What is in the dumplings? Fillings are food for thought by children’s book author Frances Decker.
Decker, who grew up in Northbrook and received the 2007 Glenbrook North High School class, returned home to her childhood village to celebrate the launch of her children’s book, Our World of Dumplings.
The picture book, published by Little Bee Books, has a release date of September 6. Dekker offered a preview on September 3 at a Labor Day book signing and reading weekend at Book Bin (1151 Church St.) in Northbrook.
“It was such a wonderful place to grow up, such welcoming neighbors, everyone felt like a giant family,” Decker said of Northbrook.
Children in Our World of Dumplings share copies of family dumpling recipes.
“Every culture has the shape of a dumpling,” Decker said.
“The children in the story are all part of the same apartment complex, and the feeling of being very familiar and comfortable and being part of this extended community and extended family is something I felt growing up in Northbrook.
“I definitely wanted that to appear in the book,” Decker said.
Decker and wife Jonathan Decker of New Berlin, Wisconsin have two children, Sylvie, 3, and Julian, 1.
The author’s parents are Marty and Marie Szostak of Northbrook (near Mondelyn). Her siblings are Donna Szostak from Cincinnati and Peter Szostak from Chicago. Donna’s wife is John Sadowsky and Peter is married to Kelly Hall.
Decker was a college swimmer in high school and participated in local youth programs such as theater and basketball.
“I was like every kid, trying everything,” Decker recalls.
The Decker family is of Polish descent with a history of tasting pierogi. Her favorite pierogi fillings are sauerkraut and mushrooms. Favorite or sweeter versions include plum, cherry, or farmer’s cheese.
“I love to explore, cook and eat cuisines from all over the world,” Decker said. “By doing this, I realized how many cultures have their own variation on dumplings.
“I was inspired to write ‘Our World of Dumplings’ as a way to connect young readers to their food heritage, as well as expose young people to similar dishes from around the world,” Decker said.
“While we may come from different places, and speak many languages, I think the best way to get to know someone is to eat a plate of something delicious.”
Decker moved to Wisconsin after graduating from the University of Missouri in 2011. She was a member of the swim team for the four years at Mizzou and earned a degree in journalism and plant sciences.
Dekker became a gardening teacher, leading field trips and classes for youth through adults to learn about organic farming and “where our food comes from,” the author said.
“I’ve done a lot of school programs for elementary students and this is where I realized the power of picture books in conveying important messages to children.”
Decker later oversaw the Milwaukee County Healthy Food Access Program. She has moved on to donating gardening that has produced products for food pantries and meal programs for people who need high-quality nutritional assistance.
“She saw this need,” said Decker’s mother, Marie Szostak.
“I am very, very proud… very proud.”
The Book Bin attendees included Matt and Christina Margolis and their children Luke, 6, a first grader at Westcott School, and Madeleine, 3.
Christina Margulies, from Glenbrook North High School in 2002, used to take care of children for Francie Decker.
“I am a former teacher and my son is in first grade now, so we are really excited to support and delight local authors with reading,” said Christina Margulies.
Attendant Gretchen Stamp of Northbrook, mother of 6-year-old Fiona Sheehy, a first-grader, said, “We’re always looking for comprehensive books.
“Is Northbrook somewhat homogeneous? Perhaps,” Stump said. “But the more we talk about diversity, the more we see it, the more we accept it, the more we know that this is life, this is the world.
“Everyone has a different story, and we love celebrating that,” Stump said.
“Your community is where it all begins.”
Laura Williams of Libertyville, who attended with her daughter Annie, 2, was a swimmer with Dekker.
“This book should be about foods from different cultures, and bringing people together, it was so important and wonderful to me,” said Williams, a Libertyville School Dist. 70 elementary school mathematics intervention.
The author also appeared on a recent Zoom call with third graders at Westmoor School who were at the same Northbrook Elementary School that Dekker attended as a young man.
Coleen Cleary, 8, of Westmore School in the third grade at Northbrook School, saw Decker on a Zoom call.
“It’s good,” Colin said of Our World of Dumplings.
Samantha, the 5-year-old sister of Colleen, a kindergartener, and their father, Crystal Cleary, were among the audience for The Book Bin.
“He (Colin) came home and said, ‘Mom, she’s going to be at The Book Bin this weekend, the same author we just spoke to, and he said I wanted to make sure we go so we came because he said Crystal Cleary he wanted to come To support her and learn more about her.” It’s cool.
“We also love the bookstore…every time we come to buy books,” Crystal Cleary said of sponsoring local independent businesses and bookstores. “We love places like this.”
Alli Gilley of Fox Lake owns The Book Bin with his brother Amy Morrison of Lincolnshire and their father Rich Brown of Northbrook.
“This book is very special because it shows so many different cultures and how we can enjoy each one together,” Gilly said of Our World of Dumplings.
“There can be a great writer in your town,” Gilly added. “You just have to give them a voice.”
Carrie Angel Locke works as a freelancer at Pioneer Press.