Chinese New Year

Last modified: 
Tuesday, January 17, 2012

It's the year of the dragon. Chinese New Year or "Spring Festival" falls on January 23 this year. Here’s a list of books to help you celebrate one of the most exciting days of the year for children in many countries around the world.

I remember as a child in Thailand, I anticipated the coming of Chinese New Year and all the fun that comes with this festive day. My sister and I got up early in the morning and dressed up in our best clothes, preferably red, because Chinese people believe red will bring good luck. We went to our grandmother's house to celebrate. Once we arrived, her house was filled with the delicious aroma of poached chicken, dumplings, and Chinese steamed buns.

Chinese New Year is celebrated in countries that have Chinese immigrants, including Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Chinese Americans celebrate this joyful day in the United States, too. My grandparents immigrated from the southern part of China to Thailand in a boat. I liked to listen to their adventurous stories of how they fled the war and settled in Thailand, a foreign country to them at that time. They opened a small dry cleaning business in order to earn a living and take care of their children.

lai see
Lai see

On Chinese New Year, relatives gathered at my grandmother’s house to talk and relax. Children played games, ate tasty food, and watched dragon dances and a parade performed on the street. Pop! Pop! Pop! My cousins lit up firecrackers. The best of all, children and younger people received a red envelope ("lai see" in Chinese) with money inside from their parents and older relatives.

Here are some fun, informative children’s books to help you learn more about the Chinese New Year and customs:

Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin

In this beautifully illustrated activity-themed book, Jie-Jie helps her parents clean and decorate the house with spring lanterns in preparation for the Chinese New Year. She watches her mother skillfully wrap dumplings in the kitchen. Jie-Jie and her little sister, Mei-Mei dress up in traditional Chinese costumes, Qi Pao.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year by Sanmu Tang

Little Mei is looking for reasons why people celebrate the Chinese New Year. She asks her brother, and her brother's reply is "We celebrate because grown-ups give us children red packets filled with money." Little Mei asks other people in her family, but none of them gives her the right answer. Finally, she goes to her Grandpa, who tells her an amazing tale about a monster named Xi and a hero who fights with Xi and saves humankind from destruction. This is a wonderful story that shows a warm relationship between grandparents and grandchildren.

Lanterns and Firecrackers: A Chinese New Year Story by Jonny Zucker and Jan Barger Cohen

Young readers will be delighted to learn all about the Chinese New Year celebrations from this book. It is a fun introduction written in simple words and sentences, with colorful dragon. At the end of the book, there is a two-page summary of what Chinese New Year is about.

Celebrating Chinese New Year by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith

This book uses real photographs of a Chinese-American family who live in San Francisco. Ryan and his sister, Kristi, have fun preparing for the Chinese New Year. Ryan even has a new haircut. He enjoys shopping with his father in Chinatown. There are interesting photos of a variety of produces and flowers from Chinatown.

Mei Li by Thomas Handforth

This Caldecott medal-winning picture book is great for reading aloud. Children will be enthralled by the great adventure of a little girl, named Mei Li, who wants to do things that all adults do, such as go to the New Year Fair in the city. When her older brother San Yu leaves home for the festival, Mei Li slips through the gate and follows San Yu. Mei Li and San Yu get to ride on a donkey, pop the firecrackers, perform in a circus, and even fight with the dragon! This is a wonderful book to introduce to young readers about life in ancient China.

The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker

Once upon a time, there were seven Chinese sisters who have different talents. One can cook delicious noodle soup. The other is a karate expert. One sister has an ability to talk to animals. How about the seventh sister? Nobody knows what her ability is because she is just a baby. One day she is kidnapped by an evil dragon, but her sisters put together their special skills to rescue her. This book has a surprise ending that will make you chuckle.

Shen of the Sea: Chinese Stories for Children by Arthur Bowie Chrisman

This delightful chapter book is full of funny, unusual folk tales from China. My favorite one tells the story of why we eat with chopsticks. It all starts with an excellent cook named Cheng Chang. He can turn ingredients from scratch into heavenly dishes, but his expertise lies in cooking perfect roast duck. At the end, amazingly, Cheng Chang uses his matchless cooking skills to become a king of China.

Chinese New Year lasts for 15 days so you have plenty of time to prepare and celebrate. I hope you gain some ideas from these books to appreciate the holidays. Find something red to wear, and 恭喜發財 (Gung hay fat choy!) or "May you prosper!" this new year.

About the Author

Sukalaya Kenworthy is a senior library assistant and ESL instructor at the Westport Branch. Interested in learning English as a second language? The ESL class meets the first and fourth Wednesday of the month at 4:00 p.m. For more information, e-mail Sukalaya or call 816.701.3488.