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!
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.
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 Yearprovides a gentle introduction to the holiday celebrated around the world and includes a brief note from the author at the end.
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 Yeara 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!
CHINA: A HISTORY Written by Cheryl Bardoe, The Field Museum (Abrams BYR; $22.99, Ages 10-14)
Cheryl Bardoe’s beautiful and educational nonfiction middle-grade book, China: A History, is based on the Cyrus Tang Hall of China exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. Whether or not you’ve visited the museum, the book serves as a go-to resource for young readers looking to learn more about this powerful nation.
Both a visual feast and a wealth of knowledge, China: A History provides information in a way that’s easily understood, interspersing frequent visual aids. Chapters are enlivened with full-color maps, photos, and illustrations of the people, landscape, artifacts, and rare objects. Kids will be amazed to discover all the remarkable things related to China.
Attention-grabbing stories include the 8,000 nearly life-sized terracotta warrior statutes buried with the emperor Shi Huangdi for the afterlife. Your feet may ache when reading about the painful custom of female foot-binding (officially banned in 1911). And, fascinating for everyone who loves eating noodles: “The world’s oldest-known noodles were discovered beneath a bowl that tipped over in northwest China, and then was buried under ten feet of sediment that formed a stay-fresh seal for four thousand years.” Those are some old noodles!
In honor of the Year of the Pig, it should be noted that pigs were first domesticated in East Asia in 7,000 BC.
All ages will be fascinated by this lovely book. Bold patterns accent pages and bright colors highlight additional material. The text concludes with an interesting 20,000-year Time Line.
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 … ”
After reading Crouching Tiger written by Ying Chang Compestine with gorgeous gouaches by Yan Nascimbene ($16.99, Candlewick, ages 6-10) I can truly appreciate the beauty and spectacle that is the Chinese New Year. According to the author’s note in the book’s end pages, the Chinese New Year usually falls sometime between January and February, lasts for 15 days and is based on the lunar calendar like the Jewish holidays.
A book that brings generations together, Crouching Tiger focuses on the relationship between a young Chinese-American boy and his grandfather visiting from China. Vinson (aka Ming Da) is curious about his grandfather’s daily practice of tai chi, an ancient martial art that the author tells us is more about inner-body strength rather than something like kung fu which is more about fighting and self defense. Unable to get the knack of the discipline involved in learning tai chi, Vinson grew bored with his grandfather and “As the week passed, I felt cheated. Maybe Grandpa didn’t know real kung fu.” He even began feeling slightly embarrassed in his grandfather’s presence.
However it’s not long before there’s a shift in his attitude due to an unexpected incident that has got Vinson eager to revisit tai chi with the help of his grandpa. At the New Year parade in Chinatown Vinson experiences all the joy and excitement the celebration brings as he is honored with the role of cabbage boy in the Lion dancers’ performance. Instead of avoiding tai chi, Vinson now embraces it due to his grandfather’s patience and wisdom. “I promise I will practice harder,” Vinson says to his grandfather as they head for home when the parade has ended. You can be certain he will!
This Publisher’s Weekly Starred Review book is ideal to read with the approaching Chinese New Year, but it also shows children that while they may know a lot about electronics, there is still a lot their elders can teach them that is both interesting and enjoyable.
The Year of the Dragon, Chinese New Year, begins January 23, 2012
Ronna Mandel has chosen two books to review this week to help you kick off the Chinese New Year; the first is the winner of a New York Times BEST ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARD and the second is a Publishers WeeklySTARRED REVIEW.
I just loved the simple yet moving story ofA New Year’s Reunion written by Yu Li-Qiong with its dynamic and joyous illustrations by Zhu Cheng-Liang ($15.99, Candlewick Press, ages 3-5). Perhaps as early as preschool, I used to enjoy learning about holidays and celebrations around the world. Whether hearing stories about Children’s Day in Japan or Guy Fawkes Day in England, I would sit back, close my eyes and transport myself to the destination and imagine myself participating in the festivities.
A New Year’s Reunion manages to recreate the anticipation and excitement of the Chinese New Year for young readers as well as convey the beautiful story of a Maomao, a little girl in China, being reunited with her beloved father who works in faraway destinations building houses. Each year at the Chinese New Year Maomao’s Papa returns home for several days and together the daddy and daughter delight in all the little pleasures a parent can share with their child. While Maomao was indeed sad to see her Papa have to pack up and once again travel hundreds of miles from home for his job, the fact that the two, together with Maomao’s loving mother, had spent such quality, love-filled time together was certainly what helped the family endure such a difficult separation.
Whether their parents travel on business for long or short periods of time, children will relate to the universal emotions so touchingly portrayed in this delightful book.
WINNER OF A NEW YORK TIMES BEST ILLUSTRATED CHILDREN’S BOOK AWARD