January 16 – Appreciate a Dragon Day

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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.

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Image copyright Timothy Banks, 2019, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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.

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Image copyright Timothy Banks, 2019, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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.

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Image copyright Timothy Banks, 2019, text copyright Virginia Loh-Hagan, 2019. Courtesy of Sleeping Bear Press.

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

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chinese-new-year-word-search

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty Chinese New Year-related words in this printable puzzle?

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle | Chinese New Year Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-nian-the-chinese-new-year-dragon-cover

You can find Nian, The Chinese New Year Dragon: A Beastly Tale at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 5 – Chinese New Year

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About the Holiday

Chinese New Year begins today—ushering in the Year of the Pig—and celebrations take place until February 19. Also known as the Spring Festival, the New Year is a time for festivities that include lion and dragon dances, fireworks, visiting friends and relatives, family meals, and special decorations. The New Year is the busiest travel season of the year as family members return home to spend the holiday with loved ones. The Chinese New Year celebrations end each year with the Lantern Festival. To learn more about the history of Chinese New Year, how to celebrate, and the signs of the zodiac, click here.

Ruby’s Chinese New Year

Written by Vickie Lee | Illustrated by Joey Chou

 

Every year Grandmother would come to visit Ruby for Chinese New Year. “Together they celebrated, eating special foods and making drawings for good luck.” But this year Grandmother couldn’t make the trip, so Ruby decided to visit her grandmother instead. As a gift, Ruby drew a picture of her family enjoying a special dinner. She put it into a red envelope and tucked it away in her pocket. Soon after leaving, Ruby spied Cat and Rat and asked if they would like to come along too. They did, but Cat wondered how they would “cross the meadow and the pond.” Ruby suggested that they ask Ox.

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Soon, they found Ox, who was bringing rice cakes and candy to the farmer for the New Year celebration. When she heard that Ruby, Cat, and Mouse were going to Grandmother’s house, she offered to let them ride on her back. Just then, Tiger and Rabbit “bounded out of the bushes, streamers flying behind them.” They also wanted to go to Grandmother’s house, so Cat rode on Tiger’s back and Rat nestled between Rabbit’s furry ears, and they all headed down the path.

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

They came to where Dragon and Snake “were making paper lanterns.” They were both excited to come along too. “Snake loved Grandmother and was happy to visit her,” and Dragon “was always ready for an adventure.” They packed up the lanterns they had made and the friends started off again. Horse and Goat were grazing in the nearby meadow, and they too wanted to come along. They picked flowers for Grandmother, and then the little parade was off.

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

When Ruby and all the rest reached the pond, they saw Monkey and Rooster fishing for their holiday dinner from an overhanging branch. Grandmother’s house was just on the other side of the pond. Ruby was so excited that “with a leap and a bound, Ruby dove into the pond. She would swim to Grandmother’s. She was so close!” But when she jumped, the red envelope flew out of her pocket and drifted into the pond. All of the other animals dove into the pond to save Ruby’s gift. Monkey snatched it with his fishing hook, and Rooster flew across the water with the card in her beak. They all met Ruby on the other side of the pond and sadly showed her the drenched card. “‘Oh no,’ Ruby cried. ‘It’s ruined. Everything is ruined!’”

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Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

“‘It’s not ruined!’ cried Rooster.” And then each animal reminded Ruby that they had fish and flowers, lanterns and streamers, rice cakes and sweets, and most especially, “‘…we have our family,’ said Cat and Rat, looking toward the house.” Suddenly, Dog and Pig bounded out and “covered Ruby’s face with kisses and tickled her until she shrieked with joy.” The happy sounds brought Grandmother to the door. She was thrilled to see Ruby. When Ruby gave her the gift she thought was “ruined,” Grandmother assured her that it would dry and that seeing Ruby and all of her friends was “the best gift of all.” Then they all sat down at the long table decorated with streamers and lanterns and celebrated the New Year with a delicious dinner—“except for Cat, who had fallen fast asleep.”

Following the story, readers will enjoy learning one legend of the Chinese zodiac and discovering the  traits for each animal. Children will also find directions for making a paper lantern, a paper fan, and good luck banners.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-pond

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Inspired by one legend of the Chinese Zodiac and how each animal came to be included in the calendar, Vickie Lee tells an engaging cumulative story that keeps readers excited to discover who will be the next to join Ruby on her trip to Grandmother’s house. The fate of Ruby’s special gift reveals many truths about friendship and family as the animals work together to save the card and Grandmother reassures Ruby while showing her that love is the best gift of all. Readers may also enjoy talking about which of each animal’s trait—as found in the back matter—is reflected in their role in the story. Older children may like discussing references to Chinese New Year traditions and how Lee reimagined the legend to tell her story. And why is Cat sleeping through the delicious dinner? Legend has it that….

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-legend

Image copyright Joey Chou, 2018, text copyright Vickie Lee, 2018. Courtesy of Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Joey Chou’s delightfully cheerful illustrations are packed with action as each animal—included into the group in the order of the Chinese zodiac—adds a special ingredient to the New Year celebration. His lovely color palette sparkles with glowing reds, cool aquas, lush blues, and shadowy violets that create a homey atmosphere for this very special holiday. Scenes of togetherness and friendship include smiles and joy at being together as well as empathy for Ruby when her card gets wet.

A beautiful book to share with children for Chinese New Year and throughout the year, Ruby’s Chinese New Year would be a charming addition to home, school, and library bookshelves for its story and included activities.

Ages 4 – 8

Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2018 | ISBN 978-1250133380

To learn more about Joey Chou, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Chinese New Year Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chinese-new-year-word-search

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle

 

Can you find the twenty Chinese New Year-related words in this printable puzzle?

Chinese New Year Word Search Puzzle | Chinese New Year Word Search Solution

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-ruby's-chinese-new-year-cover

You can find Ruby’s Chinese New Year at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

January 30 – Chinese New Year

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About the Holiday

Chinese New Year celebrations began on the eve of January 28, ushering in the Year of the Rooster. Also known as the Spring Festival, the New Year is a time for festivities including lion and dragon dances, fireworks, visiting friends and relatives, family meals, and special decorations.The New Year is the busiest travel season of the year as family members return home to spend the holiday with loved ones. The Chinese New Year celebrations  end on the 15th day of the new year with the Lantern Festival.  People born in the Year of the Rooster are said to be honest, energetic, intelligent, flexible, and confident.

A New Year’s Reunion

Written by Yu Li-Qiong | Illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang

 

Maomao’s papa works far away as a house builder and can only return home once a year—during Chinese New Year. Today, Maomao and her mother wake up early and get ready because “Papa is coming home.” When Papa arrives, Maomao peers at her father from a distance. He seems unfamiliar, and when he picks her up in his arms she calls for her mama in alarm. But Papa has come with gifts—a hat for Maomao and a coat for Mama.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, 2011, courtesy of Candlewick Press

After catching up and eating lunch, Papa takes Maomao with him to the barber shop, where he gets a haircut and a shave. As Maomao watches, the Papa in the mirror is getting more like Papa the way he used to be.” Back home, Papa helps the family decorate their house and later they make sticky rice balls for the next day. “Papa buries a coin in one of the balls and says, ‘Whoever finds the ball with the coin will have good luck.’” As she falls asleep to the whispers of her parents, Maomao hears firecrackers snapping in the night air.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, 2011, text copyright Zhu Cheng-Liang, 2013. Courtesy of Candlewick Press.

In the morning while eating the sticky rice balls, Maomao bites down on something hard. “‘The fortune coin! It’s the fortune coin!’” she exclaims. Her papa tells her to put it in her pocket so that the good luck will not escape. She places it in her coat pocket and then they all join the crowd in the square going on holiday visits. On the way she meets her friend Dachun, who shows her the red envelope he has gotten. Maomao proudly shows Dachun her lucky coin.

On the second day of New Year’s while Papa is doing chores around the house, he takes his little daughter to the roof. From here she can see Dachun’s house and hear the dragon dance over on Main Street. Maomao stands on tiptoe as tall as she can, but she can’t see the parade. Papa swings her onto his shoulders. “‘Now can you see it?’ he asks. ‘Yes, I can. They’re coming!’” she answers with excitement.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, 2011, courtesy of Candlewick Press

The third day of New Year’s brings snow, and Maomao, Dachun, and the other neighborhood children build a tall snowman and have a snowball fight in the courtyard. When Maomao comes in at the end of the day, she reaches into her coat pocket, but her fortune coin is gone! She runs outside, but the courtyard is covered in snow, and she can’t find it anywhere. Papa tries to give her another coin, but it isn’t the same.

Later, feeling miserable, Maomao climbs into bed and takes off her jacket. Suddenly, she hears a clink as something falls to the floor. “‘It’s the coin! My fortune coin!’” she cries. ‘‘Papa come quick—come and see! I haven’t lost the fortune coin. It’s been with me all the time.’” Maomao falls asleep happy. The next morning, she wakes to see Mama packing Papa’s things. Soon, he will return to work. He crouches down and with a promise to bring Maomao a doll hugs her tight. But Maomao shakes her head. “‘I want to give you something…,’” she says. She puts the coin in Papa’s hand and tells him, “‘Here, take this. Next time you’re back, we can bury it in the sticky rice ball again!’” Papa is silent and gives Maomao another hug before they say goodbye for another year.

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Image copyright Yu Li-Qiong, 2011, courtesy of Candlewick Press

Yu Li-Qiong’s touching story of a little girl’s reunion with the father she rarely sees is a heartfelt reminder that love continues over miles and days or months. Just as the fortune coin was with Maomao all the time, Maomao’s papa is always in her heart and she in his. Little ones, especially, will be captivated by the day-to-day activities of Maomao’s New Year festivities and appreciate the importance of her coin. Li-Qiong’s sweet story, filled with homey details of child and parent interactions, resonates beyond the holiday theme of the story and is a beautiful book for the many children who have parents who travel frequently with their jobs.

The quiet grace and wonder of Zhu Cheng-Liang’s gouache illustrations perfectly convey the loving relationship between father and daughter and the excitement of a family being together after a long absence. Although the Chinese New Year provides a frame for the story, Cheng-Liang’s paintings predominately focus on the day-to-day activities Maomao and her papa share—getting a haircut, fixing the house, cooking, meeting and playing with friends, and special hugs—emphasizing the universal scope of the story. The enchantment of the New Year’s festivities shines in a two-page spread where a fiery red-and-orange dragon puppet cavorts over the village bridge followed by a throng of people as others watch from homes and windows. Adorable Maomao may raise a lump in readers throats as she hugs her papa and gives him her treasured fortune coin.

A brief Author’s Note following the text pays tribute to the millions of migrant workers in China who often do not see their families except once each year.

A New Year’s Reunion would be a welcome book on any child’s bookshelf as a reminder that love overcomes any absence, long or short.

Ages 3 – 7

Candlewick Press, 2011 | ISBN 978-076366748

Chinese New Year Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-chinese-new-year-lantern-festival-coloring-page

Lantern Festival Coloring Page

 

Chinese New Year festivities end with a brilliant festival of lights. Enjoy this printable Lantern Festival Coloring Page to celebrate the Chinese New Year.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-a-new-year's-reunion-cover

You can find A New Year’s Reunion at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million | IndieBound

Picture Book Review