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