Monday, December 29, 2008

Books to celebrate the New Year!

I love the beginning of a new year! It brings with it the sense of a fresh beginning and the hope for all that is to come the rest of the year. I always think about the year of new books ahead (okay, and summer vacation!).

As much as I'd like to be the girl bringing in the new year with champagne and dancing, most often I'm watching the ball drop on TV like many others in the US. However, New Year's Day is celebrated many different ways (and times) around the world. So, below is a list of a few great books that can be shared with children in celebration of the New Year everywhere!

Happy New Year, Everywhere! by Arlene Erlbach (2000, Millbrook Press)

Through interesting text and colorful, dynamic illustrations, this excellent book briefly describes traditional New Year's celebrations and customs in 20 countries. The introduction explains that varying cultures observe different calendars and seasonal celebrations. Each spread highlights a different country, providing the dates of the observance; the name of the holiday; the traditional greeting (with a helpful pronunciation key); and a related game, recipe, song, or craft. Simple, colorful line drawings illustrate the projects and a world map pinpoints the location of each celebration. Festive side borders with stars and fireworks adorn each page. This title's particular strengths are the activities and the lengthy bibliography. (Grades 2-5, review by SLJ)

With delightful charm and simplicity, Demi offers readers a lovely look at the Chinese New Year. The vibrant, colorful double-page spreads are full of small, stylized cartoon drawings of Chinese children and adults dancing and smiling as they prepare for and participate in the festivities. The author clearly explains traditions; the always-fascinating animal zodiac; the vast array of gods and heavenly beings that are honored; and the symbolism behind special foods, signs, and rituals. Primary-grade assignments will be enriched by this jewel-toned picture-book presentation. It's just unfortunate that there is no pronunciation guide for the many words, names, and foods mentioned. (Grades K-3, review by SLJ)

Happy New Year! by Emery Bernhard (1996, Lodestar)

This well-researched, appealing book describes how people celebrate the new year, not only in the U.S., but also in such varied places as Bali, Ethiopia, India, China, and Japan. Discussion of historical perspective and the significance of the holiday in different religions lends authority to the text. Bright, bold illustrations enhance the multicultural theme. (Grades 2-5, review by SLJ)

Dumpling Soup by Jama Kim Rattigan (Little, Brown, 2001)

A large, loving Hawaiian family gathers to celebrate the new year with Marisa making mandoo, or dumplings, a traditional holiday feast. Told from the seven-year-old child's breathless point of view, the event is also a tribute to diversity. The Yang family, like much of the population of Hawaii, includes members of Korean, Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, and haole (white) descent. And everyone loves mandoo, especially the funny-looking ones that Marisa makes. Though the text is low-key, the characters and their affection for one another are infectious. Cluttered, lively, full-color illustrations in a style reminiscent of Marylin Hafner's work are packed with detail and children. Domestic groupings of all sorts will keep young eyes busy trying to identify which cousin is which. The pages are so full of activity that they often bleed entirely off the page. Any child who loves family gatherings will identify with this book, and teachers will welcome it for its inclusive approach. (Grades K-3, review by SLJ)

This Next New Year by Janet Wong (Frances Foster Books, 2000)

A Chinese-Korean boy relates how he and his friends celebrate the "lunar new year, the day of the first new moon." One child celebrates the holiday with "Thai food to go," while a non-Asian child likes to get "-red envelopes stuffed with money from her neighbor who came from Singapore." The narrator's mother cooks a special Korean soup, and his family observes the traditions of house cleaning, lighting firecrackers, and being extra good to ensure a lucky new year. Wong carefully and clearly presents the reasons behind the rituals in a manner understandable to young children. She explains in an appended note about her own confusion as a child about the timing and meaning of the holiday. Choi's vibrant, somewhat primitive paintings realistically capture the details of and preparations for this hopeful time of year. Youngsters will enjoy the bright colors and the sense of motion and activity conveyed as the boy helps his mother clean, flosses his teeth, and cringes from the noise of the firecrackers. (PreK-2, review by SLJ)

Tet: A Vietnamese New Year by Dianne MacMillian (Enslow, 1994)

A look at red-letter days from around the world as they are observed by U.S. residents. Chinese New Year presents the history and customs associated with the holiday, concluding with the Golden Dragon Parade. Jewish Holidays describes Passover, the Seder, and lesser feasts such as Purim, Yom Ha-Atsma'ut, Lag B'Omer, and Shavuot. Ramadan and Id al-Fitr looks at the Islamic culture: Mohammed, mosques, minarets, and the Koran. Tet focuses on how the Vietnamese-Americans mark the beginning of their new year. Although the writing is choppy, the texts are well researched and have a great deal of information. A glossary and index as well as notes for parents, teachers, and librarians round out each title. (Grades 3-4, review by SLJ)

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