Keywords: food, inventions, war, persistence
Inspiration struck when Momofuku Ando spotted the long lines for a simple bowl of ramen following World War II. Magic Ramen tells the true story behind the creation of one of the world’s most popular foods.
Every day, Momofuku Ando would retire to his lab—a little shed in his backyard. For years, he’d dreamed about making a new kind of ramen noodle soup that was quick, convenient, and tasty for the hungry people he’d seen in line for a bowl on the black market following World War II. Peace follows from a full stomach, he believed.
Day after day, Ando experimented. Night after night, he failed. But Ando kept experimenting.
With persistence, creativity, and a little inspiration, Momofuku Ando succeeded. This is the true story behind one of the world’s most popular foods.
In her second picture book, Magic Ramen: The Story of Momofuku Ando, Andrea Wang artfully describes the work behind the invention of instant ramen. This non-fiction story is set in Japan in 1946, only a year after the end of World War II. One evening after work Ando is walking home through Osaka when he sees people waiting in line for ramen noodle soup. The text on these pages is accompanied by powerful illustrations that clearly convey a city in ruins and the hunger of the people. Illustrator Kana Urbanowicz’s use of dark colors and careful attention to detail, such as the small clouds that form when people breathe in the freezing air, help readers to empathize with the cold, hungry people. When Ando arrives home, the mood of the illustrations becomes lighter, with more color and white space, but he looks determined as he works to find a way to feed the hungry.
Ando begins to develop inexpensive but nourishing food products, eventually focusing on instant ramen. His trial-and-error process is cleverly illustrated in manga-like panels showing each new attempt juxtaposed with its failed outcome. After Ando has success creating noodles, his persistence is again tested as he searches for a way to easily turn them into soup, depicted in another set of panels. Finally, Ando holds a bowl of noodles above his head, victorious, before a scene of cherry blossoms in full bloom. Wang explains how Ando’s whole family assists in preparing the ramen and shows Ando’s demonstration of the noodles for prospective customers.
Wang includes an author’s note to help readers understand the naming conventions used in the book, a pronunciation guide for names and terms readers encounter in the story, and an afterword to provide readers with more information about Ando. Readers can use this information as a starting point for additional research on the topic. Wang also enriches the story with several quotations from Ando himself. A bibliography with the sources of these quotations is available on her website.
In addition to being a focal piece of the book, Urbanowicz’s illustrations provide observant readers with several clues about the story as well. Even the book’s endpapers are an excellent example: the endpapers at the beginning of the book include the ingredients Ando used to make his noodles, while those at the end feature bowls and packages of noodles.
Magic Ramen is based on the universal theme of scarcity, more specifically the scarcity that occurs after war. This ties closely to the literary theme of survival, as Ando searches for a way to help meet the need for cheap but nutritious food. Wang’s text also incorporates the literary themes of perseverance, the quest for discovery, and, to a lesser extent, the importance of family.
This book provides many avenues for interdisciplinary exploration and numerous entry points for students. While the text is designed for readers ages four to eight, the illustrations and ideas will also appeal to students in middle school and high school, particularly as a wide variety of students will have eaten ramen.
One main theme, perseverance, is universally applicable to students. Students of all grade levels can identify with the trial-and-error process that Ando conducts before his success. Students can be asked to relate these experiences to goals and experiences in their own lives. Seeing how Ando learned from his setbacks can be used as a tool to help students reframe their setbacks as well.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, various types of foods were not available in grocery stores in the United States. Middle school and high school students are old enough to be aware of these scarcities. From a historical perspective, the scarcities of the pandemic can be compared to food scarcities in postwar Japan as students explore what items were scarce and the causes of the scarcity. From a science perspective, the lesson could explore nutritional guidelines and requirements for health in conjunction with the nutritional content of available foods. Language arts could be incorporated if students conduct research into other foods invented during times of scarcity.
Throughout the text, Ando participates in a design process, searching for the best ingredients and methods with which to create his noodles. This can serve as a springboard for students of all grade levels to explore the engineering design process in a science class or unit on food. Students could also try to make their own noodles or use media to learn more about the noodle-making process.
Social Studies Standards (C3 Framework)
Science Standards (Next Generation Science Standards)
English Language Arts Standards (Common Core State Standards)
Author: Jennifer Smith, teacher of 7th and 8th grade language arts, Illinois Virtual School
Teacher’s Guide, created by Anna Chan Rekate, 2019
Fill out the online form to access the NCTA webinar with author Andrea Wang
Junior Library Guild Selection
School Library Journal Starred Review
Smithsonian Ten Best Children’s Books of 2019
Center for the Study of Multicultural Children’s Literature (CSMCL) Best Books of 2019