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Chinese New Year

About the festival   
Background information on China   
Chinese folk tales   

The Great Race
The story of the Chinese Zodiac
By Dawn Casey, illustrated by Anne Wilson
(Barefoot Books)
This traditional story tells how the years of the Chinese calendar came to be named after animals. When the Jade Emperor organises a great race to decide which animal will be matched with each year, Rat persuades Ox to help him and betrays Cat at the same time. The story ends with the first Chinese New Year celebrations so it fits well with this time of year.
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Long-Long’s New Year
by Catherine Gower, illustrated by He Zhihong
(Frances Lincoln)
A story set in a part of semi-rural China where cycles are the only form of transport and sellers squat or stand by the roadside to sell their wares. On the morning of New Year’s Eve, Long-Long, stowed among Grandpa’s cabbages in the bike trailer, rides to the town for the first time. There Grandpa hopes to sell his cabbages and make enough money for the family’s Spring Festival food. Disaster strikes in the form of a puncture but the resourceful Long-Long turns the situation into opportunity and does his bit to ensure that Grandpa has plenty of customers and makes all the money they need.
He Zhihong’s illustrations painted on traditional yellow rice paper draw the reader into the bustle and activity of the market - fruit and vegetable sellers, the butchers and fish mongers, the cloth and toy stalls, and the outdoor restaurants where you can almost smell the steaming vats of delicious noodles, not to mention the colour, excitement and firecrackers of the dragon parade.
On the final double spread we learn the origins of the Spring Festival and and there are some Chinese words and characters from the story. Altogether an absorbing read.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Lanterns and Firecrackers
by Jonny Zucker , illustrated by Jan Barger Cohen
(Frances Lincoln)
A child narrator tells in simple straightforward language how she and her family prepare for and celebrate the Chinese New Year. She mentions the kitchen god, fire crackers, new clothes, lucky money envelopes, feasting, dragon and lion dances and lanterns. These things and others are shown in Jan Berger Cohen’s attractive illustrations; and there is a final double spread for adults giving additional details and explanations relating to the festival.
A very useful book for sharing with 3 to 6s and a possible starting point for some creative activities and of course, discussion
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Background information on China
China
by Leonie Pratt
(Usborne)
This colourful book on China looks at the history of the country as well as life there today, and it includes a double page spread on Chinese New Year. The easy-to-read text makes the information accessible without talking down to the reader so this book is suitable for older weaker readers as well as primary age children.
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Made in China
by Deborah Nash
(Frances Lincoln)
Set in China, this is both a story and an information book. It starts out with a boy playing with a paper butterfly which he leaves lying in the park. Unable to find the way home, the butterfly meets a large dragon who agrees to give her a ride back provided she can answer the question, “ What was made in China almost 2000 years ago and is still used today?” Off goes the butterfly stopping to ask a carp, stone lions and three monkeys, and visiting en route a family, a sacred mountain, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall and a village decorated to celebrate the New Year festival. There she encounters another butterfly and finally learns the answer she’s been seeks and at last earns her ride home.
There are instructions at the back of the book to make a cut paper butterfly like the main character as well as some Chinese characters for ‘paper butterfly’ to try writing both of which should inspire children’s creative attempts. Altogether an absorbing and stimulating read, not just at festival time but all year round. A must for primary schools and families wanting to learn something about a distant part of the world.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Yikang's Day: From Dawn to Dusk in a Chinese Town
by Sungwan So
(Frances Lincoln)
An excellent photographic portrayal of modern China following one child through a typical day in a town, including school and home life. The photographs and text provide an abundance of information and could be used throughout foundation level, Key Stage 1 and early Key Stage 2. The book is good for reading aloud and ties in well with PSHE, citizenship and humanities.
Age range 4-7
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C is for China
by Sungwan So
(Frances Lincoln)
This combines an alphabet book and an information book. The excellent photographs are well presented to provide children with a good introduction to the country. It tends to concentrate on traditional aspects of China rather than modern life.
Age range 5-9
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Chinese Folktales
Red Butterfly
by Deborah Noyes, illustrated by Sophie Blackall
(Walker Books)
A first person telling from a young Chinese princess who is to be married and leave her beloved country and its many splendours. The princess recounts the sights, sounds and perfumes of her city, palace and countryside and the thought of leaving them is almost unbearable. Most of all she will miss the woven wind that is silk, the textile fashioned by the caterpillars that feed on the mulberry - China’s most precious secret. With the help of her maid, she smuggles the ingredients for its manufacture in her elaborate hairstyle. This courtly and poetic love ballad is beautifully portrayed in perfectly balanced illustrations executed in watercolours and Chinese ink.
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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Yeh-Hsien
retold by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Richard Holland
(Mantra Lingua)
The story of Cinderella is said to have originated in China and is over one thousand years older than the earliest known Western version. Like the European Cinderella, Yeh-Hsien is left in the care of a stepmother who treats her badly, feeding her little and dressing her in rags. As the Spring Festival approaches Yeh-Hsien longs to attend but when the day comes, her stepmother and stepsister leave her behind with work to do. But that's where the magic comes in - magic that emanates not from a fairy godmother, but from the bones of a fish.
   The graceful flowing lines and strong shades of blue and red make for some dramatic illustrations to this cross cultural tale which is available in 22 dual language editions
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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The Magic Paintbrush
Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Joel Stewart
(Macmillan)
Julia Donaldson breathes her own magic into this ancient story by telling it in rhyme, and it reads aloud like a dream. We learn how Shen, a young village girl is given a magic paintbrush when drawing pictures in the sand promising
     Never to paint for wealthy folk
     But only for the poor.

Back home her brushwork produces a feast of fish for her family and soon the whole village is sharing in the bounty of the brush. But trouble comes over the horizon when the emperor learns of her special gift and demands riches for himself. Then Shen uses her wits and the magic brush to thwart the emperor’s avarice, escape from his clutches and return to the village for a joyful celebration.
Joel Stewart’s watery paintings and flowing brush strokes create an authentic oriental atmosphere being equally effective whether portraying dramatic, tranquil or joyful scenes.
All in all a truly fine collaboration and a perfect book for sharing around the Chinese New Year (or at any other time).
(reviewed by Jill Bennett)
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