Six great Lunar New Year story books for children
For me, the essence of Lunar New Year is perfectly embodied in A New Year's Reunion, the award-winning picture book by Yu Liqiong. I didn't discover it until 2011, and since then I have read it countless times, not just during the season but throughout the year. I've read it not just to my children but at storytelling sessions all around town, and not only in its original Putonghua but also in Cantonese and English.
The story is undeniably timeless, but "timeless" can sometimes suffer from a case of "too many times". This year, I heartily embrace change and explore other books relating to Lunar New Year.
Karen Katz is a bestselling author of lift-the-flap books for toddlers. In My First Chinese New Year, Katz provides a lively introduction to the festivities surrounding Lunar New Year that even the youngest reader will enjoy. The story follows a young girl as she celebrates with her family, including watching the dragon dance at a Chinatown parade.
For a multicultural look at the Lunar New Year, author Janet S. Wong and illustrator Yangsook Choi teamed up to create This Next New Year, told in the first person by a Chinese-Korean. The story looks at holiday rituals through the eyes of the young narrator, as well as those of a cast of his friends from diverse ethnic backgrounds; and explains in simple terms the concepts of starting anew, and of welcoming good luck and good fortune.
Showing readers that you don't have to be Chinese to celebrate this holiday, this award-winning classic is available in English only, Chinese-English bilingual, and Korean-English bilingual editions.
Grace Lin, author of Newbery Honour novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, presents a brightly illustrated story of Lunar New Year traditions in Bringing in the New Year. It follows a Chinese-American family as it prepares for the holiday, and features rituals such as sweeping the floors, making dumplings and wearing new clothes.
Another entertaining interpretation of the rituals relating to Lunar New Year is Demi's Happy, Happy Chinese New Year! Demi's interest in Eastern traditional celebrations is informed by her husband Tze-si Huang, and she has written and illustrated a number of children's books about not only Lunar New Year, but also Buddha, the Dalai Lama and Chinese folktales. Happy, Happy Chinese New Year! is filled with informative descriptions and detailed illustrations. In addition to the rituals of washing and cutting hair, clearing debts and setting off firecrackers, Demi also explains the symbolic meaning behind preparing and eating certain traditional foods such as pork, fish and rice.
While the above titles focus on the rituals surrounding the festival, Lai Ma offers a hilarious look into the origins of the Chinese Zodiac in The 12 Animals of the Chinese Zodiac, a Chinese picture book with bilingual CD.
Lai Ma's version, of how each animal came to be included in the zodiac and in its particular order, may not be the most loyal to the original legend, but it is the most playful and amusing. He ingeniously incorporates into the plot the different traits of each animal, thereby fulfilling the adage, "Your personality determines your destiny."
Lai Ma's illustrations of anthropomorphic animals are full of zany details that beg to be revisited again and again.
Popular storyteller Angie Lin will be reading The 12 Animals of the Chinese Zodiac and other picture books in Putonghua on February 16 and 17. Interested families can sign up at the Bring Me A Book website."
May your coming year be filled with peace and kindness, two traits associated with the goat.
Annie Ho is chairwoman of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong bringmeabook.org.hk a leading advocate of family literacy in Hong Kong