While we are all thinking about what Christmas books to buy for our kids, I’d like to talk about a picture book about another important celebration in my family, which is the Chinese New Year.
Once in a while a book comes into your life that really reflects some aspect of it. So it was with delight that I discovered the picture book called “A New Year’s Reunion” by Yu Li-Qiong. It’s a touching story about a man in China coming home for his once a year visit with his family during the Chinese New Year. This visit is only a few days long. Can you imagine?
The book gives me some perspective on my own life. My husband, who is also Chinese, spends part of the year in China. It is a puzzling aspect of the culture to me. Husbands and wives in China often live apart from each other for long periods of time. Although it is not unique to Chinese culture, it was new to me as a Canadian and took some adjusting (it still does). But at least he spends more than a few days of the year with me.
The story is wrapped up in the theme of a Chinese New Year. This Chinese celebration reflects one of many ways to celebrate the Chinese New Year. The celebrations are actually secondary to the story, which is why I am not recommending this book for you to learn about customs. Instead I hope that you are able to experience the emotions of those who must do this year after year: leave their family to seek a better life, a better paying job.
My five-year-old daughter and I have different feelings about this book. I find the book moving. My favourite part of the story is when the daughter gives her father something of significance to take back with him. I was swept up in the father’s emotions when I looked at the beautifully illustrated picture from Zhu Cheng-Liang that accompanied the scene. I wanted to weep for the father and the separations he must endure.
When I had first turned the page to the earlier dragon scene, my daughter responded with “Wow”. It’s no surprise that this picture book was one of the New York Times 10 best illustrated books in 2011. It also won the Feng ZiKai Chinese Children Picture Book award in 2009.
My daughter told me that her favourite part was when the daddy came back, and her least favourite part was when the daddy left. Then she admitted to me that she did not really like the book, that the book made her sad. After all, it reminds her of her beloved baba going away.
It’s not a bad thing to read a book that makes a child sad. If a book can help a child open up about their feelings of a parent being away, then it is one way to help them cope.
Other children may react differently. Those who have parents in the army or who seldom see a parent may feel comfort that there are others like them.
Still others may find themselves empathizing with the characters. Building empathy (understanding of others) is important these days, because where you have more empathy, you have less aggression. You also have better relationships if you are empathetic. It is an excellent way to help curb bullying.
In fact, at least one recent study has shown that reading fiction actually improves empathy. The brain doesn’t distinguish between reading and real life. The effect was even found in preschool children in another study.
Not all Chinese children go through this. But there are many who do.
It is important for all parents to share stories from other cultures with their children. Our children are growing up in a global community, especially in multicultural Canada, so more than ever we need to learn from each other. Learning about other cultures in a positive manner is an excellent way to increase empathy.
The Chinese New Year starts Sunday, February 10 in 2013. This picture book would be a great addition to any personal library for either that celebration or for Christmas.