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In the picture book 'I Want To Be Spaghetti', a packet of ramen learns to love itself

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

As freezing cold temperatures descend across much of the country, it feels like the perfect time to warm up with a good book and dig into some piping hot comfort food. For many, the chilly month of January is peak soup season. And one children's book celebrates the joys of a particular kind of soup - ramen. NPR's Lauren Migaki has more.

LAUREN MIGAKI, BYLINE: The star of Kiera Wright-Ruiz's picture book is a packet of ramen...

(SOUNDBITE OF WRAPPER CRINKLING)

MIGAKI: ...A shiny orange packet of instant ramen with big, dopey eyes, who lives on the grocery store shelves and dreams of being the more popular, more beautiful spaghetti.

KIERA WRIGHT-RUIZ: (Reading) I am ramen, but I want to be spaghetti because everybody loves spaghetti.

MIGAKI: Here's Wright-Ruiz reading from her book.

WRIGHT-RUIZ: (Reading) Down their aisle, I see so many people picking from boxes and boxes of spaghetti. Everywhere I look, there is some story about spaghetti...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "BELLA NOTTE")

GEORGE GIVOT: (Singing) For this is the night...

WRIGHT-RUIZ: (Reading) ...What goes on it, where it's from and how tasty it is. Spaghetti is everywhere. Maybe if I were more like spaghetti, I'd be everywhere too.

MIGAKI: While ramen is popular around the world, it's hard not to acknowledge the hold that spaghetti has on American pop culture.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LADY AND THE TRAMP")

GIVOT: (As Tony) Now, tell me, what's your pleasure?

LARRY ROBERTS: (As Tramp, barking).

MIGAKI: From "Lady And The Tramp"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE LADY AND THE TRAMP")

GIVOT: (As Tony) Butch-a (ph) - he says he wants a two-spaghetti speciale...

MIGAKI: ...To childhood songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ON TOP OF SPAGHETTI")

MARTIN P ROBINSON: (As Snuffleupagus, singing) On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese.

MIGAKI: In Wright-Ruiz's book, "I Want To Be Spaghetti," Little Ramen dreams of being paired with red sauce and meatballs, and it's not until someone plucks the little ramen off the shelf and pairs it with pork belly, eggs, seaweed, and fish cakes that the little ramen realizes how special it is.

WRIGHT-RUIZ: This book is so much a celebration of Asian pride. You know, ramen - although its origins are in Japan, noodles mean so much to such a variety of people in Asia.

MIGAKI: As a mixed-race Korean Ecuadorian kid growing up in Florida, Wright-Ruiz struggled to celebrate her identity.

WRIGHT-RUIZ: I just remember looking in the mirror when I was 4 years old, wishing I had blond hair, had lighter skin, had blue eyes.

MIGAKI: She and illustrator Claudia Lam bonded over this feeling. Lam grew up between Sydney and Hong Kong, and the two worked together to decide what exactly their main character would look like.

WRIGHT-RUIZ: Should instant ramen be a vertical package? When you take out the noodles, are they circular? Are they square?

MIGAKI: They landed on a rectangular ramen with yellow scribbly curls. It's a ramen from Wright-Ruiz's own childhood.

WRIGHT-RUIZ: You know, I grew up microwaving it, taking out most of the broth and dousing it in hot sauce - so a very not-traditional way to eat ramen.

MIGAKI: Since then, Wright-Ruiz says she's never met a ramen she didn't like, and even developed a recipe that pays homage to her own mixed-race roots.

WRIGHT-RUIZ: That was like a szechwan ramen. So it's like a mixture of a little cumin, achiote. I mixed it with, like, some shrimp, a little spinach, because you got to have that veg, and noodles.

MIGAKI: It's something she calls me in a bowl. The beauty of ramen, she says, is that the topping possibilities are endless. So everyone can create their own me in a bowl. Even though spaghetti's out there.

WRIGHT-RUIZ: There's actually this ramen I love in Tokyo that is more based off, like, spaghetti. So it's, like, in a tomato broth topped with, like, a bunch of parmesan. And it is so good. It's truly the merging of the worlds.

MIGAKI: The book is "I Want To Be Spaghetti!" by Kiera Wright-Ruiz, illustrated by Claudia Lamb, and it's a celebration of the literal melting pot in all of our bowls.

Lauren Migaki, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Lauren Migaki is a senior producer with NPR's education desk. She helps tell stories about teacher strikes, college access and a new high school for young men in Washington D.C. She also produces and hosts NPR's podcast about the Student Podcast Challenge.

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