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.
Back matter includes the pronunciation and meaning of several Chinese New Year wishes, more information about the holiday, and the Chinese zodiac.
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!
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 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.”
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.”
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
Get downloadable coloring pages here. Download the app on your iPad, too!
Mark your calendars L.A. readers. The illustrator, Jennifer Wood, will be at Kidspace Children’s Museum on 2/1/14 for a reading and signing of the book. She’ll be at Vromans in Pasadena on 2/8/14, at 10:30 a.m.
Did you know that the Chinese New Year is a 15 day holiday based on the movement of the moon, and is organized in cycles of 12 years? The way the years get named comes from the Chinese zodiac which is made up of 12 animals, each with unique qualities, and each belonging to certain years. I discovered that I was born in The Year of the Dog, but that’s a whole ‘nother story! The Chinese culture believes that if your birth year falls under a particular animal, both you and that animal should share the same personality traits.
In The Year of the Horse, ninth in the Talesfrom the Chinese Zodiac series, readers will meet Hannah, a foal and Tom, the boy who befriends her. Together the two play whenever they can and grow close as Hannah grows stronger. When Tom’s teacher Lao Shi is requested to paint something special for the Governor, she worries how the artwork will be delivered to the capital so far away. Tom volunteers, but Lao Shi tells him, “The journey is too long and wild to walk alone … Someone must go with you.” Since the picture book is titled The Year of the Horse, it may come as no surprise then to children that Hannah is eager to be considered capable of the task and partner with Tom on the journey.
However, getting to the capital safely is not easy. Hannah’s parent advise her, “Dear, keep on the path and stay alert.” And while both Tom and Hannah are responsible, little do they know what challenges await them on their trip. Wood, an animation designer at Nickelodeon, brings her vivid, kid-friendly style to The Year of the Horse, making every page feel like a scene from a TV show. Kids will love the look of the various animals included in the story including an ox, a dog, a sheep, a dragon, a tiger, a snake and a monkey. They’ll also get easily caught up in the adventure Chin’s created. After some very close calls, Tom and Hannah arrive at the capital and deliver to the Governor the scroll Lao Shi’s painted. Once home, the two are welcomed and cheered. Hannah’s displayed valiant spirit as has Tom. They “blazed their own trail” and succeeded. No wonder the Year of the Horse celebrates their derring-do. I loved the positive “can-do” message the book conveyed, and though our kids are not going to be sent on such a mission, they’ll enjoy the vicarious experience and understand the pride that Lao Shi and Hannah’s parents feel about the pair’s major accomplishment.
Do you share those qualities with Tom and Hannah or know someone who does? According to the back matter in the book, “People born in the Year of the Horse are energetic and animated. They are proud and love attention … ”