Firecrackers and Red Envelopes: Books for Lunar New Year

Firecrackers and Red Envelopes: Books for Lunar New Year

The Lunar New Year is coming up tomorrow! More and more children's books about this traditional Asian holiday are being published in North America, and I couldn't let the Year of the Rat start without mentioning a few of them:

Year of the Dog, by Grace Lin, was one of my favorite books of 2006. On the one hand, it's nothing dramatic: just a year in the life of a Taiwanese-American girl. She celebrates New Year's with her family, buys school lunch (the lunch lady always gets her mixed up with the one other Asian kid), makes a new best friend, and discovers her talent. But the book is totally charming and perfect for kids who are just starting meatier chapter books. My favorite parts: the family stories that Pacy's parents tell, and the little line drawings sprinkled throughout.

Another Grace Lin book, this one for a younger audience, is Bringing In the New Year! Simple text and vibrant, cheerful illustrations show a family getting ready to celebrate the Lunar New Year: sweeping out the old year, making dumplings, getting a haircut, watching firecrackers, and finally, joining in a parade where a newly-awakened dragon heralds a lucky New Year.

Similarly, the young Chinese-Korean protagonist of Janet Wong's This Next New Year brings in the New Year by cleaning the house, eating a special New Year's soup, and celebrating with fireworks and a parade, and hoping for luck. It's nice to see a book that includes traditions from Korea as well as China, and where the hero's friends of different heritages enjoy sharing the celebrations, and though the text is spare—it would be a great read-aloud—you really get a sense of the hero's yearning for better things in the year to come.

Finally, a slightly older title: Sam and the Lucky Money, by Karen Chinn. I'm especially fond of this one because it has an actual plot, which can be a scarce commodity in books about holidays that are historically less well-known to the general American public (look for my rant on Purim books, coming up next month). As Sam faces the dilemma of how to spend his New Year's money, the reader gets a taste of one family's celebrations, along with some food for thought about the meaning of luck and about generosity.

A few more Lunar New Year titles:

  • Dragon Dance, by Joan Holub
  • Dragon Dancing, Carole Lexa Schaefer
  • Happy New Year, by Demi
  • My First Chinese New Year, by Karen Katz
  • New Clothes for New Year's Day, by Hyun-joo Bae

Enjoy, and may this next New Year be a lucky one for us all!

February 6, 2008

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