and offers readers strategies for self-supporting their dreams with affirmations and 
an ongoing dream board.

Wonton Pizza Recipe
Cooking Activity

Young Niki liked to “imagine…explore …and invent!” Download and share one of her very first recipes. What recipe will your reader chefs invent?