Thursday, February 18, 2016

A Lunar New Year Celebration of Stories (FAMILY magazine reviews)

An important holiday for people in many countries around the world, the Lunar New Year celebration can last as long as fifteen days. It often ends with a Lantern Festival. As with many holidays, there are customs and traditions associated with this holiday, also called Chinese New Year. Food, firecrackers, and good fortune are all part of the merrymaking. Try out these stories with your sweeties and enjoy together.

Crouching Tiger by Ying Chang Compestine, illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
            This is relatively long (40 pages, compared to the usual 32 pages) for a picture book. But the satisfaction of a small boy who participates in the Lion Dance during the Chinese New Years parade is a happy climax to the story.
            Initially, Vinson is excited when his grandpa arrives from China. Grandpa’s morning crouching tiger dance in the garden is tempting, at first. Tai chi is one of the martial arts like kung fu, Vinson discovers. He wants to learn. But when the first lesson is a standing meditation, he feels cheated.
Also, Grandpa insists on talking Chinese, although he knows English. And he calls Vinson by his Chinese name; Ming Da. Grandpa becomes kind of embarrassing.
It’s when Grandpa’s quick movement prevents an accident from injuring someone, however, that Vinson discovers the power he craves. The sometimes detailed ink and watercolor paintings, show many contrasts: shadows with light, pastels compared to bright colors, stillness against movement, outdoors against indoors, and people in smaller groupings balancing crowds.
A helpful Author’s Note at the end briefly explains the Chinese holiday, and tai chi’s relationship to the martial arts. This is a wonderful book for youngsters to read aloud with an interested adult.

Candlewick Press, $16.99 
Interest Level: Grade 1-2

Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin
This breezy, vividly illustrated storybook is a fresh introduction to the Lunar New Year.  Readers are invited into a Chinese American family as they prepare for the holiday celebrations. The simple text moves the story briskly.
Preparations begin as the old year is swept out of the house. Decorations are hung. Dumplings are made. People prepare themselves by getting a haircut and wearing new clothes.
Firecrackers and lion dances “scare away last year’s bad luck.” Also, lanterns light the way for the New Year’s arrival. The gorgeous golden dragon in the parade guarantees a happy, lucky year ahead.
Gouache illustrations using brilliant primary colors are a merry linking with the celebration-like language of this irresistible story. It ends with a large fold out page of an enormous dragon. Information about the holiday is at the back.

Alfred A Knopf, $15.99 (hardcover) $7.99 (paperback)
Interest Level: Pre-Kindergarten – Grade 1

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim, illustrated by Grace Zong
            In this funny twist on the classic story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the returning panda bears find Goldy Luck asleep on Little Chan’s futon. The Goldy in this version is dark-haired and surprisingly, sorry for the mess she’s made. Chinese New Year traditions are included in both story and lively acrylic illustrations: Kung Hay Fat Choi (the phrase wishing each other good luck in the new year), yummy turnip cakes (with a recipe at the end), a dragon parade outside the window, lucky red envelopes, and even Chinese lantern decorations.
            Face and body expressions are clear and communicate surprise, alarm, and upset. And later, after Goldy’s apology, appreciation and pleasure. The satisfying conclusion is followed by an Author’s Note, explaining a bit more about the Chinese New Year celebrations. Also, at the back is a picture of the Chinese Zodiac, and a brief paragraph about a Lucky Character. This engaging picture book is amusing to read and compare with a more conventional version.

Charlesbridge, $16.95 
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 3

Night Sky Dragons by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham
Illustrated by Patrick Benson
Candlewick Press, $15.99 
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 4

The Runaway Wok: A Chinese New Year Tale by Ying Chang Compestine, Illustrated by Sebastia Serra
Dutton, $16.99 
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 3

A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong, illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang
Candlewick Press, $5.99 (paperback) 
Interest Level: Junior Kindergarten – Grade 2

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