Monday, February 6, 2017

PoPo's Lucky Chinese New Year by Virginia Loh-Hagan, illustrated by Renné Benoit

It's almost Chinese New Year, and PoPo has come all the way from China to celebrate with her Chinese American granddaughter. And as her granddaughter learns, there is a lot to do to get ready for the New Year celebrations. There's cleaning, washing, and cooking, red and gold decorations be made and hung up, including a sign the says Fu - but remember hang it upside down to mean luck has arrived.

When the New Year finally arrives, PoPo, her granddaughter and little grandson first make an offering to their ancestors, then get dressed in their new red clothes. And then there are yummy almond cookies to eat (I loved these as a kid and still do) and off to the big dragon parade, where they throw tiny firecracker snaps to chase away the evil spirits. All this is followed by a red and gold lucky envelope with crisp new money in it.

PoPo's Lucky Chinese New Year is a sweet intergenerational story. Having grandmother come from China makes the learning experience for her granddaughter all the more fun and important. Cultural beliefs and rituals are often handed down from one generation to another, but this brings the meanings so much closer to the (unnamed) Chinese American granddaughter, as sometimes ritual is observed, but the reasons for them can get lost.

The story isn't particularly text heavy, and I think readers may find the explanation for each ritual, which is done in yellow against a strip of red at the bottom or top of the page, very interesting, without being overwhelming, nor do they interfere with the story. The pencil and watercolor illustrations are homey, warm and inviting. They really capture the little girl's different moods as the family get ready for New Year; after all, sometimes it is just hard work, but other times it is so much fun; sometimes baby brothers are pests, and other times, they are cuddly. 

As much as I enjoyed reading about why things are done for the New Year, I was a little thrown off by the fact that the girl and her baby brother weren't named. Also, I am so used to hearing Mandarin that the Cantonese threw me off at first.  For example, I think of lucky money as hongbao not lai see. But in fact, most Chinese people in the United States are Cantonese, so it made sense in the end.

PoPo's Lucky Chinese New Year is an excellent way to teach all young readers, regardless of whether they are Chinese or not, about this most significant celebration in the lunar calendar, while stressing the importance of family, and especially grandparents, for connecting kids to their past and their culture.

At the end of the book, you will find instructions for making a Chinese pellet Drum to make some noise and help chase away the evil spirits.

Here are some other instructions for more easy crafts young readers might like:

Kids may have fun making their own lai see. Simple instructions and templates can be found HERE.

Chinese New Year lanterns are also popular to make and easy instructions and templates can be found HERE.

Crayola has a nice, easy dragon puppet that can be made by kids HERE.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was purchased for my personal library

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


  1. Hello Alex, we were in Hong Kong on route to Australia a few years ago and happened to be there during Chinese New Year. The flower market and all the shops were decked out in beautiful shades of red and gold, which was a joy. I decided I couldn’t leave without buying some decorations to give to our granddaughters and some to bring home. Coming out of one of the shops I was handed half a dozen beautifully decorated red envelopes (I’ve still got them) but had no idea what they might be for although it did cross my mind it might be money – and now you’ve just confirmed it, thank you.

    I have a feeling my little granddaughters would love this book, and I could certainly learn from it.

    1. I'm so glad that was helpful. I would love to visit Hong Kong some day. It sounds very exciting.

  2. You should certainly go if you get the chance it is well worth visiting. We wouldn’t have gone if our son had not moved to Australia, but then we wouldn’t have visited Australia either. I’m absolutely terrified of flying but after not seeing my son for over five years I had to grit my teeth and get on a flight. We’ve been several times since then so I don’t dread the journeys quite as much as I did at the start.


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