InCultureParent’s Essential Chinese New Year Reading List


Cat and Rat: The Legend of the Chinese Zodiac
By Ed Young (author and illustrator)
Review by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Beautifully written retelling of the story about how the 12 animals of the zodiac were chosen and why the cat and the rat are no longer friends. It really portrays the personalities of the cat, rat, ox, and other animals and ties their personality to how they run their race. Stunning artwork, as always, from Ed Young.


Celebrating Chinese New Year
By Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith (author), Lawrence Migdale (photographer)
Review by Bonnie Schwartz


A little text-heavy and therefore designed for slightly older children than my preschool daughter, this book follows a boy named Ryan through the streets and markets of San Francisco as he and his family prepare to celebrate Chinese New Year. They clean their house to rid themselves of bad luck, buy new shoes and clothing to get a fresh start, go to the flower market to get plants and flowers, symbolizing rebirth, and purchase oranges, representing money and wealth, to give as gifts to friends. The next stop is visiting the grave sites of ancestors to honor them.


The juiciest part of the 30-page book tracks Ryan and his father as they prepare an enormous, 10-course traditional meal to share with extended family. This book is filled with many, many facts about Chinese rites and rituals. It is a lot to take in for a young child, but I have been reading it to my four-year-old for the past two years and every year she is able to take in more and more. It’s a nice way to introduce how one family, Ryan’s, integrates traditional Chinese culture into its American life.


Chinese New Year’s Dragon
By Rachel Sing (author), Shao Wei Liu (Iillustrator)
Review by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

A Chinese American girl matter-of-factly reminisces about the best Chinese New Years she ever had. She describes all the things she and her family did, just like any other year, like cleaning the house, receiving new Chinese calendars, shopping in Chinatown, writing spring couplets, arranging flowers, putting out roasted seeds and dried fruit, receiving red envelopes, watching fireworks, and eating a huge feast. What makes this year special is a dream of the dragon bringing spring rains. Warm, realistic illustrations of a Chinese family at home in America, coupled with small photographs. The author is a child development researcher at Wellesley College.


Dancing Dragon
By Marcia K. Vaughan (author), Stanley Wong Hoo Foon (illustrator)
Review by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

A brightly illustrated book with all the colors and excitement of the new year, this is a great book for very young children, as young as two. It tells the story, in rhyme, of preparing for Chinese new year and attending the new year’s parade in Chinatown. The best part about the book is that it unfolds, accordion style, to reveal a 6 page long parade dragon!


Dragon Parade
By Steven A. Chin and Alex Haley (authors), Mou-Sien Tseng (illustrators)
Review by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

Norman Ah Sing comes to America in 1850 to seek his fortune in Gold Mountain, but after discovering that the streets are not paved with gold and that the mines may not yield riches, he decides to open a grocery store in Chinatown instead: “Everyone has to eat.” The next year, he organizes the first Chinese New Year’s Parade in San Francisco with lion dances, a dragon parade, and much feasting to both celebrate the lunar New Year and to introduce cherished Chinese customs to his new American neighbors. This book introduces Chinese New Year’s customs and Chinese American immigration history with bright and colorful illustrations.


Happy Chinese New Year, Kai-lan!
By Lauryn Silverhardt (adapter), Jason Fruchter and Aka Chikasawa (illustrators)
Review by Bonnie Schwartz

Part of Nickelodeon’s Ni-Hao, Kail-lan enterprise, this book follows the familiar characters Kai-lan, YeYe, Rintoo, Tolee, Hoho and Lulu as they collaborate on creating a Chinese New Year parade. Each character picks a number out of YeYe’s hat to determine which part of the dragon costume is theirs to occupy: head, tail, or somewhere in the middle. Through the course of this book youngsters have the opportunity to learn to count to five in Chinese as well as learn the lesson that all parts of a whole are equally important to its integrity, no matter how prestigious it may at first seem to carry the head or tail. A lovely story, brightly illustrated, that carries a great message and, like all Kai-lan efforts, introduces some basic Chinese vocabulary. One of my daughter’s favorites.


The Last Dragon
By Susan Miho Nunes (author), Chris K. Soentpiet (illustrator)
Review by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

When Peter spends the summer in Chinatown with Great Aunt, he discovers a dilapidated old dragon, forgotten and dusty in a corner of the Lung Fung Trading Company, “a very sorry dragon,” according to Great Aunt. He then spends the summer running all over Chinatown trying to get it restored, asking the tailor to mend the body, the kitemaker to fix the tail, the herbalist for new eyes, the sign painter to paint the head, even Great Aunt’s mahjongg buddies are enlisted. In exchange, he runs errands and helps out in their shops, thereby learning every corner of Chinatown—where to get the best salted plums, how to fly a fighting kite and more. On Peter’s last night, a priest dots the eyes of the dragon and it comes to life and parades through the streets of Chinatown.


Although not exactly about lunar New Year’s, it is such a fabulous book, that I had to include it here, since it does feature a parade dragon. The story slowly unveils information about dragons, the people and shops of Chinatown, and the way things get done in a Chinese community (asking around, knowing who’s who, trading work instead of flashing a credit card the way most suburban kids would these days). I have always dreamed of spending a summer like this.


The Mouse Bride: A Chinese Folktale* (Catalonia International Illustrator Award)
By Monica Chang (author), Lesley Liu (illustrator)
Review by Frances Kai-Hwa Wang

A traditional New Year’s story about how a father mouse searches for the strongest person in the world to wed his daughter, including the sun, cloud, wind, and wall, only to discover that he does not have to go so far out of his own community to find strength and power. Beautiful illustrations of a tiny traditional Chinese mouse community hidden under the walls of a traditional (human) Chinese community. The book ends with a gorgeous Chinese mouse wedding procession, ceremony, and banquet.


* This is a bilingual book available in English and Chinese, Hmong, Khmer, Korean, Spanish, Tagalog, Thai, and Vietnamese.



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