Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Gung Hei Fat Choy

Chinese New Year falls on Feb. 18 this year, the year of the pig. I spent a couple of years living in China in the mid-80s and I still remember the fantastic celebrations we enjoyed at New Year's. There really is nothing like the fireworks displays in Hong Kong and Beijing for Chinese New Year. Don’t get me started on the fabulous food….

Planet Esme has a very funny resource describing how the Chinese zodiac interacts with classroom management, for you teachers. When I taught first grade we always did a big China study in February and January. We studied folktales, art, music and calligraphy. We learned a little history and geography and always tried to have some parents come in to help with a festive Chinese long-life noodle luncheon. I gave out Red Envelopes and had so much fun teaching Origami (Japanese but also well known and practiced in China, where even the littlest kids can make a paper crane), counting in Chinese with an abacus (still used for totaling purchases and making change in the department stores and markets in China in the 80s), and writing Chinese characters. I have some books to suggest that go a bit beyond celebrating Chinese New Year if you are interested in exploring a little…

Folktales: Just a few of my favorites, out of hundreds…

The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Ed Young. Philomel Books, 1988. This is a retelling of an old tale about Princess Djeow Seow, the youngest and smallest daughter of the Emperor. She loves making and flying kites and finds a way to become a hero through her passion. Ed Young’s full color illustrations are based on the traditional Chinese paper cut technique. The delicate colors of the outlined figures float across the white pages giving them a magical quality.

The Greatest Treasure by Demi. Scholastic Press,1998. “Long ago in China there lived a rich man named Pang….. Not far away lived a poor man named Li…” So begins this story of riches and poverty, and how these neighbors shared the greatest gift. Interspersed with Chinese proverbs and beautifully illustrated with Demi’s gorgeous artwork, this book is a treasure. Look for all her other books too.

Ten Suns; A Chinese Legend retold by Eric A. Kimmel, illustrated by Youngsheng Xuan. Holiday House, 1998. This story is one of the oldest Chinese myths, dating back to the Shang dynasty (c. 1523 B.C. – 1027 B.C.) according to the author’s note in the back of the book. It is the story of Di Jun, the eastern emperor of the sky, his wife Xi He, and their ten sons. The sons’ job was to march across the sky every day being suns for the earth. Because they are selfish, thoughtless children they cause a problem that can only be solved through their parent’s sacrifice and their own transformation into crows. Eric A. Kimmel is a wonderful storyteller. He has also published the Caldecott Honor Book Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins, which is another of my favorites. Youngsheng Xuan is a renowned artist working in a variety of mediums. He was born in Shanghia, China and now lives and works in Canada. His beautiful paintings in a traditional Chinese style give an authentic context for the story.

Other arts:

Voices of the Heart by Ed Young. Scholastic Press, 1997. Ed Young is a fabulous artist. I love all of his books. In this one Young has chosen to explore 26 Chinese characters that include the symbol for heart through paint, collage and language. “Grace”, for example, means “the heart shows pity” and is the combination of the symbols for confined, man and heart. The illustration interprets the traditional pictograph into a man standing behind bars on top of a heart. The text says “A man who is confined is oppressed. When the heart feels empathy for the oppressed, it has been touched by grace.” This book is something to meditate on; to share and discuss and linger over. Adults and children together will find it a deep well of inspiration and illumination.

My Chinatown; One Year in Poems by Kam Mak. Harper Collins, 2002. These poems follow a young boy through the year in Chinatown. He has come from Hong Kong with his family and is seeing everything with fresh eyes. The illustrations are truly lovely. The visual perspective is varied and the faces show the feelings and connections between family members and sympathetic strangers. The colors are at once both soft and vibrant. The poetry is exquisite. It is in the clear, honest, tender voice of a child and cuts right to the heart. I really love this book. Kam Mak grew up in New York’s Chinatown. He has illustrated numerous other books and lives in Brooklyn now with his family.

Cooking the Chinese Way by Ling Yu. Lerner Publications, 2002. This book gives a lot of background information on Chinese festivals, history, cooking techniques and traditions. It in interspersed with nice photographs of people in China and close-ups of the delectable dishes. Plan on time to read and absorb the text portions.

The Young Chef’s Chinese Cookbook; Step-by-Step Fun Recipes for Young Chefs. Crabtree, 2001. This volume has pictures of the equipment, ingredients, techniques and children actually cooking. It may be easier for youngsters to follow and complete the tasks by following the step-by-step directions. The children in the photos are about ten years old and of various ethnicities.

These two cookbooks are almost constantly checked out of our library. They are both written with children in mind. Even if you have never done any Chinese cooking and don’t have any special equipment you can have fun in the kitchen and learn to cook yummy Chinese food with these books. I try to sneak them out for my own family every once in a while… like maybe tonight!

Kids in China:

Kids Like Me In China by Ying Ying Fry, with Amy Klatzkin. Yeong & Yeong Book Co., 2001. This book is written by eight year old Ying Ying, a Chinese American girl adopted from China. She tells her story with frankness and tenderness. There are many beautiful photographs on every page of her and her family. She tells the whole story of her life so far, as they go back to visit China and she reunites with the people in her orphanage. Photos of the infants and children (many of them older children, and just as many boys as girls) still living in the orphanage are beautiful and touching. She explains the entire situation from a child’s point of view. Children and families who share this history will be especially fascinated with this book, but everyone interested in Chinese adoption will want to spend some time gazing at the lovely pictures and studying the text. Ying Ying’s mom is Amy Klatzkin, a contributing editor to Adoptive Families magazine and the editor of A Passage to the Heart; Writings from Families with Children from China.

Mei-Mei Loves the Morning by Margaret Holloway Tsubakiyama, paintings by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu. Albert Whitman & co., 1999. Mei-mei wakes up in the morning and helps her grandfather feed the bird and make breakfast. They go together to the park on Grandfather’s bicycle with his songbird. They have a wonderful time meeting friends, doing Tai Chi and drinking tea. The paintings are beautiful and show the full life of the city. This is a charming book about the delights of spending the morning with a loving, attentive grandfather in a modern Chinese city.

Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding by Lenore Look, illustrations by Yumi Heo. Athenuem Books, 2006. Jenny feels like “an umbrella turned inside out” because her favorite uncle is getting married and she is afraid she will no longer be his special girl. She tells us all about the amazing preparations for this traditional Chinese wedding while she mourns the loss of her precious friendship. Stella, the bride…”is the sun and everyone else is the rest of the universe. The camera follows Stella’s every move. She twinkles and shines. I feel like cosmic dust” Jenny wails. Since she is in charge of the all important tea ceremony, maybe she can do something to halt the inevitable… but somehow Stella manages to win her over in a very special way. The illustrations are drawn in kid style and the voice of Jenny is mischievous and endearing. This book is really a gem and I am surprised it hasn’t gotten more press this year. I think it’s one of the great ones!

I have left out so many great books from this really long post. What are your favorites?


Andrea said...

Oh man...I miss Chinese New Year in China. We always have big church groups to party with here, but it's just not the same (the dumplings are always cold by the time you get them...)

Some of our favorite books for kids about China (or mostly about Chinese American kids, actually) are by Grace Lin. Dim Sum for Everyone, Round is a Mooncake, Seven Chinese Sisters (this is also a folktale). Some books she is only the illustrator (and her pictures are wonderful), some she writes and illustrates.

And you can't leave out the folktale of Mulan, and I *don't* mean the Disney version (though we do like that too)

cloudscome said...

You are right Andrea, I have been thinking about Grace Lin's books and wondering if I should do another post with some chapter books, including Year of the Dog. Yesterday one of my first graders checked Seven Chinese Sisters out of the library and I was glad. They do a folktale project and it is so fun helping them find a good one.