Ages 3-5 years
Hardcover, 40 pages
16″ x 9 5/8″
This charming story of Maomao, a little girl whose father only returns home once a year at New Year’s, won the Feng ZiKai Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award, and was named one of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Illustrated Books. At first MaoMao is startled by her papa’s prickly beard, but he has presents for her and her mother, and the family makes sticky rice balls together (a fortune coin is hidden inside one, as a special surprise) as they listen to firecrackers cheerfully going off throughout the neighborhood.
The next day Maomao bites into the rice ball that holds the fortune coin, and proudly shows it to her friends when she goes out New Year’s visiting with her family. Later she helps her papa clean and brighten up the house for the coming year. He father lifts her on his shoulders and together they watch the colorful Dragon Dance in the street below. Their family fun is bittersweet, however, because soon, like millions of other migrant workers, her father must go back to work–the beginning of another long absence. When it’s time to say goodbye, Maomao presents her father with a heartfelt gift.
Responding expertly to Yu Li-Qiong’s well-constructed picture book narrative, Zhu Cheng-Liang’s bright and delightfully detailed gouache illustrations sensitively convey the loving connections between Maomao and her family and close community, and the depth of feeling between parents and children who must spend long periods of time apart. Parents will appreciate the chance to talk with children about what it’s like to be away from each other, and to learn about the tradition of the Chinese Lunar New Year and its beautiful Dragon Dance, especially fitting in this Year of the Dragon.
(If you’d like to make Sticky Rice Balls like Maomao’s family does, see the video at the end of this post.)
Written by Ying Chang Compestine
Illustrated by Yan Nascimbene
I resisted this title at first due to its unabashed hitching of its wagon to the star of the movie Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but the book quickly won me over with its elegant text and bright illustrations with clear references to classical Chinese paintings and to fine ink-and-watercolor style.
I especially appreciate the author’s delicate handling of the budding relationship between Ming Da (called “Vinson” by everyone but his Chinese grandfather) and his grandpa, a martial arts master who has traveled from China to the U.S. to lead the New Year’s Dragon Dance in their city. Grandpa practices Tai Chi outside every day, and we watch Ming Da become increasingly interested. Like all students, Vinson/Ming Da is frustrated at first, but as he grows in patience, and in understanding and appreciation of his grandpa–who gradually emerges as his teacher–the boy begins to show the first signs of both inner and outer accomplishment in the art of Tai Chi.
This award-winning author and illustrator pairing is just right. The poetic, musical quality of the text and the influence of Chinese classical art on the illustrations combine in an excellent alchemy that makes this much more than just a story of a boy coming to more fully appreciate his Chinese roots. The text on each spread of this horizontal picture book is punctuated by a quiet ink and watercolor illustration of a young boy in a traditional white uniform, performing a Tai Chi move. Children learning Tai Chi or any martial art will appreciate the chance to try out the gentle moves depicted, and parents will find the book offers subtle teachings on the benefits of patience and perseverence.
Children love learning Tai Chi. Here’s a basic video by TaiChiforKids.com that explains the benefits of Tai Chi for children:
Want to make Sticky Rice Balls to celebrate Chinese New Year like Maomao’s family did? This video shows you how:
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