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An Interview with Illustrator Michelle Jing Chan

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MICHELLE JING CHAN,

ILLUSTRATOR OF

LUNAR NEW YEAR

Written by Mary Man-Kong

(Big Golden Books; $10.99, Ages 2-5)

 

 

 

 

 

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY:

ABOUT LUNAR NEW YEAR

Celebrate the Lunar New Year and learn about all of its traditions with this Big Golden Book!

Every year, millions of Asian families come together to celebrate the first new moon in the sky. Now preschoolers can learn about the zodiac animals, the delicious food, the exciting parades, and all the fun traditions. Filled with colorful illustrations and simple, yet informative text, this Big Golden Book is perfect for reading again and again to the whole family. Happy Lunar New Year!

INTERVIEW:

Q: What initially drew you to the manuscript for Lunar New Year: A Celebration of Family and Fun?

Growing up, I read many Golden Books, but never one about my own culture. When I first read this manuscript, I was so excited to see a story about a holiday that I grew up celebrating and with characters who reflected me and my family. I’m thrilled that this next generation of Asian children will get to grow up seeing themselves represented in ways that we didn’t have. It was also a treat to bring the words of Mary Man-Kong, the author, to life! She has written several other stories for Golden Books, Disney, and other licensed properties.

 

Lunar New Year int1 all together at mealtime
Interior spread from Lunar New Year written by Mary Man-Kong and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, Golden Books ©2023.

 

Q: What was your process for illustrating the cover?

The art director, Roberta Ludlow, provided very detailed guidelines for illustrating the cover and each spread–which I really appreciated. For the cover, she and the team at Golden Books wanted two children in traditional outfits running with a dragon. I started with three different rough sketches. 

Lunar New Year Cover Rough Sketches
Rough sketches by Michelle Jing Chan for the Lunar New Year cover illustration.

 

Once the team picked their favorite, I filled in base colors and finally rendered the details and lighting.

 

Q: What traditions are covered in this book?

Though this book mostly focuses on 春节 (The Spring Festival, aka the Chinese term for Lunar New Year), it also touches on other cultures and countries that celebrate Lunar New Year, including Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. 

 

Lunar New Year int2 special red decorations hung on doors of houses
Interior spread from Lunar New Year written by Mary Man-Kong and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, Golden Books ©2023.

 

Q: What was your favorite part about illustrating this book?

I designed the family to look like mine! The parents and grandma are modeled after my own, and the designs for the little girl and boy are based on my brother and me as kids.

 

Q: What do you love most about how the book turned out?

I love how the festive scenes like the fireworks and dragon scenes remind me of my own childhood celebrating Lunar New Year with my family!

 

Lunar New Year int3 a beast with sharp teeth
Interior spread from Lunar New Year written by Mary Man-Kong and illustrated by Michelle Jing Chan, Golden Books ©2023.

 

Q: Do you have other projects in the works?

Yes! I have three other picture books releasing in 2024 (MAMIE TAPE FIGHTS TO GO TO SCHOOL by Traci Huahn, Crown/Penguin Random House; STAY ANGRY, LITTLE GIRL inspired by the words of Madeleine L’Engle, FSG/Macmillan; GOODNIGHT SOUNDS by Debbie S. Miller, Bloomsbury). My author-illustrator debut picture book, CELEBRATING DONG ZHI: THE WINTER SOLSTICE is releasing in 2025 with Bloomsbury.

 

BUY THE BOOK

Support a local independent bookstore and purchase a copy here.

Paper Boat Booksellers in Seattle – Order by phone at 206-743-8283, via email at bookorders@paperboatbooksellers.com, or in person.

Or from Bookshop.org here.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA LINKS:

FOR ILLUSTRATOR MICHELLE JING CHANG

Website: www.michellejingchan.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/michellieart

IG: www.instagram.com/michellieart

TikTok:  https://www.tiktok.com/@michellieart

FOR AUTHOR  MARY MAN-KONG

Website: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/authors/18838/mary-man-kong/

 

 Michelle Jing Chan Photo-Credit M Mendelsohn
Illustrator Michelle Jing Chan Photo Credit: M. Mendelson

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Michelle Jing Chan is a queer Chinese American author-illustrator who works on picture books and comics for kids and teens. Ever since she could hold a pencil, Michelle has loved using art to bring the daydreams in her head to life. Her work has been featured in the Wing Luke Museum, Buzzfeed, and Upworthy. When not drawing, Michelle is petting the neighborhood cats, obsessing over a book, or getting jump-scared by spooky TV shows. Visit Michelle at www.michellejingchan.com or on social media @michellieart.

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AUTHOR BIO:

Mary Man-Kong is a children’s book editor and author living in New York City. When she’s not editing or writing, she loves traveling with her amazing family on awesome adventures.

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Picture Book Review – Two New Years

 

TWO NEW YEARS

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield

(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 3-5)

 

 

Two_New_Years_cover_multicultural_Chinese_Jewish_family_celebrating

 

Reading Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, reminds me of how wonderful it is to find similarities in cultures while also celebrating the differences. Ho draws from his personal life to imbue this heartwarming Rosh Hashanah and Lunar New Year story with meaning while also making it accessible to anyone, whether or not they are Jewish or Chinese like the family we meet here.

 

Two New Years int1 family celebrating rosh hashanah and lunar new year.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

The book begins simply and yet pulls readers in to find out more. “My family celebrates two New Years: Rosh Hashanah in the fall and Lunar New Year in the spring. We’re shown through art and prose how this works so beautifully in a multicultural family. Though Ho converted to Judaism, he still remains committed to his Chinese roots and traditions which readers are introduced to over the course of the 22-page story. Since I’m familiar with Rosh Hashanah, but less so with the Lunar New Year, I was curious to get the details. This is accomplished by dividing the book into two parts, the first being the lyrical, emotional heart of the story and the second being the factual part.

Kids should find it interesting that both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year, as well as other holidays, are lunar-based in the Jewish and the Chinese calendars respectively. However, it’s the Gregorian calendar we use in our daily lives and the one most children know best. That’s why  Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year fall on different dates every year.

The holiday customs Ho writes about demonstrate how much they have in common. One similarity both New Years share is putting the past behind to welcome in the new. In Chinese culture “we sweep past troubles out the door.” In Jewish culture, we “cast old mistakes into the  depths.” You can see those actions thoughtfully illustrated in a rich fall palette in the artwork below. When our children were younger, we often went with our Jewish community on what’s called a tashlich walk to a nearby park to throw pieces of bread into a stream, representing mistakes we can toss away to start anew.

 

 

Two New Years int2 sweeping troubles out the door and casting old mistakes into stream.
Interior illustrations from Two New Years written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Lynn Scurfield, Chronicle Books ©2023.

 

Both new years are about spending time with family and remembering those no longer with us. Scrumptious food is served. “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” So much about a new year is about moving forward and the hope for a better tomorrow, one filled with “long life and prosperity, good deeds and a sweet year ahead.” Scurfield’s thrilling illustrations depict the blast of a shofar (a ram’s horn) in the synagogue while opposite “the clatter of fireworks,” makes a loud noise as a dragon dances by during a parade. Respect and love fill the pages of Two New Years and will hopefully fill readers’ hearts too.

Twelve pages of interesting backmatter comprise the second part of the picture book including a lovely two-page Author’s Note. Children will benefit from the Visual Glossary included. It goes into more depth about aspects of both Rosh Hashanah and the Lunar New Year briefly touched upon in the story. As I mentioned earlier, I know less about the Lunar New Year despite having read many picture books over the years. While I knew about lucky money and the importance of the color red on the holiday, I had never heard about the tray of togetherness, a tray “filled with candies, dried fruits, and nuts and served to visitors at Chinese homes, and how the tray is divided “into either six or eight sections” because the words for six and eight respectively sound like the words for luck and prosperity. Likewise, young readers may enjoy learning that for Rosh Hashanah the seeds of a pomegranate symbolize the “many merits or good deeds” of a person.

I am so happy this worthwhile book is out there and hope it lands on many bookshelves in homes, schools, and libraries to be enjoyed year after year.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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Terrific New Picture Book for Chinese New Year – Year of the Cat

 

 

 

YEAR OF THE CAT

Written by Richard Ho

Illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand

(Greenwillow Books; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

Year of the Cat cover art the back of a cat looking at zodiac animals

 

 

The story of the Chinese zodiac is beloved in my household. In Year of the Cat, Richard Ho digs deeper to follow up on how Cat feels about not receiving a calendar year—she was pushed into a river by Rat! This story is as good as the original and then some.

 

Year of the Cat int1 animal group around table discussing Cat
Interior spread from Year of the Cat written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand, Greenwillow Books ©2022.

 

Jocelyn Li Langrand’s fun illustrations begin even before the title page. I especially like the behind-the-scenes scoop on the animals such as Rat lounging in his home with telling photos on the wall or the clever places each animal lives. The dragon? A fire station!

 

 Year of the Cat int2 four animals clung to the speeding raft
Interior spread from Year of the Cat written by Richard Ho and illustrated by Jocelyn Li Langrand, Greenwillow Books ©2022.

 

Whether this is a familiar tale or your first read, kids will get a kick out of the teamwork and mishaps that lead to us finding out if Cat is upset she was unable to finish as one of the twelve animals. (Her answer may surprise you.) And, speaking of surprises, be sure to peek under the dust jacket to see the map-consulting image from inside the book repeated. Kids will love figuring out which paw, hoof, or claw goes with which animal, and adults can help kids count to twelve by following along the map’s edge.

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Alex’s Good Fortune for Chinese New Year

ALEX’S GOOD FORTUNE

WRITTEN AND ILLUSTRATED BY BENSON SHUM

(PENGUIN WORKSHOP; $9.99, Ages 4-8)

 

Alexs Good Fortune cover

 

 

Alex’s Good Fortune, a 32-page early reader, takes us through Alex’s day on Chinese New Year. She invites her best friend, Ethan, over and, together, they prepare for the holiday. Exciting moments (joining the parade and decorating) and mundane ones (sweeping away the bad luck) are illustrated expressively in vibrant colors that accentuate the kids’ emotions. I longed for dumplings as Nai Nai showed the kids how to fold and pinch, fold and pinch.

 

AlexsGoodFortune interior 2
Interior spread from Alex’s Good Fortune written and illustrated by Benson Shum, Penguin Workshop ©2020.

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Back matter includes the pronunciation and meaning of several Chinese New Year wishes, more information about the holiday, and the Chinese zodiac.

 

AlexsGoodFortune interior 4
Interior spread from Alex’s Good Fortune written and illustrated by Benson Shum, Penguin Workshop ©2020.

 

Celebrate the Year of the Ox with Benson Shum’s likable book that’s suited for early readers or as a read-aloud story. Xīn xiǎng shì chéng (say: sin see-ang shee che-eng) / May all your wishes come true!

 

 

Click here for more Chinese New Year book reviews.

 

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Children’s Books Celebrating the Chinese New Year

RECOMMENDED READS

FOR THE YEAR OF THE RAT

 

 

 

The rat is the first animal on the Chinese zodiac and this year you’ll see all kinds of depictions of it as the two weeks of celebrations get underway this weekend. I’ve selected two books to share that are great for all ages. The first one is a board book for the youngest members of your family and the second is a fact and personal-account-filled middle grade picture book that will educate, enlighten and entertain every reader with its comprehensive approach to the Chinese New Year.

 

THE ANIMALS OF THE CHINESE NEW YEAR
Written by Jen Sookfong Lee
Translated by
Kileasa Che Wan Wong

(Orca Book Publishers; $9.95, Ages 1 and up)

This sweet 28 page board book, in both Chinese and English, features adorable photographs of children doing assorted things related to certain Chinese zodiac animal traits pictured on the opposite page. Readers learn that the 12 animals “are in a race to cross the river.” Rat, shown first, thinks about how to win. The picture is of a little boy peering into a pond. We then hear about Ox and Tiger and all the others, my favorite being the bunny. The precious photo of a mom and baby head to head, full on in conversation complements the actions of rabbit who in the race is described as chatting “to everyone along the way. The simple movements and children’s facial expressions and accompanying text for the dozen creatures help convey a bit about the Zodiac character’s personality. The Animals of the Chinese New Year provides a gentle introduction to the holiday celebrated around the world and includes a brief note from the author at the end.

Chinese_New_Year_book_coverCHINESE NEW YEAR: A Celebration for Everyone
Written by Jen Sookfong Lee
(Orca Book Publishers; $24.95, Ages 9-12)

This middle grade nonfiction book is part of the Orca Origins series that explores traditions around the globe and has its own dedicated website here: www.orcaorigins.com. This particular title on the Chinese New Year, also known as the Lunar New Year or the Spring Festival, aims to be “a snapshot of Chinese culture,” and succeeds beautifully.

The book, with gorgeous color photos throughout, is conveniently divided into four chapters: “What Chinese New Year is All About,” How Chinese New Year Spread Around the World,” How Chinese New Year is Celebrated Today,” and “Chinese New Year Celebrations Across the Globe.” In addition there’s an intro, a final word from the author, a glossary, and resources, making Chinese New Year a comprehensive and engaging go-to book for fans of the holiday as well as schools and libraries. Children can read the book in one sitting or take it one chapter at a time.

I was quickly hooked from the start after reading about Lee’s family’s story of moving to Vancouver. Her grandfather arrived as a teenager in 1913 and worked hard to establish a life for himself there. I also liked how Lee incorporated into each chapter several other individuals’ personal stories that focused on their connection to the Chinese New Year. By explaining the holiday, its meaning, popularity and traditions, the story of Chinese emigration and the diaspora in places like Canada, the United States and Australia was also revealed. Chinese New Year addresses racism, too, and how the goal of bringing the holiday out into the public was meant to welcome others into the celebration and help them see the Chinese culture with new, more tolerant eyes.

Lee includes CNY sidebars with interesting facts such as why numbers are important in the Chinese culture. For example eight is “the luckiest because when spoken in Chinese it can sound like the word for wealth.” I learned that the number four which can sound like word death is considered the most unlucky number. I now know the significance of the colors red and gold, red symbolizing fire and a color associated with the victory of fending off the mythical beast Nian. Gold symbolizes wealth and the enduring wish that one’s family should benefit from a year of prosperity. And did you know that twenty percent of the world’s population celebrates Chinese New Year? Or that in the United Kingdom 630,000 people of Chinese descent live, mostly in London?

There is something for everyone to get out of reading Chinese New Year whether that be learning where around the world Chinese New Year is celebrated and how, why people left China for a new start in hundreds of countries around the world and what they encountered in their new homeland, or the many different foods associated with the holiday. And with that I wish you Gung hay fat choy!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Celebrate the Chinese New Year With The Great Race by Christopher Corr

 

THE GREAT RACE:
STORY OF THE CHINESE ZODIAC
Written and illustrated by Christopher Corr
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto; $17.99, Ages 3-6)

 

 

A new retelling of The Great Race, a classic Chinese folk tale, comes to us from author-illustrator Christopher Corr. In this version of the Chinese zodiac story, the Jade Emperor, realizing he doesn’t know his age, creates the Great Race in order to start measuring time. The first twelve animals to cross the river get a year named after them. Each animal’s story ensues. For those unfamiliar with the animals, they are the rat, ox, horse, goat, monkey, dog, pig, snake, tiger, rabbit, rooster and last but definitely not least, the dragon.

 

Tiger and Jade Emperor interior images from The Great Race by Christopher Corr

 

This 32-page picture book contains an abundance of brilliantly colored illustrations. Shorter scenes are set in oval shapes against bright white backgrounds. In visually exciting two-page spreads, the Jade Emperor interacts with various animals; black text is subdued into the art. Corr “works in gouaches, painting on Italian and Indian handmade papers as though he’s using a pen” and “takes a great deal of inspiration from his travels—to India, North Africa, and New England, for instance.”

 

Interior artwork from The Great Race by Christopher Corr

 

All told, The Great Race: Story of the Chinese Zodiac is another wonderful way to enjoy the stories of the twelve animals representing the Chinese zodiac.

All artwork provided courtesy of Frances Lincoln Children’s Books/Quarto Books ©2018.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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The Year of the Rooster: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac

THE YEAR OF THE ROOSTER:
TALES FROM THE CHINESE ZODIAC
Written by Oliver Chin
Illustrated by Juan Calle
(Immedium; $15.95, Ages 3-8)

 

Cover image from Oliver Chin's The Year of the Rooster

 

In The Year of the Rooster: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac, author Oliver Chin explains how “the Chinese culture has organized time in cycles of twelve years.” Based upon the movement of the moon, the Chinese calendar matches animals’ personalities with those of individuals born in a specific year.

 

Interior artwork from The Year of the Rooster: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Juan Calle, Immedium ©2017.

 

This final picture book, #12 in the series, features a bilingual translation in simplified Chinese and introduces readers to Ray, a plucky young rooster and his loyal pal, Ying, the farmers’ daughter. After bumping into a pig who claims to have found a fantastic phoenix feather, the pair embark on a quest to find the elusive creature.

 

Interior artwork from The Year of the Rooster: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Juan Calle, Immedium ©2017.

 

On their journey Ray and Ying also encounter a rat, an ox, a tiger, a rabbit, a dragon, a horse, a snake, a sheep, and a monkey who share their insights on the colorfully plumaged phoenix. As the friends hunt far and wide, Ray is also learning to perfect his crow, something his father has demonstrated early in the story. The significance of meeting a phoenix is raised by the snake who tells the youngsters that “seeing the phoenix is good luck. If you find her, your quest will be well worth it.” But how long must the two travel when it seems that every new animal they meet requires them to trek even further? And if they do eventually find the phoenix, will their quest truly have been worth the effort?

 

Interior artwork of phoenix, Ray and Ying from The Year of the Rooster
Interior artwork from The Year of the Rooster: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Juan Calle, Immedium ©2017.

 

Along with its playful text and easy to follow storyline, The Year of the Rooster’s  dazzling illustrations by Juan Calle offer children adorable cartoon-like characters to connect with. As the need for diverse books remains strong, Chin’s book is an important reminder of how invaluable reading and learning about other cultures and traditions is for growing young minds. The Chinese New Year is always a great entrée into the Chinese culture and Chin’s books, as well as all of Immedium’s titles, continue to provide this engaging content. Wishing you all a very Happy Year of the Rooster!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
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The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin

THE YEAR OF THE MONKEY:
TALES FROM THE CHINESE ZODIAC

Written by Oliver Chin
Illustrated by Kenji Ono
(Immedium; $15.95, Ages 4-8)

新年好 / 新年好 (Xīnnián hǎo)
‘New Year goodness!’

The_Year_of_the_Monkey

We love getting the word out about Oliver Chin’s Tales from the Chinese Zodiac and this year we’re delighted to share his latest, The Year of the Monkey. If you know someone born in 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, and of course, 2016, they were born in the Year of the Monkey. I’m proud to have been born in The Year of the Dog, but I think many readers will enjoy figuring out which family members’ birthdays fall in the Year of the Monkey.

In just 36 pages, you’ll get to learn about the Chinese culture, its New Year, and its organization of time “in cycles of twelve years,” and symbolized by the zodiac circle. This circle consists of animals whose unique personality traits are supposed to be representative of those found in individuals born under that symbol.

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread1
Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

The little monkey Max was born to the Queen and her prankster husband, the Monkey King. “A chimp off the old block,” Max was eager to follow in his father’s footsteps, so much so that when he began school, he found it difficult to sit still and follow the teacher’s instructions. Maybe you know a child like this, or were just like Max when you were a child. Playing a sport is often a great way to channel all this pent up energy and that’s exactly what Max did. His friend Kai introduced him to jianzi, or shuttlecock, and was soon noticed by the coach. “Practice your technique and not your talking and you’ll go far.”

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread2
Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

Encouraged by his father, Max was eager to register for the annual shuttlecock tournament to try to beat the reigning champions. First though, Max, along with his pal, Kai, had to practice, practice, practice to earn a place in the big match. The boys’ commitment to honing their jianzi skills proved successful. While not initially keen on Max pursuing the sport, Max’s mother was impressed with his devotion. She even advised him to find a “special move,” something the Monkey King was thrilled to provide. After making it past the semi-finals and into the finals, the boys were now poised to face off with their formidable opponents, Tiger and Dragon, depicted as three times their size and certain of winning. Though the boys battled valiantly, it looked like they couldn’t defeat the champs. That is, until Max unleashed his powerful “Monkey Spike,” in an upset that allowed the boys to beat the best! Keeping this happy ending in mind, it’s no surprise that, in the book’s back matter, we learn from Chin that “People born in the Year of the Monkey are carefree, curious, and crafty. They are playful, nimble, and persistent. But they can be impetuous and naughty, and sometimes show off. Though they are fond of mischief, monkeys keep their eyes on the prize and are indispensable allies.”

 

The Year of the Monkey_spread4
Interior artwork from The Year of the Monkey: Tales from the Chinese Zodiac by Oliver Chin with illustrations by Kenji Ono, Immedium ©2016.

 

Children will quickly find themselves rooting for Max and Kai to defeat the Tiger and the Dragon and achieve what seemed like the unattainable. This story of perseverance and triumph is fast-paced and easy to follow. Plus for the first time, there’s text written in simplified Chinese characters making this bilingual book a great introduction for non-Chinese speakers and those already fluent who prefer a translation.The rainbow colored artwork, rendered by Dreamworks Feature Animation storyboard artist, Kenji Ono, brings the story to life as we watch Max and Kai prepare for the big contest.

I can easily see this book on school library bookshelves as its subject matter is really quite universal. The book is filled with strong action verbs, some which may be new to youngsters. These wonderful examples convey how words, complemented by fun illustrations, can add to the overall reading experience even make reading aloud for parents enjoyable and entertaining.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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