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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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Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk

Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk
with illustrations by Alexandria Neonakis
is reviewed by Hilary Taber.

Kulu_cover_snd1-300x236

When I first saw the cover of Sweetest Kulu (Inhabit Media, $16.95, Ages 0-6), I knew I was hooked. I said to a friend, “I think this is the dearest picture book cover I have ever seen!” I still think so! Of course I wondered what “Kulu” meant. The back of the book provided me with the information I needed.

Kulu is an Inuktitut endearment given to babies, and younger children. The author, Celina Kalluk, is Inuit and an acclaimed throat singer. Her book is as sweet as the sweetest Kulu pictured on the cover. This charming picture book is a gentle lullaby poem from a mother to her child. It tells the story of the day that artic animals from the surrounding region hear about the birth of Kulu, for the wind has spread the news about this remarkable baby.

“Melodies of Wind arrived, sharing stories of how the weather forms,
and telling you to always listen closely. Wise wind had learned your name,
charming Kulu, and invited the world to meet you.”

Each animal that comes to see Kulu bestows a gift upon the baby, much as the fairies in Sleeping Beauty bestowed a gift to the newborn girl. However, each gift beautifully reflects the tie between nature and this brand new arrival, this bundle of joy. One of my favorite pages shows the nobility of the Caribou juxtaposed with the small, sweetly sleeping Kulu on his back:

“Caribou choose patience for you, cutest Kulu. He gave you the ability
to look to the stars, so that you will always know where you are and
may gently lead the way.”

Such wonderful gifts are given by each animal that they far outweigh the gifts given to Sleeping Beauty of beauty and riches. Each gift connects the baby with the land, with the gift of believing in yourself, the ability to give love, the predisposition to help those in need, and so on until you know that Kulu will be guided by these lessons for life. Kulu, in being blessed by the wind and each animal, will always be a blessing to others along the path of life. I can’t think of a better way for a life to begin. Illustrator Alexandra Neonakis brings to life each scene with adorable, but also breathtaking illustrations that combine the sweetest Kulu with each animal who has come to visit.

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Interior artwork from Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk with illustrations by Alexandria Neonakis, Inhabit Media ©2014.

This is one of those books that make you want to hug it to you, because it’s that good and true. If I had a child, I would want that child to have the blessings of a good character that Kulu receives. As an aunt, I wish these for my nephew for they make for a truly happy and fulfilling life. Children will love learning the names of each arctic animal. The magical, rhythmic language of the book will be a wonderful bridge between the activities of the day, helping children transition peacefully into their just-before-bed reading.

Sweetest Kulu would make an ideal present for a new baby in your life, and an excellent baby shower gift as well. The whole world seems to be in love with Kulu in this book, and I am too! Take the opportunity to purchase this book now if you have little ones to read to, and buy another to stash away for that baby shower you know you will be invited to! I will be buying one especially for my nephew, who is to me one of the sweetest children there ever was! I want him to learn these important lessons so that they will be a blessing to him all of his life, and guide him to true happiness.

Interested in more stories like Sweetest Kulu? Contact Inhabit Media or Birch Bark Books.

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