Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lunar New Year Greetings

The start of the Year of the Rabbit got notice in my library classes but it has been sadly overlooked here. Of course, it is never too late to enjoy some good reading or wish you all the best in the coming year.

Most of the books you will find about the Lunar New Year will focus on Chinese customs. It might be easy to miss a beautiful story of New Year's celebrations in Korea. New Clothes for New Year's Day by Hyun-Joo Bae will first attract the reader with its lovely illustrations that delicately depict the donning of new and very special clothes. The words are spare and gentle while capturing the excitement of a child's first chance to wear these tradition-laden clothes. I was thrilled the first time I shared it with a class to have a young Korean girl bring me her New Year's clothing to show me the next day. This book is a real treasure.

One interesting Chinese New Year book is The Day the Dragon Danced by Kay Haugaard. I will concede, as one reviewer complained, that it can be wordy at times, but I will counter that it is a wonderful melding of cultures and universal worries. A young African American girl takes her grandmother to the Dragon Dance parade celebrating the New Year in their city's Chinatown. Grandmother is a bit reluctant but the girl is persistent. Then she has to watch carefully for the shoes under the long, long dragon for one of the dancer is the girl's father. She even has the opportunity to do her part to keep the dragon moving smoothly along.

For amazingly beautiful illustrations it is always a safe bet to turn to Ed Young who has many retellings of Chinese and Japanese tales as well as some that are original stories. One of the many stories of the origins of the Chinese Zodiac is the focus of Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac. The illustrations are dark, not ominous but simply set in the night or int he water, so not so great for group readings, but they are also stunning and well suited to sharing one on one. The excitement of the race to win the twelve coveted spots on the zodiac is strong. I have read many very different stories about the selection of the animals to be part of the twelve year cycle. This is a favorite for both story and illustrations.

If you want to understand the customs and traditions that surround the Chinese New Year, D is for Dragon Dance by Ying Chang Compestine may be just what what you want. It is a simple A-B-C book which offers 26 points of interest about the holiday along with bright, vivid illustrations that will keep that young person on your lap interested when the words are more than they want. Yes, this is the same Ying Chang Compestine who brought us The Story of Noodles, The Story of Chopsticks and many others. All of these books are a good jumping off point for a look at Chinese culture in general.

Finally, local author and China expert Carol Stepanchuk has compiled a collection of stories, recipes, and information about four Chinese festivals in her book Red Eggs and Dragon Boats: Celebrating Chinese Festivals.

There are many websites to help you delve further into the Chinese Zodiac, which is something all of my students love to do. Here is just one of them. Remember when you are assigning an animal for year of birth that the Lunar New Year by definition is not a stable date and moves from mid January to mid February. If you were born before the middle of February, be sure to find a zodiac that will tell you exactly when the New Year began the year you were born.

Whatever you zodiac sign, this is the year to be hoppy all year long.

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