Book List: Lunar New Year Books

Lunar New Year is the traditional celebration marking the start of a new year in the lunar-solar calendar, and is one of the most important events in several Asian cultures. It is also referred to as Chinese New Year, but as it is widely celebrated by other cultural groups, the term Lunar New Year is seen as more inclusive. In China, it is called Spring Festival or Chunjie in Mandarin. Here, Ruth Oy Har Agnew has listed some books to look at with your family to explore the traditions and origins of Lunar New Year.

Photo credit: IQRemix

Lunar New Year Around the World

By Amanda Li & Angel Chang

Published by Bonnier Books

This beautifully illustrated book is a great way to introduce Lunar New Year to young children. The text is ideal for shared reading with an adult (as the text is too advanced for beginning readers), and touches on celebrations from several different countries and cultures.

All About Lunar New Year

Written by Kevin Tsang

Illustrated by Sy Linh Nguyen

Published by Scholastic UK

This  colourful book from the UK explains the lunar calendar and the twelve animals of the lunar horoscope, and offers activities from several cultural traditions for children to enjoy the festivies themselves. Activities include making paper firecrackers, Korean rice soup and Chinese cookie dumplings. Interactive educational fun.

Hurrah for Yum Cha

By Nessie Sharpe

While this isn’t specifically about Lunar New Year, this picture book by Auckland author Nessie Sharpe uses yum cha, a popular way to celebrate Lunar New Year, particularly amongst New Zealand Chinese, to count to ten in both English and Cantonese. Nessie Sharpe’s other book, Bang Bang Noodles, could also be used to explore new year traditions, as eating long noodles for long life is another common way to celebrate for many families.

Bringing in the New Year

By Grace Lin

Published by Random House

This is a bright, engaging picture book for preschoolers about an American-Chinese family preparing for the new year. They clean the house, hang decorations and make dumplings. Newberry honouree Lin has written several books about Chinese traditions based on her own experiences. At the end of Bringing In the New Year there is a fun fold-out picture of a dragon, which will appeal to younger children. 

I Love Chinese New Year

By Eva Wong Nava & Xin Li

Published by Scholastic

Mai-Anne is excited about Chinese New Year, and enjoys preparations with her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai. Together they cook a celebration feast, and Nai Nai explains the origins of the rituals and traditions they perform. This gentle story integrates the importance of intergenerational relationships within Chinese cultural into the narrative, and uses the character of Nai Nai to present facts in an interesting and engaging manner.

Tết Together

Written by Alice Trinh

Illustrated by Jade Le

This book looks at the Vietnamese traditions of Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year) such as sweeping out the new year and eating certain food, with a focus on family celebrations.

Ruby’s Chinese New Year

Written by Vickie Lee

Illustrated by Joey Chou

Published by St Martin’s Press

This cute, colourful picture book neatly uses the idea of Ruby wanting to deliver a letter to her grandmother as a device to introduce each of the twelve Chinese zodiac animals to young readers. 

Kia Kaha Celebrates Chinese New Year

Written by Clare Erasmus

Illustrated by Vanessa Ide

Kia Kaha is a mouse who we first encountered after the Christchurch earthquakes, living in the demolished Cathedral. In the fourth book of his adventures, Kia Kaha travels to China to explore the sights, sounds and tastes of Chinese New Year. While it is great to support a local author, this book doesn’t really give any insight into celebrating in Aotearoa, and there doesn’t appear to be any consideration of the use of te reo and discussion of Chinese traditions by a Pākehā author or any input from Māori or Chinese perspectives. 

Editor Linda Jane couldn’t help but add a couple of her favourites, especially after just eating fish (for long life!) for dinner. Here they are:

The Nian Monster

Written by Andrea Wang

Illustrated by Alina Chau

Published by Albert Whitman & Company

Friends are Friends, Forever

Written by Dane Liu

Illustrated by Lynn Scurfield

Published by St Martin’s Press

Ruth Oy Har Agnew

Ruth is a writer and teacher of Chinese and Pākehā descent from Ōtautahi Christchurch. She has written for Theatreview, The Press, Stuff, Flat Takahe, What’s Up Christchurch, and the Playmarket Annual. She is an experienced actor, and currently works supporting young performers as a speech and drama teacher.