Saturday, January 24, 2009

Chinese New Year: Picture Books & Activities

Chinese New Year 2009: The Celebration begins on January 26th!
The Year of the Ox

A Story about Adventure, Friendship, and Chinese Characters
Written & Illustrated by
Christoph Nieman
Greenwillow, 2008

NOTE: The Pet Dragon is not a tale about Chinese New Year. It’s a picture book with a story in which readers are introduced to characters in the written Chinese language.

The Pet Dragon is a tale about Lin, a young Chinese girl, and her new pet dragon. Lin loves her baby dragon. They do everything together—play hide-and-seek and ping pong and soccer, make friends with other animals, tell each other funny stories. One day, when they are playing soccer in the house, they break an old vase, which shatters into hundreds of pieces. Lin’s father is so angry that he locks the little dragon in a cage. The next morning, Lin finds the cage empty. She is distraught. She must find her dragon.

Lin sets off in search of her pet—through the city, over mountains, along the Great Wall. But there is no sign of her beloved pet. Then Lin comes upon a wide river. She sees a strange little woman standing at the water’s edge. The old woman tells Lin that she cannot swim and asks her to carry her across the river. Lin complies with the woman’s request.

As fortune would have it, the old woman is a witch who feels that she should return Lin’s favor in kind. The witch pops a magic bean into her mouth and chews it slowly. She begins to grow and grow and grow…until she’s as tall as a mountain. Then she lifts Lin up through the clouds. And, there in the sky, Lin finds her pet dragon—“all grown and beautiful.” The dragon flies Lin home. Father is so happy at the return of his child that he thanks the dragon and promises to let the two friends play together whenever they want.

There, that’s a summary of Niemann’s story about friendship and an adventure. Now let me explain what makes this picture book special: It’s a clever introduction to characters in the Chinese written language—including the characters for person, tree, woods, dog, woman, warrior, eye, ear, father, prisoner, mouth, speak/words, river, above, and below. I’m not a big fan of computerized art—but Niemann uses Adobe illustrator to its best advantage in this picture book. His bold, uncluttered illustrations are striking and perfectly suited to the purpose of teaching about Chinese pictographs and ideographs. Not only does Niemann include one or more Chinese characters with its/their English translation(s) at the bottom of each page, he also incorporates these Chinese characters (in bold black print) into the illustrations. By so doing, Niemann helps readers visualize and remember the Chinese and English words that the characters stand for.

Here is a two-page spread from the book:

Click here to view more two-page spreads from The Pet Dragon.

Click here to browse inside The Pet Dragon.


Written by
Grace Lin
Little, Brown, 2006

This fine first novel is based on Grace Lin’s childhood. Lin takes us along with her through the "Year of the Dog" as she meets her soon-to-be best friend Melody, competes in a science fair, gets a crush on a classmate, celebrates her newest cousin’s Red Egg Day, has an outing in New York City’s Chinatown with her family, and wins a prize in a national writing contest. The author also touches on feelings she experienced as one of the only Asian-American students in her elementary school in upstate New York. Skillfully interwoven in the story are family anecdotes and references to Taiwanese cultural traditions and foods. Filled with gentle humor and warmth, this is a wonderful story about family, friendship, and finding one’s self.

Adding to the appeal of Lin's heartwarming story are her black are white spot illustrations.

NOTE: The beginning chapters of Lin’s novel are replete with talk about Lunar New Year traditions and mouthwatering descriptions of the foods typically prepared for this special holiday.

Click here for The Year of the Dog activities.


Two Nonfiction Books about Chinese New Year

Written & illustrated by Demi
Dragonfly/Crown, 1997

Each double-page spread in Happy New Year provides information about some aspect, tradition, or foods associated with the celebration and observance of Chinese New Year. The holiday topics Demi writes about include: the animal zodiac, decorating with poems, special foods and their symbolic meanings, firecrackers, heavenly beings, gift giving, lion dances, and lantern festival. Most sections include just a brief paragraph or two of text. Demi’s book is a good introduction to Chinese New Year for children and adults alike.

Written by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith
Photographs by Lawrence Migdale
Holiday House, 1998

This nonfiction book gives readers a glimpse of a contemporary Chinese boy named Ryan and his family preparing for and celebrating Chinese New Year in San Francisco. It provides an historical perspective of the holiday, touches on the immigration of Chinese people to America in the 1850s, shows Ryan and other children learning about calligraphy at a Chinese school, and talks about many of the holiday traditions that have been handed down through the years. The book also talks about one of the most important parts of Chinese New Year—honoring one’s ancestors.
In the photographs, we observe Ryan and his father shopping in the open markets of Chinatown, visiting the cemetery where his grandparents are buried, and preparing special holiday dishes. We also see Ryan and his extended family partaking of the New Year’s feast, Ryan preparing the family altar, and scenes from the lion dance and New Year’s parade in Chinatown.

Celebrating Chinese New Year provides readers a more personal look at this holiday and its traditions as we see it observed and celebrated by an actual Chinese American family—Raymond and Karen Leong, their children, and other relatives.

The book includes a glossary and an index

Book Lists


Reviews of Children’s Books from Wild Rose Reader


Crafts, Activities, & Resources


tess said...

Thanks for all this -- I was wondering what I was going to do... now I have quick links to resources.

jama said...

The Pet Dragon looks interesting. Thanks for all these great links and tips!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I hope the links are helpful and that you find some good resources.


Both Grace Lin and I like this book a lot. I think it's a great vehicle for introducing kids to the Chinese language.

Saints and Spinners said...

Thanks for reminding me that I need to read Year of the Dog!

Elaine Magliaro said...


I think you'll love THE YEAR OF THE DOG. The family stories included in the book are great. It's a wonderful first novel.

Jules at 7-Imp said...

What a great post! I've never seen the Pet Dragon either. Will look for it.


Elaine Magliaro said...


I think The Pet Dragon is a great picture book.

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