Written by Li-Hsian Choo

Chinese New Year is almost here! The Chinese New Year celebrations, part of the larger Lunar New Year, take place over 15 days for Chinese families in Malaysia, Singapore, China, and around the world. Watch this informative video by Twinkl about the significance of each of the 15 days.

Many will enjoy family reunions or take a holiday together. During this period, you might like to spend some of that special time bonding with your children over a good book.

So I would like to share a few new festive books I have found as well as some of my family’s favourite annual Chinese New Year reads here. They help shed light on the meaningful traditions observed during this time and enable our children to understand and appreciate how different families celebrate this festival in different ways. Since we are also ringing in the Year of the Wood Dragon, some books will feature fun stories about Chinese Dragons.

For Tiny Tots (3 to 5 years)

For those with very little ones, you can check out Chinese New Year Colors, a really clever board book by Rich Lo and its read-aloud here.

 

Source: Amazon

 

Hannah Eliot has produced many lovely board books on cultural festivals as part of her Celebrate the World series. We especially love her Lunar New Year one that highlights the Lunar New Year experience of a child living in the city. Children living in cities will certainly be able to relate to the scenes of observing the new moon from a mall or the balcony of a high-rise condominium, spring cleaning, playing with firecrackers, watching lion and dragon dances, and enjoying festive meals with family. It also shares simple, child-friendly stories about the significance of symbols related to the season. Alina Chau’s delightful, whimsical illustrations really bring Hannah’s wonderful little story to life. I highly recommend buying the hard copy, but you can also enjoy the read-aloud here.

Source: Amazon

Books by American Chinese author Grace Lin, the 2022 Children’s Literature Legacy Award winner, are also forever favourites in our household. When our twins were small, we used to read books like Dim Sum for Everyone or Round Is A Mooncake  to fill in the ‘cultural gap’, in the absence of more local Southeast Asian books featuring Chinese celebrations and experiences.

 

Bringing in the New Year’s large format, brightly-coloured art and fun text evokes all the five senses, bringing to life not only the sights but also the sounds, smells, sensations, and tastes of the Chinese New Year, making it a real joy to read to children. Find the read-aloud here.

Source: Amazon

If your child has an Epic online library subscription, you can check out Popo’s Lucky Chinese New Year and its accompanying read-aloud here. This is a great little story to start a conversation with children about the many cultural practices and taboos relating to the Chinese New Year that they may have observed around them.

 

Source: NBC News

During this period, many families may also try to catch a Lion or Dragon Dance at a mall or other location (Liondancefreak always has the most complete schedules!). So, we thought it might also be nice to revisit this old book, Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-The-Flap Book by Joan Holub. Find the read-aloud and learn some new Chinese words here.

 

Source: Amazon

For Emerging Readers (6 to 8 years)

For children who are independent English readers, picture books with slightly more sophisticated content and words would be best. Young emerging readers can attempt to read these on their own or read these together with a parent. Many picture books come with good discussion guides and related craft activities (that you can find online) to help children appreciate the characters and theme of the story better.

 

A new picture book that we read recently and like a lot is Boys Don’t Fry. The story is set during the eve of the Lunar New Year and explores the theme of gender stereotyping in a refreshing (and delicious!) way. It is written by Malaysian mum, Kimberly Lee, who is also the Managing Editor of Makchic, a popular Malaysian online parenting magazine. Little Malaysian Baba, Jin wishes his family would ask him to help prepare the Lunar New Year feast and is disappointed that boys, or Babas, never get asked – only Nyonyas, the girls. As we follow Jin on his journey of breaking stereotypes in a traditional Nyonya kitchen, we learn about his family, culture, traditions, and the many interesting ingredients used in their Lunar New Year Reunion feast.

Source: Lit Books

 

There are many versions of this famous Chinese New Year tale, but, our favourite is The Great Race by Christopher Corr. The striking illustrations done in the colourful style of traditional Chinese folk paintings that incorporate contemporary elements, and its lively words make the book a truly memorable read. You may want to listen to the read-aloud version here.

Source: Amazon

After reading this book, since it is the Year of the Dragon, get your children to try drawing a Chinese New Year Dragon by using these great follow-and-draw videos from the Art for Kids Hub channel on YouTube:

·      How to Draw An Easy Chinese New Year Dragon

·     How to Draw A Chinese New Year Dragon – Advanced

·     How to Draw A Chinese Dragon Face

Another fun book featuring a Chinese Dragon (that never shows his face!) is How to Catch a Dragon by Adam Wallace (the read-aloud version can be found here). The story takes place just before the Chinese New Year when a little boy is getting ready for the festival with his mother and grandmother. His mother mentions how a dragon would bring them good health and good fortune this year, so the boy and his friends decide to try to catch one! The Teachers Pay Teachers site also has a great activity pack that complements this story.

Source: Amazon

 

As a parent, I personally love A New Year's Reunion (written by Yu Li-Qiong and illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang) so much that I bought both the English and Chinese versions! This poignant, richly illustrated story about families with migrant worker parents in China won the prestigious Feng Zikai Chinese Children's Picture Book Award in 2009. It will resonate with many families who have experienced separation out of economic necessity and as a result of the pandemic. It also offers deep and subtle lessons for our children on the importance of being grateful for the daily presence of parents and family. The story shows us how the strong love within a family can be sustained over time and even across great distances. The farewell exchange between the little girl and her dad at the end is both heart-warming and heart-breaking. You can find the read-aloud to the English version here.

Source: Chalk Academy

For independent readers (8 to 12 years)

Our twins are now ten and avid readers of chapter books including those with long texts. So, here are some good ones in this category that feature Chinese New Year elements or general Chinese cultural themes. You may want to try them.

The Year of the DogThe Year of the Rat, and Dumpling Days are books in a Chinese New Year-inspired series written by the previously mentioned Grace Lin. The series follows a little American Chinese girl named Pacy Lin as she navigates each Chinese New Year, interacts with her multicultural family, forges new friendships, discovers her talent for writing, and travels to visit her mother’s family in Taiwan.

Source: Online

 

Grace Lin’s latest book Chinese Menu The History, Myths, and Legends Behind Your Favorite Foods, though not related to the Chinese New Year, is still a must-read. As the publisher notes, “From fried dumplings to fortune cookies, here are the tales behind your favourite foods. Do you know the stories behind delectable dishes – like the fun connection between scallion pancakes and pizza? Or how dumplings cured a villager’s frostbitten ears? Or what wonton soup can tell about the creation of the world?” Separated into courses like a Chinese menu, these tales – based on real history and folklore – take us on a delightful journey of discovery.

Source: Amazon

 

Anyone here was a fan of Nancy Drew growing up? Do revisit the series with your children through The Chinese New Year Mystery (Nancy Drew Notebooks #39). In the story, the young detective and her friends get into the Chinese New Year spirit by looking for a dragon costume (made by their class for the parade) that goes missing.

Source: Amazon

For Readers of All Ages

I recently chanced upon this lovely book, which I think many parents with older children studying and working abroad will be able to relate to. The beautiful illustrations (by one of my favourite illustrators, Qin Leng) and poignant text in New Year (A Lunar New Year Book for Kids) by Mei Zihan make it a moving picture book to read when we are missing family far away during Lunar New Year. It is about a father who longs to be with his daughter who now lives in another country. As he imagines how his daughter might be celebrating the festival, he has fond recollections of the time he spent with her in the past, while recognising at the same time her need to move away, grow up, and become herself. 

Source: Amazon

I hope that all of you and your families enjoy this festive break and get into the Chinese New Year spirit with these reads and related activities!