By Pamela Lafayette
Family Reading Partnership
Gong Xi Fa Cai! Gung Hay Fat Choy! These are greetings expressed on Chinese New Year that bestow wishes to friends and family for a year of prosperity, good fortune, and wellbeing. Chinese New Year is the most important holiday in China and is celebrated in thousands of communities around the globe, from Nanfeng to New York City. The Chinese lunar calendar follows a twelve-year cycle, each year represented by an animal. This year, on February 8, we welcome the Year of the Monkey!
In ancient China, this festival offered hope and renewal for a new year after a hard winter. Today, celebrations are still rooted in tradition with Lion Dances, family customs of cleaning and decorating homes, buying new clothes, offering tokens for good fortune like Hong Bao (red envelopes), and most importantly, families gathering together. Parades with dragons dancing down the streets, firecrackers popping and whizzing from storefronts, colorful decorations strung from doorways, and lanterns zig-zagging from shop to shop, are some of the festivities that welcome in the new year with a BANG!
Children love to learn about cultures from around the world, hear and repeat new words and sounds, and travel within a story to explore traditions and celebrations. Luckily, there are dozens of wonderful children’s books about Chinese New Year, from board books to cookbooks, which do all these things and more.
In addition to the fanciful tales and festivities that stimulate the imagination and broaden a child’s view of the world, reading books about cultures and celebrations provide opportunities for families to talk about diversity and community, and all the possibilities awaiting them in a new year.
In the book, The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac discover how the Zodiac came to be, and how the cleverness and determination of a small rat impressed the Jade Emperor. In the book Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year, spend the morning with a young boy in Chinatown who is finally big enough to be part of a lion dance. In Dumpling Soup, meet a young girl and her large Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, and Haole family as they come together in Hawaii to celebrate and prepare a traditional midnight meal. Words and phrases in different languages throughout the book give depth and richness to the story, like adding spice and seasoning to the dumpling filling.
What is a dumpling? Preparing and sharing special foods are a large part of Chinese New Year, and many children’s books tempt our taste buds with descriptions and photographs of scrumptious dishes, and offer recipes for families to try.
By reading together about how families celebrate Chinese New Year, your family can join the excitement! Check out these books, and just listen for the POP, SIZZLE, and CRASH – because here comes Chinese New Year!
Chinese New Year Book List:
The Dancing Dragon by Marcia Vaughan and Stanley W. Foon
Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Ratigan, illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders
Hiss! Boom! Pop! Celebrating Chinese New Year by Tricia Morrissey, illustrated by Kong Lee
Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin
The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Anne Wilson
Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s New Year by Kate Water, photographs by Martha Cooper
A World of Holidays: Chinese New Year by Catherine Chambers
Dragon Dance, a Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap book by Joan Holub, illustrated Benrui Huang
My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz
Moonbeams, Dumplings & Dragon Boats by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz and the Children’s Museum, illustrated by Meilo So