a list of…five happy new year’s stories

Snow, by Cynthia Rylant, illustrated by Lauren Stringer

Here in Minnesota, our dreams of a white Christmas were sadly unmet; so now we are anxiously awaiting the first snow of the new year.

There are those who dislike snow.  Cynthia Rylant is apparently not one of them, happily.  Her beautiful descriptions of the different kinds of snow in this poetic book, her rejoicing in its beauty, her intimate knowledge of the emotions that arise from snow, clearly belong to one who loves this white, crystal loveliness.

Sometimes snow comes softly, peacefully while we sleep, and sometimes it whirls down in the middle of day to bring an abrupt halt to school and work.  Sometimes snow is delicate, while sometimes it is blanket heavy.  Sometimes snow brings us out of doors to sled and wade through drifts, and sometimes it cozies us into our fireside corners with a hot mug of tea and some book-friends.

Rylant conveys all of this snow-sweetness with minimal words, accompanied by charming, warmhearted  acrylic illustrations by Lauren Stringer.  Stringer captures the elegance of snowflakes, and downy, creamy snowscapes; gleeful, bundled-up faces, and faces warmed by the orange glow of firelight.  Great book for preschoolers and up.  I adore this admiring look at snow!

Dumpling Soup, by Jama Kim Rattigan, illustrated by Lillian Hsu-Flanders

On the sunny, tropical Hawaiian islands, seven-year-old Marisa is preparing to celebrate New Year’s with her “chop suey” family — that’s Grandma’s loving description of their large, loving family whose members are Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, and haole (white).

Since she’s seven, Marisa has been invited to help make the traditional dumplings for the soup.  All the women arrive with sharp cleavers and cutting boards to spend the day chatting and chopping , preparing the delicious, meaty, spicy filling, and wrapping tender dumplings by the trayful to be boiled in fragrant broth.

There are a lot of worries that go with taking part in such an important tradition, yet so much satisfaction and joy as well.  Rattigan captures wonderfully the internal hopes and fears of Marisa, while keeping front and center the fascinating traditions of this melange of cultures.  Moon cakes and favorite games with cousins, midnight fireworks and yak pap for dessert, and above all, the traditional first meal of the new year — dumpling soup.

Intriguing cultures, a warmly-loving, extended family, comforting long-held traditions, all come together in this sweet story.  Hsu-Flanders’ sunny, friendly watercolors are jam-packed with delightful cultural details, colorful family groupings, and glorious island settings.  Amazingly, this book was the first for both author and artist!  It’s a wonderful read for early-elementary and up.

A Happy New Year’s Day, by Roch Carrier, illustrations by Gilles Pelletier

New Year’s Day 1941, Quebec.  A little four-year-old boy in a small village is taking part in a joyous celebration amid his family and neighbors, a celebration that began months before, in August, when his grandmother picked the cherries for her gala New Year’s Day wine.

In September, sleighs were repaired and painted, in readiness for winter travel.  In December, baking began in earnest, pies and cookies, chocolates and tarts, stored away in the cold room.  Christmas came, with its midnight mass.  And at last — New Year’s Day!  This was the day for gifts and feasting, families and kissing, well-wishing and glasses of cherry wine, dancing and a spectacular ride on a most unusual snowmobile!

Roch Carrier is a well-known Quebecois author who has set this intriguing story in the small village of Sainte-Justine, where he spent his boyhood.  Gilles Pelletier, also Quebecois, brings it to vivid life with rustic, folk art style illustrations in an entire paintbox of bold colors.  This is a longish story, a fantastic peek at a unique culture, and is suitable for upper-elementary and up.

A New Year’s Reunion, by Yu Li-Qiong, illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang

It’s Chinese New Year, and Maomao is waking up early with excitement because today her Papa is coming home!  As a migrant worker, a builder who lives in faraway places all year long, Papa only comes home to be with his family once each year, during Chinese New Year.

When he does, it’s a little scary at first, since Maomao hasn’t seen him for so long.  But Papa brings gifts to them, makes sticky rice balls with her, and snuggles her safely at night while firecrackers pop and bang outside.  Together they go visiting, make house repairs, watch the red and gold dragon wind his fierce way through the narrow streets.

There are so many sweet,  tender moments in those few days, yet the time comes all too quickly for Papa to say goodbye again.  After one last scrumptious hug, he is off.

Yu Li-Qiong wrote this dear story to honor the over 100 million migrant workers in China, many of whom return home just once a year, for a few days, at New Year’s.  Zhu Cheng-Liang’s gouache paintings are absolutely charming.  With minimal detail, her faces, postures, gestures, convey just the right emotion.  Her prolific use of red reflects the traditional Chinese good luck color, as well as adding warmth and zing to these fabulous illustrations.  This is a poignant, sweet story for kindergarteners and up.

New Clothes for New Year’s Day, written and illustrated by Hyun-Joo Bae

New Year’s Day in Korea is one of the most important holidays, filled with long-held traditions, including the wearing of special New Year’s clothes, made with incredible care by the family women.

Up before the sun, tingling with anticipation for the new day, this little girl begins to put on her spectacular New Year’s Day outfit.  A floor-length, crimson silk skirt to wrap around and a sash to tie in a fancy knot.  Daintily-embroidered stockings and a gorgeous, rainbow-striped jacket.  Each piece goes on carefully, and most be fastened just so.  Head band, hair ribbon, flowered shoes, pretty vest, darling hat, lucky bag, charm.  Astonishing!  Now she’s ready for the activities of the day.

This is a simple, quiet story which will entrance many very little girls as they watch each fabulous piece of her costume come together. A lengthy author’s note explains a great deal more about the significance of the colors and patterns and pieces of her outfit, as well as other Korean New Year’s traditions.  Bae’s gorgeous illustrations feature clean, simple lines, with tangy Korean details of clothing and hairstyle and furnishings in exquisite reds and golds and jades.  Beautiful.

Here are Amazon links for all these celebrations of new beginnings:

Dumpling Soup

A Happy New Year’s Day

A New Year’s Reunion: A Chinese Story

New Clothes for New Year’s Day