It has been a very long time since I've posted anything. Many apologies to my readers! In August, we welcomed baby Ailin (爱霖), whose name I translate (with some creative liberties) as "deluge of love." Born during a summer downpour, she is all sweetness but being a mommy to three has taken more of me than I imagined, and I am just now starting to write down all the ideas that have been circling in my head for months. In honor of Year of the Horse, here is a list (and mini reviews) of some of my kids' and my favorite English-language children's books about the New Year.
My First Chinese New
Year by Karen Katz (Henry Holt and Company: NY, 2004) is the story of how a
little girl prepares for the Chinese New Years with her family: sweeping the
bad luck away with a broom, purchasing plum blossoms, getting a haircut and
wearing new clothes. The book features Katz’s signature colorful and endearing illustrations. Unlike Katz’s board books, this book is geared toward older
babies, toddlers or even preschool age.
In Bringing in the
New Year by Grace Lin (Alfred A. Knopf: NY, 2008), a young girl tells of her
family's preparations for the Lunar New Year: hanging red couplets, making dumplings, sweeping the floors,
getting a haircut, and wearing new clothing. The celebration culminates in a dragon dance, which is depicted on a large three-page fold-out.
Children will be swept into the New Year's celebrations by Lin's vibrant illustrations. Parents will appreciate the cultural notes Lin
provides about the traditions described in her book.
A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong and
Zhu Cheng-Liang (Candlewick Press: Mass, 2011) tells the story of Chinese
New Year, as experienced by Maomao, a young girl whose father works far away, and
can travel home only for the important holiday. When the father arrives home, the
family of three make sticky rice balls (yuanxiao),
fix up the house, and watch a dragon dance weave its way through town.
The illustrations are touching, the bright colors of the
Chinese New Year celebration and child’s clothing contrast the dark colors of
the father’s clothing. I love this book
because it captures Chinese New Year as experienced by many families across China.
It captures both the joy of being reunited as well as the sorrow of separation
when the father must return to work, all through a child’s eyes.
Long Long’s New Year:
A Story about the Chinese Spring Festival (Tuttle Publishing: Boston, 2005)
is a story about a young boy (Long Long) who helps his grandfather (a cabbage
seller) earn enough money to buy food and supplies for his family’s Spring Festival.
The story captures the hustle and bustle of small village life in the days
leading up to New Years. The illustrations, which look like they were painted
on antique rice paper, are replete with details of village life and will appeal
to adults and children who will enjoy looking for hidden details.
Silk Peony, Parade
Dragon by Elizabeth Steckman (Boyd Mills Press: PA, 1997) is the story
of Silk Peony, a magnificent dragon who is rented by a powerful mandarin for the
annual New Year’s parade. Based on legend, this is the story of how the dragon
came to lead the New Year’s parade. The
traditional story and whimsical illustrations of dragons are sure to appeal to
young children and the young at heart.
The Star Maker by
Laurence Yep (Harper Collins: NY, 2011) tells the story of young Artie during the months leading up to Chinese New Year in San Francisco Chinatown
during the 1950s. Throughout the book, Artie is vexed with
how he will come up with the money to buy firecrackers**for all
of his cousins to set off during the Lunar New Year, a boast he made to his
cousin Petey during a family dinner. This is a story of a young child’s perceptions of family (his idolization of his Uncle Chester, disdain for cousin Petey, and respect for Granny), in the context of 1950s Chinatown. A chapter book, this will most appeal to kids in 1st-3rd grade.
**Parents, don't worry: In the preface, Yep explains that even though firecrackers were legal when he was a child, he always set them off when his parents were close by. He encourages children reading his story to stay away from firecrackers due to their danger**
As you might have noticed, my blog posts have slowed down in the past months. Morning sickness--rather, "all day sickness"--lasted the better part of four months, making it difficult for me to do just about anything, especially write about food! When I have felt like eating, I have regressed to some of my childhood favorites: grapefruit juice, butter toast, and chicken salad on Ritz crackers--comfort food, I guess. To my husband's dismay, Chinese food has been one of most detested foods this pregnancy: garlic has been albeit banned from the house (my keen sense of smell can detect even a trace of it), sesame oil now leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth, and rice holds absolutely no appeal. I went through this perplexing transformation when I was pregnant with my son, and thankfully, immediately after birth, my cravings returned (chocolate and coffee included). This being said, I'm not giving up on writing about food...just taking a break until the cravings (and inspiration) return. In the meantime, check back for posts about family (babies!) and culture. Has pregnancy affected your taste for Chinese or American food?
Aminta Arrington’s Home
is a Roof Over a Pig: An American Family’s Journey in China (The Overlook
Press, NY: 2012) chronicles the multi-year transition and adaptation of her
American suburban family (consisting of the author, her husband, and three
young children--including a daughter adopted from China) to life in the small
town of Tai’an in Shandong, China.
I love this book because of its many interwoven themes. It
is, simultaneously, an adoption tale, a tale about encountering, engaging, and
ultimately embracing another culture, and a tale about the Chinese language.
Adoption: The author relates how she and her husband decided
to adopt their daughter Grace. She tells about their first trip to China to
bring Grace home, and their decision to return to China--to, as a family, learn
about the country and language of their daughter’s birth and to give their
daughter a sense of pride about who she
was and where she came from. I'm impressed by the dedication of Arrington and her husband in not only providing their adopted daughter with this experience, but also her American-born brother and sister.
Cultural Encounter: The author highlights instances when her
family is, at first, distanced from the local culture due to a language
barrier, but also how they are slowly drawn into a local community, through
their children’s involvement at a local preschool (as well as their own
teaching experience at local colleges).
I find it refreshing that Arrington openly struggles, at times,
with apparent cultural difference (e.g. her students’ necessity to think and
sometimes believe only the facts as they are presented in their textbook vs.
the American value of critical thinking).
Chinese Language: Each chapter is organized around one
Chinese character or phrase (e.g. lei 累, or “tired”). The author talks about the different elements/radicals that make up the
character (e.g. “field” 田 and “silk” 丝) and the overall meaning when the elements are
combined. This is a really technique effective in terms of storytelling and it also makes the reader feel like they’re
really learning something about the Chinese language.
Final take-away: There are not very many books about American families with children living in China, and fewer yet about American families living in a small Chinese town. Arrington's book provides an entertaining and informative window into that world: we see the ups and downs, the challenges, and (best yet!) the successes as her family adapts to and embraces the Chinese language and culture.
In Home is a Roof Overa Pig (which is a wonderful book—review to follow—I promise!), Aminta
Arrington talks about the significance behind her children’s Chinese names--beautiful names, each invoking an image of a season (spring, winter, and
This started me thinking about my own children’s Chinese names.
chose my daughter’s Chinese name months before she was born, lu (露) which means “dewdrop,” and xi (稀) which means “hope.”
I chose “dewdrop”
because her father’s name, bo (波)--meaning
“wave,” has the radical for water in it. I wanted my daughter to have water in her name
as well. Even though “dewdrop” does not
have this radical, it has the radical for “rain” (雨).
Soon after her
birth, my daughter grew into the meaning of the second character of her name,
“hope.” She was born with a rare congenital heart defect, and in the first ten months underwent five catheter procedures to correct it. Watching her survive, heal, and
then thrive after undergoing such hardship filled me, and those around her, with amazing hope.
Then, there's my son. While we quickly picked out his English name (a family name), it took us three years to settle on a Chinese name for this boy. Prior to his
birth, I drafted a potential Chinese name, but my husband, and then my in-laws,
quickly shot it down. “That’s not a real Chinese name,” they said.
then decided that he would ask his mother to choose a suitable name. More than two
years later, I was told that his name was, jia
(励), which essentiallymeans “good
This name sounded
fine, and was family approved, but I felt slightly disappointed that my son did
not have water in his name like his father and sister. I suggested to my husband that we change the
first character of his name to chao (潮), which means tide, and keep the second
character li (励). Although my husband thought
it sounded unconventional, he approved of the overall meaning, “tide of encouragement.”
As I look back on
the last four years of my son’s life, I see how he has grown into his name: as
a one-year-old, encouraging my mother with his huge, open-mouth smiles when she was recovering from breast cancer surgery; as a
two-year-old, comforting my family with his big grins and high-fives as we gathered
to mourn the passing of a beloved uncle in a hospital waiting room. He has been
such a “tide of encouragement” in our lives!
Now, as we await
the arrival of our third child (Yes! A third is on its way!), I consider names
again. Of course, my husband and I will pick a special English name, something
that is linked to my family’s history. But I am giving more thought this time
to the child’s Chinese name, wondering and dreaming how, in time, they will
grow into this precious name chosen for them.
How did you choose
your child’s Chinese name? What meaning does it hold for you?