Monday, February 10, 2014

Two of my favorite Chinese New Year Picture Books - My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz and Chinatown by William Low

Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival and Lunar New Year, is celebrated for 15 days.  The dates of the New Year are figured out each year using the lunar calendar.  Each month in the lunar calendar begins on a new moon, the darkest day of the month.  Chinese New Year begins on the second new moon after the Winter Solstice and ends on the next full moon, the brightest night of the month.  It is a time for honoring ancestors and deities, and there are certain traditions that are followed every year.

What are these traditions?  You can learn all about them in My First Chinese New Year written and illustrated by Karen Katz.

In this charming picture book for very young readers, a little girl explains each tradition as she and her family get ready to celebrate the New Year.  Fist they decorate the walls with bright red cut papers.  Red is the color of luck in China.

Next, she sweeps away any bad luck for the previous year.  Tiny blossoms are bought to remind us that things grow again.  Ancestors are honored with bowls of oranges and tangerines for luck and money.

Everything is new - new clothes, new haircut, a fresh beginning.  And on New Year's Eve, the whole family gets together to enjoy traditional New Year's food.  Then, all the children receive pretty little red envelopes containing lucky money.

And finally, the big Chinese New Year parade, with music and dancing, and the guest of honor - a big, long, colorful Dragon for luck.

Katz has illustrated My First Chinese New Year in the very bright colors associated with the New Year and using patterns with a very nice Chinese folk art feel to them.

I loved this book, all the more since much of what goes on are traditions I have become more and more familiar with.  And I am sure that you will enjoy learning about Chinese New Year, too.  Though this book is designed for preschool kids, it is a perfect book for kids in kindergarten through 2nd grade because it gives so many good ideas for activities - making lucky money envelopes, red lanterns for the Lantern Festival on the last day of the New Year celebrations.  Instructions for all kinds of arts and crafts can be found on Chinese New Year Crafts for Children on Pinterest.

Chinatown written and illustrated by William Low is a book I always enjoy reading.  When my Kiddo was young, she wanted to go to Chinatown in lower Manhattan.  So, we got on the subway one Saturday morning and made out way there.  It was kind of a drizzly day, but the cheerful colors, the delicious smells, and the friendly merchants made us forget about that.  And every time I read Chinatown, I think about that day and how much fun we had.

Chinatown about a boy and his grandmother who live there and who go out for a walk together every morning and he tells the reader about all the sights he sees as they go along.  There is the Tai Chi class in the park, the cobbler, who can make old shoes look like new ones, and delivery trucks making there rounds.

The sights and smells of restaurants and the musty herbal shop, where you can get the things needed for a nice winter medicinal soup, are all part of their routine.  And on Saturdays, there are King Fu lessons.

But most special of all is Chinese New Year.  Even with crowds of people, the boy and grandmother find good places to watch as the colorful parade pass by them, until finally the favorite lion comes along, doing its traditional lion dance.  "GUNG HAY FAT CHOY" the boy and this grandmother say to each other, Happy Chinese New year!

Low's lovely detailed colorful illustrations are done in oil paints on board to capture the wonderful tradition sights one might find in any of the different Chinatowns in various American cities.  If you are lucky enough to live near a Chinatown, it is a wonderful place to visit.  And a visit for Chinese New Year is even more special.  Of course, you might want to read and enjoy Low's book before and after going with your children as I did with my Kiddo.

My First Chinese New Year is recommended for readers age 3+
Chinatown is recommended for readers age 5+
Both books were borrowed from the children's library at Bank Street School

Good Luck, Good Health, Good Cheer and Pass a Happy New Year


  1. Lovely choices Alex, I know two little girls who will be getting copies of these. We visited China Town in Malaysia with them in November. Zoe may well remember it as she was nearly three, but I don’t think Lilly will. Either way these books will make a nice un-birthday present for them.

  2. I have never read either of these. Based on the covers and your description I will be reading both soon! Excellent! Thanks for sharing. :)


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