About the Holiday
Appreciate a Dragon Day was established in 2004 by author Danita K. Paul to celebrate the publication of her novel DragonSpell. The holiday now encourages all readers to get involved with reading through fun activities—dragon-themed, of course! Teachers, librarians, and all those who love reading can find lots of suggestions for creative ideas that encompass art, crafts, displays, drama, and many other mediums on Danita K. Paul’s website. So, round up your favorite dragon books and breathe some fire into your reading today!
Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon: A Beastly Tale
Written by Virginia Loh-Hagan | Illustrated by Timothy Banks
Mei dreaded springtime when Nian, “the fierce dragon that used to rule the land” until a magical warrior sent him underground with a spell. Once a year though, Nian came out of hiding to quell his hunger. His favorite treat was little boys and girls. Even now, Mei could hear the “rumbling of Nian’s stomach” that told them springtime was near.
On the eve of the first day of spring, the magical warrior visited Mei in a dream. He told her that Nian’s strength was growing while his power was waning. It was up to Mei to keep the town safe. She had fifteen days in which to defeat the dragon, he told her as he gave her is magic cane. When she woke the next day, Mei heard her mother warning her that Nian was on his way and they must escape.
Knowing that Nian would eat anything in his path, Mei ran to shut their livestock in the barn and helped MaMa hide. She ran to get the warrior’s cane, but before she could hide Nian blocked her way. She grabbed a pot and banged on it with the cane and yelled at the dragon. Nian covered his ears. Then Mei got the other villagers to make noise. “They hollered. They hooted. They threw firecrackers at Nian,” and he slithered back to his den.
The villagers celebrated for five days and gave Mei a red silk robe in gratitude. But on the sixth day, Nian was back with cotton in his ears to muffle the noise. Mei, wearing her new robe, threw her lantern at him. The light and fiery robe frightened Nian. Mei gathered the villagers once more and told them to wear red and shine lights. Confronted with all of the red clothing and banners and the brilliant lights, Nian ran away again. The villagers celebrated for five more days, dyeing their clothes red and burning fires.
On the tenth night the magical warrior came again to talk to Mei. He reminded her that she only had five more days to defeat Nian, who was now bent on revenge. Mei knew she couldn’t rely on getting lucky. She needed a plan. By morning, she had one. She and the villagers filled red bags with food and stuffed them into scarecrows dressed in their clothes. But Mei hid the warrior’s cane in her scarecrow.
When Nian returned again on the fifteenth day, he gobbled up the scarecrows. But when he got to Mei’s, the cane magically allowed the warrior to ensnare Nian. Then, as destiny foretold, the warrior and Nian “turned into a stone statue in the middle of the village.” The villagers cheered Mei’s success and threw a party complete with food offerings, lanterns, firecrackers, and lots of red. Now, every year at the beginning of spring, the village celebrates this way and Mei always presents “an offering to the statue of Nian and the magical warrior.”
An Author’s Note about the Chinese New Year, the holiday’s traditions, and the Legend of Nian follows the story.
Virginia Loh-Hagan presents an enchanting retelling of the Legend of Nian, filled with kid-centric cleverness and, especially, girl power. Suspense builds as Nian returns on three five-day cycles to terrorize the villagers, and children will eagerly await and cheer Mei’s actions. Along the way, readers learn the origins of beloved Chinese New Year traditions. Loh-Hagan’s fast-paced storytelling shines with evocative language and personal, action-packed motivations. Nian is truly a fiercesome beast and Mei, born in the year of the dragon, is just the person to defeat him, providing readers with a charming role model in vanquishing the “beasts” in their own lives.
Timothy Banks’ illustrations employ the beauty and delicacy of Chinese brush painting while adding stylized line drawings and textured backgrounds to depict eye-catching scenes on every page. Nian is first introduced coiled in his underwater cave, the entrance to which mimic the monster’s enormous mouth. The urgency of Nian’s threat is evident as the frightened animals run for the barn, while the villagers’ delight in helping to scare away the dragon demonstrates the bravery that Mei inspires in them. Banks plays with darkness and light, and especially with the vibrant red associated with the holiday, emphasizing Mei’s accomplishment while creating meaningful imagery throughout the story.
Beautiful and compelling, Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon is an excellent story to share during Chinese New Year celebrations and all through the year. The book will excite children to learn more about the holiday and offers many opportunities for home or curricular extensions. It would make a welcome addition to home, school, and public library collections.
Ages 6 – 8
Sleeping Bear Press, 2019 | ISBN 978-1585364138
Appreciate a Dragon Day Activity
Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle
Can you find the twenty Chinese New Year-related words in this printable puzzle?
You can find Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon: A Beastly Tale at these booksellers
Picture Book Review