Written by Richard Ho
Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield
(Chronicle Books; $18.99, Ages 3-5)
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.
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.
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