Tuesday, February 8, 2005

Celebrate Chinese New Year in literature

Happy, Happy Chinese New Year!My First Chinese New Year [MY 1ST CHINESE NEW YEAR -OS]
Happy, Happy Chinese New Year!
By Demi
Crown Books, 24 pages, $8.95
Happy New Year!/Kung-Hsi Fa-Ts'ai!
By Demi
Dragonfly Books, 40 pages, $6.99 paperback
My First Chinese New Year
By Karen Katz
Henry Holt, 28 pages, $14.95
Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes 
By Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz and The Children's Museum, Boston
Harcourt, 74 pages, $20

Learn about Chinese culture and a spectacular Chinese holiday with children's books
Published in The News Tribune, Feb. 8, 2005

Happy New Year!
Chinese New Year, that is.

Wednesday begins the most important and exciting of all Chinese festivals, a 15-day celebration of new beginnings and family togetherness. Here are some good children's books to look for during this joyful holiday.
"My First Chinese New Year" by Karen Katz is a new title for children from preschool and up. Katz depicts a girl and her family getting ready for the holiday, with an clear explanation of what each step of the preparations means.
"First we decorate the walls with cut papers all red and bright. Red means good luck and happiness in China," the child explains.
The story continues through the celebration, big family dinner, parade in Chinatown and joyful last scene where everyone shouts "Gung Hay Fat Choy! Happy New Year!"
Katz's happy illustrations are collage and mixed media in bright shades of red, pink, purple, turquoise, yellow and orange. It looks as though she's used Chinese paper for many of the patterned sections of clothing, wall and floors.
"Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities & Recipes," by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz and The Children's Museum of Boston, came out in 2002. It's packed with great stuff, not just for Chinese New Year, but other holidays, too. It's also beautifully designed, with lovely watercolor illustrations by Meilo So dancing through the pages.
In the section on Chinese New Year and the Lantern Festival (the first and 15th days of the first moon), we learn that families like to welcome the year with a clean slate. Houses are cleaned from top to bottom, windows washed, gates painted. Everyone gets new outfits. Debts are settled.
The authors tell traditional stories, including one about the Kitchen God, who watches over each household and gets special treatment this time of year so that he will take only good reports to the Jade Emperor, ruler of the world.
Recipes for dumplings and peanut sauce, instructions for writing good luck characters, directions for making and playing Chinese shuttlecock and lessons on the Chinese zodiac are included, with much more.
The authors also give the same fun and comprehensive treatment to the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival and Qing Ming and the Cold Foods Festival.
"Happy, Happy Chinese New Year!" by Demi is a reissue of an earlier book, "Happy New Year! Kung-Hsi Fa-Ts'ai!" The cover on the newer book is vivid turquoise, the older one, bright red. The format on the new one is smaller and less comprehensive. The earlier book has more information, and the print is larger and easier to read.
Both are fun to pore over and informative, bursting with colorful pictures of children taking part in the traditions of the holidays. Two-page spreads have emphatic titles such as "Paint and Parade!" "Trees and Flowers" and "Light the Lights."
Demi has created many fine books for children involving Asian history and culture, including folk and fairy tales and biographies of the Dalai Lama and Buddha.
Three more terrific Chinese New Year books have been around a bit longer but are still available.
"This Next New Year," by Medina resident Janet S. Wong, is the story of a Chinese Korean boy preparing for the new year. He describes how he and his friends, who come from many cultures, celebrate Chinese New Year with a blend of old and new traditions.
In poignant rhyming text, the young narrator takes extra care with activities designed to bring good luck, hoping that he and his family can have a fresh start this year.
Vividly colored illustrations by Yangsook Choi round out a nice offering (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 32 pages, $16).
"The Runaway Rice Cake" by Ying Chang Compestine is an entertaining folktale a bit reminiscent of "The Gingerbread Man." But in this story, illustrated by Tungwai Chau, there's a poor family, a hungry old lady and holiday generosity that gets rewarded in the end (Simon & Schuster, 34 pages, $16.95).
"Celebrating Chinese New Year" by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith is a photo-essay following a 10-year-old boy and his family through their preparations and celebration of the holiday in San Francisco's Chinatown. Lawrence Migdale's photographs capture the excitement and warmth of family dinners, lion dancers, red envelopes filled with lucky money and the big New Year's parade with its magnificent dragons (Holiday House, 32 pages, $6.95).
-Rebecca Young

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