Celebrate Chinese New Year with Books

Happy Chinese New Year! This year the new year falls on Thursday, February 19.

I have already reviewed one of the best books to read for the Chinese new year. It is called “A New Year’s Reunion” by Yu Li-Qiong. If you wish to read my review, click here.

I also recently wrote about “Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas” by Natasha Yim, a hilarious mash up about the Chinese new year. Click here to read that post.

The book I review today is not related to the Chinese new year. It is however, one well worth reading if you want to explore Chinese culture a little more deeply.

When I was doing PiBoIdMo last November, one of my ideas was to write about “the four pests campaign”. This campaign started in China in 1958. I am always interested in finding out more about issues related to my daughter’s heritage.
During the campaign, citizens were ordered to eradicate rats, flies, mosquitoes and sparrows. Sparrows were included because they ate too much of the wheat crop.
Specifically, I was interested in writing about the crusade to eliminate sparrows. However, the campaign to kill off all the sparrows either through heart attack or exhaustion by making as much noise as possible over three days isn’t exactly a light topic. Those birds were almost driven to extinction. How do you write about something like that without freaking out kids and depressing adults?
During my research, I found out that a picture book called “Sparrow Girl” (by Sara Pennypacker) had already been written about it. Hmmm, interesting. I decided to take it out via interlibrary loan and see how she tackled the subject.
Ming-Li doesn’t understand the plan to eliminate the sparrows. She likes sparrows and cannot imagine the skies silent. But Ming-Li is told not to question the leader’s plan. However, when Older Brother’s pigeon is killed along with the sparrows, the siblings conspire to save some sparrows.
This would not have been an easy choice. We in the western world perhaps cannot understand the unquestioning obedience Chinese people had towards their leader, but if you read enough Chinese literature, you will realize it was not an option. Ming-Li and her Older Brother were risking a lot to save the birds.
I wonder what I would do in that situation. When I read Older Brother say the sky was raining birds, I wanted to weep. Then when Ming-Li corrected him and said that the sky was “crying birds”, I had to put the book down for a moment. Bird and animal lovers may have a hard time with this book.
Yet, it is all made more bearable by the fact that the siblings manage to save 7 birds. Seven birds may not be a lot, but it gives you some hope.
Vesper Stamper talked about the necessity of hope in children’s books in this post:
“Whether the challenge is fear of closing one’s eyes to sleep, or losing a favorite bunny, or getting through the classic Grimms’ three-challenge arc, kids need to know that on the other side of something insurmountable is a green valley brimming with potential.”
When spring comes again, and Ming-Li reveals her secret, she is not punished for her disobedience. Instead she is recognized for what she truly is: wise.
I don’t know if I will ever tackle this heavy topic. I don’t know if I could do it justice like this story has.

A bonus for you:
I remember those years when I was in China while they celebrated the new year very well. When I lived in Beijing, the population was 18 million people. Now imagine the vast majority of them setting of firecrackers. My cat would always hide under the bed, and sometimes I wished I could join her…
If you ever wondered why the Chinese celebrate Chinese new year’s as they do, this is the story:


2 thoughts on “Celebrate Chinese New Year with Books

  1. OMG, imagine killing sparrows…a small but much needed bird in our world. What Ming-Li and Older Brother did was brave and very risky. I’m glad you shared the book, Linda. Yes, all of us need to know the past, so we can change the present and the alter the future. Today Ming-Li and Older Brother would be know as environmentalists.These children were ahead of their time.

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