I have been doing Lunar New Year presentations in my child’s class since he was a two year old in preschool. From ages 2 – 6, I have always read the same two books, “Bringing in the New Year“, by Grace Lin and “Lanterns and Firecrakers: A Chinese New Year Story“, by Jonny Zucker and Jan Barger Cohen.
But for second grade, I am going to change the books. So I have five books under consideration. This blog reviews the five books which made my final cut.
- “Celebrating Chinese New Year: Nick’s New Year” by Rosa Drew and Heather Phillips and illustrated by Cheryl Kirk Noll.
- “Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap Book“, by Joan Holub, and illustrated by Benrei Huang. This book is out-of-print, but easily available from sellers on Amazon.
- “Chelsea’s Chinese New Year“, by Lisa Bullard and illustrated by Katie Saunders.
- “Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year“, by Kate Waters and Madeline Slovenz-Low, photographs by Martha Cooper.
- “Emma’s American Chinese New Year“, by Amy Meadows and illustrated by Soon Kwong Teo
Here is what I am looking for in books to read to class. First I want one that is clearly written and explains different traditions of Lunar New Year. The problem is we are a White family celebrating Chinese/ Vietnamese traditions and we pick and choose which traditions we actually celebrate. So ones that talk about traditions which I’m not that keen on, get downgraded in terms of whether I like to read them for class or not. It is not that these traditions don’t exist, just I don’t want to read them in the book and have to explain to the class about why we don’t celebrate them. Topics about praying to ancestors and the Kitchen God and most superstitions I like to avoid. Obviously I can’t avoid all superstitions, since many of the things that are done to prepare for Lunar New Year are based on superstitions, but I like to spin it that they are traditions.
And secondly I like the illustrations to be clear and show the traditions that I will be explaining or are being talked about in the text of the book.
I guess my Lunar New Year presentations are not as authentic as they might be. But since I create them, I can slant them the way I like and feel most comfortable with.
Here is my mini-review of each book with an eye for using in class.
“Celebrating Chinese New Year: Nick’s New Year”
This book is only 16 pages long. It has well drawn illustrations. The text is simple and focuses on the Lunar New Year traditions which I want to emphasize, so I’m giving it 5 stars and this will probably be one of the books I read to his second grade class. Since there are not many words, I will have to add a few of my own to each page to further explain what is going on in the pictures. For example, page 2 says “My friend Nick celebrates Chinese New Year. He is a Chinese American.”. I will have already explained that we also call it Lunar New Year and Tet in Vietnam and that it is celebrated by many people around the world. The picture on that page shows a plant with branches of cherry blossoms in it. I will further explain that tradition. On the following page, there is a picture of a stack of oranges and a tray of dried fruit. Although neither of these are mentioned in the text, the illustrations help document some of the traditions of Lunar New Year which I will explain while I read the book.
Each page has something to explain some tradition with lots of detailed drawing so the reader can elaborate.
“Dragon Dance: A Chinese New Year Lift-the-Flap Book”
This is another 16 page book. It says on the back that it is for ages 2-6. There are flaps to lift, which provide a little entertainment. The illustrations are gorgeous. The text rhymes. It is simple text, but there is plenty of room to elaborate. This book includes illustrations of both Lion and Dragon dances. It talks more about the food that is served. This book builds on what students will have learned in the first book I think I will read.
There is the concern that this book is pretty small. My son is in a small class, so I think it will work, but if there were 28 students instead of the 18 there are, I might consider a different book.
“Chelsea’s Chinese New Year”
This is a more substantial book than either of the first two. It is 24 pages. This book does a really good job of explaining Chinese New Year, so as an overall book for describing Lunar New Year, this is a very good one. The problem is it talks about things we don’t do for our tradition, like staying up to midnight and eating a big feast at midnight. There are sidebars which go into more traditions, than I want to include in my presentation, like the monster named Nian. This might be a good book to read alone for Lunar New Year or maybe for third graders. Overall this is an excellent book for children to learn about Chinese New Year, but it is not how we celebrate it, so I will leave it for another year.
The illustrations in this book are well done, but not my taste. It is sort of South Park meets Hello Kitty. There is not the beautiful detail of illustrations like I found in the previous book.
“Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year”
This was my first thought of what to read when I decided to move on from reading the books I read from age 2 to age 6. Unlike the other three books which are a general overview of Lunar New Year, this book tells the story of Ernie and his first time doing the Lion Dance in public to celebrate Chinese New Year. It is a nice story of a boy honoring his family tradition. Some of the traditions of Chinese New Year are included, but mainly the book focuses on getting ready for Chinese New Year and performing the Lion Dance.
Unlike the other books, this is the true story of the Wan family. There are no illustrations, but there are many photographs, which include both Chinese New Year traditions and pictures of the Lion Dance.
“Emma’s American Chinese New Year”
This book is probably the closest to home as it is about Emma, a little girl adopted from China and how her family celebrates Chinese New Year. And if I had a girl, I might pick this one just because it gives a more accurate story of what is it like for an interracial family to celebrate Lunar New Year.
And like another White family trying to negotiate celebrating holidays that we barely understand, this one makes a mistake on the third page when it talks about baking moon cakes as part of the Chinese New Year tradition. Well moon cakes are baked for the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, which is in September, so the author is getting a little confused to begin with.
The text rhymes (sort of) and the illustrations are well done if not a little too Hello Kitty for me. The text is pretty substantial, I’m not exactly sure why I’m just not so fond of the book which is more like our family and celebration than other books. I guess the combination of the sort of rhyming text with the illustrations which are just a little to cutesy for me, just don’t do it for the type of story I want to tell.
But this is a good book for telling about Lunar New Years traditions, especially with a twist of being told from a family with an adopted Chinese child.
I ordered even more books to find a new book to read, but the others were just not in the running. I think any of these books (or combination of) would be a good book to read for a Lunar New Year presentation for a second grade class.
I still have not written my second grade Lunar New Year presentation, but at the moment I plan on reading “Celebrating Chinese New Year: Nick’s New Year” first, followed by “Dragon Dance: A Chinese Lift-the-Flap Book”. Between the two books, it hits on all the traditions I want to include and excludes traditions I don’t want to include.