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This year, Chinese New Year begins on January 31, and we will be welcoming the year of the horse. It is the most important holiday of the year for Chinese people, and one that is increasingly celebrated in the United States and other countries as more and more Chinese people migrate to live abroad. Communities all over the world host Chinese New Year parades each year in celebration of this important holiday.
Chinese New Year starts on a different date each year, because it is based on the Chinese calendar rather than the Gregorian calendar we use in the Western world. Chinese New Year always begins on a new moon and ends 15 days later. There are many wonderful books for kids of all ages that show the rich customer and traditions associated with this holiday. Below I have reviewed 14 books about Chinese New Year for kids.
Will you be doing any Chinese New Year activities with your kids?
Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin
This is a wonderfully simple tale of a Chinese-American family getting ready for Chinese New Year. Told from the perspective of one of the girls in the family, we follow along as each member of the family carries out a Chinese New Year tradition. Using the Mandarin Chinese words to refer to family members, we see Jie-Jie (older sister) sweep the old year out of the house, Ba-Ba (father) hand the spring happiness poems, Ma-Ma (mother) make dumplings, and Mei-Mei (younger sister) get a haircut. Although the text is simple, Lin provides just enough detail in the story for readers to get a basic understanding behind each of these Chinese New Year customs. Bold, colorful illustrations accompany the text. The last pages of the book include a detailed note about Chinese New Year for parents and teachers.
The Dancing Dragon by Marcia K. Vaughan
This book starts like many others, told in first person and listing many things that families traditionally do to prepare for Chinese New Year. What makes this book stand out, however, is the construction of it. Initially I was a bit confused by the accordion-like fold of the pages. But when you reach what looks like the end of the book, you realize that the accordion-like pages then open in reverse. In the story, this corresponds with the arrival of the dragon during the New Year’s parade. As each page unfolds over and over again, more and more of the dragon is revealed. The unique construction of the book underscores just how long the dragon – which always comes at the end of the Chinese New Year parade – can be in real life.
Lion Dancer: Ernie Wan’s Chinese New Year by Kate Waters
This is the true story, documented with photographs rather than illustrations, of a young boy’s Chinese New Year experience doing a lion dance in his community. Ernie Wan is a Chinese-American boy who lives in New York City’s Chinatown. Readers follow Ernie’s family as they celebrate Chinese New Year. We see Ernie and his siblings get new clothing for the New Year so that the evil spirits won’t recognize them. We see them eat their traditional Chinese feast. We observe as the family honors their ancestors at an altar. And we watch as the children play Lion Dance music in their apartment. But best of all, we get to see Ernie do his Lion Dance on the streets of New York as part of the Chinese New Year celebration.
Lucky New Year! by Mary Man-Kong
Lenny and Lili are very excited about the upcoming Chinese New Year. They help sweep the house to welcome the New Year. They decorate the house with oranges and tangerines in anticipation of a sweet year. They eat big bowls of long noodles to symbolize a long life. They receive hong baos, or little red envelopes, filled with “lucky money” for a rich New Year. And they welcome the Chinese dragon who brings wisdom, wealth, and happiness. This book is perfect for toddlers and preschoolers. Each page includes an action that kids can do, such as moving the broom to sweep, smelling the sweet oranges, or opening the red envelope to reveal the lucky money. These actions will keep children engaged and help them learn about Chinese New Year customs.
Happy, Happy Chinese New Year! by Demi
Each spread of this book details one Chinese New Year custom, providing background information about the custom along with small, detailed illustrations of people carrying out the custom. Compared to other books for kids, Demi’s book is perhaps geared toward slightly older kids who will be interested in more of the history and details behind each custom. Parents and children wanting in depth information about all of the symbolism associated with Chinese New Year customs will appreciate the details in this book. For example, on the pages that deal with cooking, there are 23 traditional foods listed along with their Chinese names and what they symbolize.
D Is for Dragon Dance by Ying Chang Compestine
This book goes through each letter of the alphabet, pairing each letter with information about important people and traditions that surround Chinese New Year. For example, F is for firecrackers, which scare away evil spirits. H is for haircut, as children get their hair cut to get a fresh start in the New Year. M is for Moon, since Chinese New Year starts with a new moon. And finally Z is for Zodiac, since the Chinese Zodiac calendar follows a twelve-year cycle, with each year being represented by a different animal.
Chinese New Year by David F. Marx
Using simple text and bright photographs, this book tells about the Chinese New Year holiday and the various traditions associated with the holiday. Although many of the details in this book are also seen in the other books reviewed here, this book also presented a few unique facts we had not read elsewhere. For example, it is good luck if a flower blooms in your house on New Year’s Day. Also, many families set extra places at the dinner table on Chinese New Year for missing family members who are away from home or who have died.
My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz
This book is perfect for toddlers and young preschoolers. The text is simple and the illustrations are pretty basic. Each page describes Chinese New Year custom, along with a brief explanation for the custom. For example, young readers will learn that Chinese families decorate the walls with bright red cut papers, because red is a symbol of luck and happiness for Chinese people. Further, families thoroughly clean their houses for Chinese New Year in order to “sweep away the bad luck” from the previous year. Young children will be interested in these and many more Chinese traditions in this very accessible book. The last page includes a few additional details about Chinese New Year for parents.
Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn
This is a wonderful story about giving and selflessness, set against the backdrop of Chinese New Year Day in Chinatown. Sam is a young Chinese-American boy who has received a lucky red envelope with four dollars inside for Chinese New Year. His mother takes him to Chinatown so he can spend his money as he wishes. When he arrives, he notices a man whose feet are bare despite the cold weather. As he continues shopping, he sees several treats he would like to buy. But when he goes into a new toy store, he gets discouraged that his four dollars are not enough to purchase any of the toys. Feeling dejected, Sam leaves the store, only to see the man with bare feet again. “Can I really do anything I want with my lucky money?” Sam asks his mother. When she replies that he can, he goes to the man with bare feet and hands him the red envelope with four dollars inside, explaining that it won’t buy shoes but will at least buy a pair of socks. After sharing his money with the man, Sam realizes just how lucky he is.
Lanterns and Firecrackers: A Chinese New Year Story by Jonny Zucker
The basic text in this book makes it a good choice for introducing preschoolers to Chinese New Year. It tells the story of two siblings as they get ready for the New Year. They clear their home, set off firecrackers, and wear new clothes. Their parents give them red envelopes with money inside. And on the last day of the two week festival, they hang lanterns outside and wish for good luck in the New Year.
Ten Mice for Tet! by Pegi Deitz Shea and Cynthia Weill
Chinese New Year is often called the Lunar New Year due to the fact that it begins with a new moon. However, it also referred to as the Lunar New Year to be inclusive of the other Asian cultures that celebrate this holiday. In Vietnam, for example, the Lunar New Year is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. The Vietnamese name for this holiday is Tet. In this counting book, each page shows the mice getting ready for Tet by engaging in actions that are customary during the Tet celebration, such as planning a party, going to the market, preparing a feast, making music, and eating special Tet treats. The text of this book is sparse, making it a perfect introduction to Tet for very young children. At the back of the book are detailed explanations about the actions shown on each page of the book and what they symbolize for Vietnamese people.
Celebrate Chinese New Year with the Fong Family by F. Isabel Campoy & Alma Flor Ada
The Fong and Sanchez families are good friends, and this year the Fongs have invited the Sanchez family to celebrate Chinese New Year with them. Nico Sanchez is excited to take pictures of all the events that go along with the holiday. However, he lands himself in some pretty precarious situations while taking photos! But along the way he learns about so many wonderful Chinese New Year traditions.
This book is almost like two books in one. The first half shares the story of Nico’s family enjoying Chinese New Year with the Fong family. Then there is another “book” in the back titled “What is Chinese New Year?” This section presents several pages of factual details about Chinese New Year along with actual photographs (meant to represent Nico’s photographs).
Celebrating Chinese New Year by Diane Hoyt-Goldsmith
Ryan is a Chinese-American boy living in San Francisco’s Chinatown. In this book, illustrated with real photographs, young readers will follow his and his family’s preparations for Chinese New Year. The book is very detailed and includes a great deal of text. For this reason, it is more appropriate for elementary age children rather than preschool age children. For kids who are interested in Chinese culture, there is a wealth of information included in the pages of this book that will explain many Chinese customs.
Holidays Around the World: Celebrate Chinese New Year: With Fireworks, Dragons, and Lanterns by Carolyn Otto
This is another book that will appeal more to elementary age children rather than preschoolers. This book also includes real photographs, but does not follow one particular person or family. Instead, each page of this book covers a different theme, including “We travel to be with our families,” There is plenty to eat,” and “We let the old year out.” The photography in this book really makes it stand out, and is sure to draw young readers in. The back of the book includes additional facts about Chinese New Year, directions for making a Chinese lantern, information about the Chinese calendar, and a recipe for making fortune cookies.
More Chinese New Year resources
More Chinese New Year posts from Gift of Curiosity:
- Chinese New Year Printables Pack
- Books about Chinese New Year
- Chinese New Year drum craft
- Chinese New Year Do-a-Dot Printables
- Chinese New Year lantern
- Chinese New Year Bingo
For more kid-friendly Chinese New Year activities, see my Chinese New Year Activities for Kids page and my Chinese New Year Pinterest board.
Follow Katie @ Gift of Curiosity’s board Chinese New Year on Pinterest.
Great round up! I am featuring Chinese New Year posts next week, and will include this one. My own post on teaching kids about China also includes Grace Lin’s books.
We have a bunch of Grace Lin’s books. I highly recommend her chapter books “Where the Mountain Meets the Moon” and “Starry River of the Sky” — if you can find them in hardback, they are worth it for the gorgeous artwork.
I think “Where the Mountain Meets the moon” is like a Chinese Wizard of Oz.
Thanks for the recommendations! I’m definitely a fan of Grace Lin’s work, but I hadn’t heard of these books yet. Thanks for the tip!
Thanks for this wonderful list of books!
Nice to find a collection of books on this subject. Pinned.
Great list! A little bittersweet, but I’d also add A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong which wonderfully captures the spirit of family reunion at the heart of Chinese New Year. Also The Great Race by Dawn Casey does a good job of telling the story of the Chinese zodiac.
Thanks for the suggestions!
Do you wait until the end of January to teach about Chinese New Year or do you do it now? I have planned on using the book Bringing in the New Year with my class as well.
Chinese New Year starts on a different date each year, so when I would start depends very much on when CNY starts. That being said, use the materials as you see fit!