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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Great Children's Books for Chinese New Year

With Chinese New Year less than two weeks away, I thought I'd share with y'all some of my favorite picture books about the holiday. Because we all know I love childrens books. One thing I've found is that most of the book lists created for Chinese New Year, while containing excellent books about Chinese culture, don't necessarily focus on the actual holiday.

I mean, Red is a Dragon by Grace Lin is an EXCELLENT childrens picture book. And yes, it does contain a page that talks about red dragons and envelopes, but it also contains a page that talks about orange crabs at the beach. Ms. Lin wrote that book to teach children colors, not to teach them about Chinese New Year, so why people include it on their CNY holiday lists, I'll never understand. Anyways, rest assured that every single one of these books focuses on the Chinese New Year holiday in some way.

Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin. Now HERE'S the Grace Lin book y'all should read for Chinese New Year. It follows one Chinese-American family as they sweep out the old year and celebrate the coming of spring. Our two favorite parts of this book are the surprise fold-out page that shows an extra-long dragon and the author's gentle and subtle handling of the fear many young children feel when faced with the loud noise of firecrackers and the lion dancers. We adore Grace Lin books at our house, so this one makes our top three.

The Dancing Dragon by Marcia K. Vaughan. If you will be a guest reader at your child's school sometime around Chinese New Year, this is definitely a book you should bring. As you read, the book expands to become an eight page panorama of a fierce dragon and the appreciative crowd watching the Chinatown parade. The children love looking at the accordion-style pages as they fold out. To make the reading even more interactive, add sound effects when the author mentions the gongs, symbols, drums and firecrackers (for those, pop bubble wrap). The children love it!

Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap Book by Joan Holub. A wonderfully interactive book with simple text for young readers, Dragon Dance shares oft unmentioned cultural traditions with its readers, such as eating noodles last during the holiday dinner. One word of warning, however: the flaps in this book are thin and tear easily, so I recommend this book for young preschoolers rather than toddlers. Also, the Tongginator forced me to deface our copy of the book, since I could never seem to remember how to say this in Mandarin:


The Great Race by Dawn Casey. While I do adore the zodiac book Cat and Rat by Ed Young, the illustrations are simply too frightening for the Tongginator. This book's bright and whimsical collages offer an excellent alternative. The story retells the ancient legend of the Jade Emperor's decision to hold a race across the great river to determine the 12 years of the zodiac calendar. Thirteen animals race, but the rat - eager to come in first - tricks the unfortunate cat into missing the finish line until it's too late. Not only do children learn why the zodiac calendar begins with the rat and ends with the pig, it also explains why cats and rats are mortal enemies.

Hiss! Pop! Boom! Celebrating Chinese New Year by Tricia Morrissey. Gorgeous watercolors and an elegantly simple, yet detailed narrative make this book one of our favorites for elementary school students. Alongside the beautiful brush paintings and fine art Chinese calligraphy, you will find answers to many questions about the spring holiday. Why do friends exchange green-leafed tangerines during Chinese New Year? Why are the sweet candies found on the Tray of Happiness only served during the two week holiday and not the rest of the year? What's behind the booming sound of those loud firecrackers? This book definitely makes our top three.

Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan's Chinese New Year by Kate Waters. The vibrant colors of this book's realistic photographs make it one of the Tongginator's favorite CNY reads. The story follows Ernie Wan as he prepares to dance in his first Lion Dance during the New York City Chinatown Chinese New Year parade. I especially love how this book invites readers to follow one family's cultural customs, such as burning incense at the altar for one's ancestors, rather than instructing readers as to how the holiday should be celebrated.

My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz. Great for preschoolers and kindergartners, Katz's book explains many of the traditions and customs of Chinese New Year with simple text and colorful illustrations. The story oozes with familial warmth and love, building to the ever-exciting dragon dance and (Cantonese) shouts of "Gung Hay Fat Choy!" Now if only it included the recipe to the Eight Precious Rice Pudding... This book also makes our top three because it is one of the few suitable for younger readers.

The Runaway Rice Cake by Ying Chang Compestine. Although the impoverished Chang family found only enough rice flour to make one nian gao (a New Year's rice cake), they feel determined to celebrate the holiday. They won't let anything stop the celebration, not even a rice cake that comes alive, pops out of the pan and leads the Chang family on a merry chase through their village. This tale, reminiscent of The Gingerbread Baby, teaches the importance of generosity, as neighbors and an approving Kitchen God share gifts of food with the family after they perform a kind deed. One warning for parents of children with sensitive souls: the cute and anthropomorphic rice cake gets eaten in the end!

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn. Most Chinese New Year picture books read like non-fiction stories that explain the customs of the holiday, but Sam and the Lucky Money is a true piece of fiction that still manages to share the flavor of the local Chinatown celebration. Sam has lucky money from several red envelopes burning in his pocket, but soon feels frustrated that it won't go as far as he'd hoped. When he stumbles into a homeless man on the street, Sam slowly comes to realize - amid the backdrop that is a Chinese New Year parade - that giving is more important than receiving.

This Next New Year by Janet Wong. I enjoy this book because of its multicultural emphasis. A spirited Chinese-Korean boy talks about his plans for the Lunar New Year, while his best friends, a German-French boy and a Hopi-Mexican girl, join in on the fun. The story follows the boy on his persistent quest for luck, which - fortunately for parents - leads him to clean out his closet and floss his teeth, among other things. I also like that this book differentiates between what the Tongginator calls "regular New Year" versus "Chinese or Lunar New Year."

17 comments:

Buckeroomama said...

I knew I could count on you to come out with a great list of children's books about CNY! Thanks, TM!

Kim K. said...

Three of our favorites are on your list. I'm always look for new ones to add to our collection. Thanks for sharing. I just posted CNY Tiger craft ideas on my blog. Great minds think alike!!

Alyson & Ford said...

Love the list. I will get buying soon. Thanks!

Alyzabeth's Mommy

Chelsea Gour said...

SOOOO glad you posted this. I have that Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragonboats book, but that's it. Another adoptive mom and I are throwing a CNY party for a group of homeschoolers and now I know just the books to get for that day!! Thankyouthankyouthankyou!!

monica said...

That is an amazing list! I see a big purchase from Amazon in my future. Thanks again for keeping us so well-informed. Now where is that broom...

LucisMomma said...

Thanks for the good ideas. I am happy to see that I actually own two of these titles already. :) and what, no mentino of that terribly important holiday, Ground Hog's Day? lol!!

Denise said...

great list...we only have one of these...off to amazon I go...

Sharie said...

Thanks for the great list! I just sent you an email regarding help on another subject and thought - OH I need to order some new CNY books - and here's a great start:)

Briana's Mom said...

We have a few of these! Dragon Dance is Briana's FAVORITE. We read it over and over and over.

Aunt LoLo said...

Oh, these are SO going on the Amazon Wishlist!

Wanda said...

Thank you. You are always a plethora of important information.
:)

Half Gaelic, Half Garlic! said...

As always....you do not disappoint!! thanks for the list:)

Aunt LoLo said...

Hahaha...looking through the list, I realized we've read Sam and the Lucky Money...only I had NO idea. It was one of the only Chinese-language children's books we could find in our library, but it was written in Simplified...so even my mother in law couldn't read it properly to BBJ. LOL At least the pictures did a decent job of telling the story!!

Jean said...

Thank you!! I love these posts!! I am going to go order my books on Amazon!

Joan Holub said...

Great list with some of my faves for CNY. Thanks for including Dragon Dance on your list, Tonggu Momma!

The Gang's Momma! said...

I was wondering around B&N last Thursday night while LadyBug played her brains out at Wind Ensemble rehearsals. I had two and a half hours completely to myself (gasp! I KNOW!) and I kept picking up and putting down several of these exact same books. I couldn't decide what was going to be a good purchase and what would be appropriate for Li'l E's age. I thought to myself, I'm going to go home and dig through TM's archives and see what she has recommended in the past. Wow.

And then, I take a couple days to sit and respond to this post and who comments just ahead of me?! A real live author of one of your recommendations. Shiver. Ooooooh! A real live author.

You are the coolest.

M3 said...

Hey thanks, this is an awesome list. We only have a few CNY books, and our girls LOVE to be read to. (Is that totally screwed up grammatically? It looks odd when I read it back. Oh well.)