Sunday, February 21, 2016

As 2016 Chinese New Year Celebrations draw to a close...

In my family, we celebrate the traditional Chinese New Year, so for us, the celebrations end on Monday, February 22, 2016 with the traditional Lantern Festival, instead of on February 14th.  My Kiddo's husband, A/K/A my Kiddo-in-law, is from China and that is how he has always celebrated the New Year.  I love how my family has become so diverse over time, bringing new traditions we have made a part of our lives too.

But, I have to admit, that little did I know when I took my 10 year-old Kiddo to Chinatown, that the road from the Wonton Garden Restaurant on Mulberry Street, where all the waiters wore Hawaiian shirts, would turn out to be a journey that went from Manhattan to Beijing to Fuzhou to Dalian and back again for her.   With each trip, my Kiddo brought back a lot of really good tea, as well as information and many traditions found in Chinese culture.  And it's been an interesting education.  I wear my lucky red socks for Chinese New Year, I can make my own dumplings, and I find rice and noodles to be a part of my everyday diet  And I read lots of Chinese-related books, and I'm stashing away picture books just in case a baby comes along someday.

Meantime, here are a few of my latest reads that I am adding to future baby's bookshelf:

Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac
written and illustrated by Ed Young
Square Fish, 1998, 32 pages (Age 4+)

I'm a Leo, so naturally I've always wondered why there is no cat in the Chinese zodiac and after reading this, now I know why.  In this retelling, the Jade Emperor announces a race to fill up the 12 places on the Chinese calendar and that these 12 animals would each have a year named after them.  Cat and rat, being friends, decided to work together to win a place on the calendar.  Well, a rat is a rat is a rat... At the beginning of the story, there is a list of the 12 animals and their personality traits.  I was born in the year of the dog.  What's your sign?

Long Long's New Year: A Story about the Chinese Spring Festival
by Catherine Gower, illustrated by He Zhihong
Tuttle Publishing, 2005, 32 pages (Age 5+)

Long Long and his grandfather are on the way to to the city sell their cabbages to get money for their Spring Festival celebrations, when the bicycle carrying them gets a flat tire.  Long Long tells his grandfather he will get the tire fixed while grandpa sells the cabbages.  But when Long Long gets back and sees that no one is buying their cabbages, he decides to take matters in hand himself.  This is a gentle story with outstanding illustrations that give a wide view of what life was like in small Chinese village.  Includes information on the very first Spring Festival and a glossary of Chinese words used in the story.

The Magical Monkey King: Mischief in Heaven 
by Ji-Li Jiang, illustrated by Hui Hui Su-Kennedy
HarperCollins, 2002, 122 pages (Age 7+)

Yes, this is the Year of the Monkey, that trickster of the Chinese zodiac and in case you were wondering why is has that reputation, you will definitely find the answer in these tales about this "hero of Chinese legend."  In this short chapter book, readers learn how the monkey became the Monkey King, how he became powerful studying under a sage named Master Subhodi, then stole magic from the Dragon King and felt the ire of the Jade Emperor, all in his quest for immortality.  Young readers will enjoy all the antics and tricks, and will no doubt want to read more stories about the recalcitrant Monkey King.

Chinese Fairy Tale Feasts: A Literary Cookbook
by Paul Yee, illustrated by Shaoli Wang, recipes by Judy Chan
Crocodile Books, 2014, 106 pages (Age 7+)

I can't begin to tell you how much I wish this book were around when my Kiddo was growing up.  It would have been right up her alley.  It consists of a collection of both traditional and contemporary Chinese fairy tales paired with a recipe representative of the tale's theme.  So far, my favorites stories are "Banquet of Waste" with a recipe for Congee (rice porridge) and "Stretch and Fold, Stretch and Fold" with a recipe for Dan-Dan Mian (noodles with Peanut Sauce, and "The Ungrateful Wolf" with a recipe for beef lettuce wraps.  There are 13 tales and 13 recipes and we are slowly working our way through the whole book.   This is a great book for kids and their parents to read and then try the recipes together. 

Bowls of Happiness by Brian Tse, illustrated by Alice Mak,
translated by Ben Wang
China Institute of America, 2015, 84 pages (Age 4+)

This is a really lovely two part book.  The first part is the story of Piggy, a little girl whose mother loves her so much, she decides to make a special bowl for her.  As she paints the bowl with designs from nature, Piggy enters the scene on it using her imagination.  The second part of the book teaches readers all about how these beautiful bowls are made, including the importance of the symbolism, the colors used and the different shapes.  This is a beautifully illustrated, well made book.  The story of Piggy is fine for young readers, but I think the second part will appeal more to the young reader's parents. 

What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor?  Life in China's Forbidden City
by Chiu Kwong-chin, translated by Ben Wang
China Institute of America, 2016, 108 pages (Age 9+)

This is a great book for kids interested in Chinese history and culture, and a wonderful companion book to Chiu Kwong-chin's earlier book In the Forbidden City.  Illustrated with whimsical, engaging digitally produced images, young readers will learn all about who the emperors were and what they meant in Chinese society.  Of course, you can't be an emperor without some help and they were surrounded by a variety of people who served different purposes in daily life within the Forbidden City.  These are also explained, right down to the food tasters whose job it was to make sure the emperor wasn't poisoned by an enemy.  This is also a well-made, beautifully produced book as well as timely, since more and more kids are learning about China these days.  

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

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