Wednesday, February 06, 2008


NEW CLOTHES FOR NEW YEAR'S DAY by Hyun-Joo Bae (Kane/Miller)
A girl prepares for Solnal, the South Koran Lunar New Year, by the meticulous dressing into hanbok, a glorious traditional princess-worthy costume complete with embroidered socks, rainbow-striped jacket and crimson skirt, a warm furry vest, embroidered shoes, lucky charm, red and gold hair ribbons, bag and black satin hat. Dressed to the nines, the girl opens to discover that the world around her has also dressed new snow! The delicate illustration style is evocative of the masterful work of Demi (for a sample, check out her recent release, THE BOY WHO PAINTED DRAGONS, a dazzling, golden-gilded tale of a boy who faces his fears), but Bae is clearly a talent in her own right. Strong figurative drawings really capture the palpable frustration and accomplishment of a young child getting dressed. The final garb really is so stunning, and rendered with lots of red jumping off the page, a symbolic color of good luck. Indeed, any child would be lucky to have this strong multicultural pick included in a storytime, any time of year. (4 and up)

Also of interest:
February 7th starts the Lunar New Year celebrations for many Asian cultures! Though I am not Chinese, my family does something every year to celebrate this festive, firecracker-filled holiday, because the dancing dragons, paper lanterns, red envelopes full of money given to the children, and a reason to order out the Mongolian Combo from the lovely take-out place on the corner make this holiday just too fun to miss.

There are many great children's books about Chinese New Year and Chinese culture, but there are a couple that are an absolute necessity in the collection of any grown-up who wants to share the holiday with their class or family. MOONBEAMS, DUMPLINGS AND DRAGON BOATS: A TREASURY OF CHINESE HOLIDAY TALES, ACTIVITIES AND RECIPES by Nina Simonds, Leslie Swartz and the Children's Museum, Boston, illustrated by Meilo So (Harcourt) is one of these. Every teacher I showed this book to gave a gleeful shout upon receiving it in their hands, as if welcoming someone they hoped would stop by. I gave the shout myself when I saw this title, a much-needed resource and long-awaited addition to any multicultural collection. This book spills over with crafts, recipes, stories and fascinating general information pertaining to Chinese New Year and the lantern Festival, as well as Qing Ming and the Cold Foods Festival, the Dragon Boat Festival and the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. Intriuged? You should be, this stuff is more delicious than a Five-Treasure Moon Cake (yes, a recipe for that is included, too!). A guide to Chinese pronunciation, internet resources and a compass to the Chinese Zodiac are a few of the handy extras that you'll find. Some of Meilo So's illustrations are so brightly colored and energetic, I wonder if she didn't dip her paintbrush into a firecracker to make these pictures! Phenomenally festive and just plain fun, both children and adults will love poring over it, and every teacher absolutely needs it. Non-fiction fit for a dragon!

The other book that is an absolute must-have is HAPPY NEW YEAR!/KUNG-HSI FA-TS'AI! by Demi, who has been notorious for using art supplies like a mouse's whiskers in order to create her illustrations. But exquisite artwork aside, this book is the most complete and engaging compendium of information about Chinese New Year that I have come across, including information about the animal zodiac, read Chinese writing and learn all of the kindest Chinese greetings for the New Year, watch a parade of Chinese guardians and symbols go by (each clearly explained), learn what all the dishes served on New Year's represent, what role different trees and flowers play, and so much more. Informative for kids and grown-ups alike!

I also turn annually to Ying Chang Compestine's RUNAWAY RICE CAKE, illustrated by Tungwai Chau (Simon & Schuster), an altruistic tale of a hungry family who shares food with the needy. While the message is lovely, I have to admit that my favorite part is the recipe for the unique and authentic rice cake nian gao in the back of the book. A far cry from the Styrofoam discs we can buy at the supermarket, this is a damp and sugary cake you can slice into and that is a delight to make as part of a yearly tradition. No wonder Ms. Compestine is so successful as the author of cookbooks as well as children's books, though she consistently combines both talents; THE REAL STORY OF STONE SOUP, illustrated by Stéphane Jorisch (Dutton), adds some fresh Chinese flavor to an old trickster tale, and also includes a recipe in the back of the book.

Also check out librarian/author extraordinaire Toni Buzzeo's latest, FIRE UP WITH READING illustrated by Sachiko Yoshikawa (Upstart), in which a school librarian helps her patrons to "scale" new reading heights with the help of a dragon dance promotion that's fun to replicate (lots of firey and fetching support materials available from Upstart). More suggestions for celebrating the culture during every month of the calendar may be found at the article I wrote, Dim Sum and Then Some: Celebrating China Through Children's Books. Plus, you can make something fun by visiting the Chinese New Year Crafts at Kaboose, and be sure to get on the mailing list for the cool Asia for Kids catalog so you can enjoy the continent all year long. You can even get a purse that looks like a Chinese food take-out container, to carry all of your good fortune!

Happy Year of the Rat!
This pretty print was done by willlovelogic at the Etsy on-line artist collaborative!
Don't you think this person would be a dandy book illustrator?

On a personal note: Chinese Zodiac Classroom Horoscopes!
For a long time I was a Chinese astrology "junkie" and studied their zodiac, in which each year was represented by a different animal, repeating in cycles of twelve years, and a person had particular traits based on what year they were born (like how the Western zodiac has Libra, Sagittarius, Pisces, etc. representing the months). This year belongs to the clever and resourceful rat; wouldn't Templeton be pleased!

When I was a new teacher, it always struck me as funny listening in the teacher's lounge to the veterans complain that classroom dynamics alternate; if you had a "bad" class one year, the wives' tale seemed to dictate that you would have a "good" one the next, and teachers with "good" classes shivered over what the next year would bring. The scary thing was, it seemed to be true! Why would that be? It struck me that nearly all of the children in a class would have been born in the same year, and according to the Chinese zodiac, would probably share certain qualities. According to Chinese horoscopes, a "Ying" year is followed by a "Yang" year, and so it stands to reason that the challenges of the classroom would either rise or ebb, depending on the teacher's own place in the chart. In the interest of all classes being "good" classes at heart, a few years ago I compiled all of my limited but enthusiastic knowledge of the Chinese zodiac to create this guide to help teachers anticipate the needs of the animals in front of them. Teachers, you'll have to tell me if it rings true or not for your class! This information is for entertainment purposes only; I hope you have as much fun reading them as I had writing them!

If your class was born in 1996, your classroom is Year of the Rat!
What a well-rounded, clever group! These children can pick things up in a flash, so be sure to assess their abilities regularly and mind your pacing. This bunch loves to collect things, and has many outside interests. How about a classroom museum, or regular show-and-tell? Rats have artistic and literary flair, and this is a great year to let the children run the class newspaper (they are very creative writers), or create a library of books on tape read by the children. Be flexible in your routine; these kids feel bogged down by schedules, and once they get rolling with something, you'd be better off to let them roll. People born under this first sign in the Chinese zodiac are adventurers, and sensualists; incorporate multi-sensory experiences whenever possible, whether sniffing spices that Marco Polo might have encountered or rubbing hands in a piece of fur that might have been traded by the pioneers. Reward them in a classroom economy, they will just love keeping track. You may want to initiate some conflict-resolution ground rules for your class, as this energetic group can become aggressive towards each other at times. Also, this group loves responsibility, but the lesson of not biting off more than you can chew will be valuable in the long-run for these children. Although this group will grow up to be leaders, while they are children they have a need to feel comforted and protected, so give them plenty of hugs (no matter what your administrator says). When they come back to visit you, they will be entrepreneurs, breaking ground in whatever they choose to do.

If your class was born in 1997, your classroom is year of the Ox!
You have a classroom full of hard workers! Strength is the hallmark of oxen, both in character, constitution and ability. Physically robust, you will have good attendance this year. Appeal to the oxen with the practical side of things; this is a good year to teach about simple machines and money skills, and read lots and lots of folktales. Oxen can stick to tasks that require repetitive attention, or attention over time; measure those bean plants, dig for dinosaur bones in plaster, learn those time tables, work on handwriting. Build, build, build wherever possible; early childhood educators should invest in another set of blocks. There is something kind of old-fashioned about ox children; they are polite, sticking to the rules and self-reliant. Though calm and amicable, the ox child might struggle with shyness and veer into the land of the lonely. Refer to your classroom community as "a family" to help them feel like they belong, even if they don't do things to stand out. Oxen build their futures in construction, on the farm, in academics or in the corner office of a corporation.

If your class was born in 1998, your classroom is year of the Tiger!
Tigers love a challenge, so this may be a year to raise the bar a little bit. Even though tigers can be extremely competitive and approval-seeking, they value friends above all else, so accentuate the need for sportsmanship while creating opportunities to excel; the idea that we all can be winners may be a new one to a Tiger. Tigers also passionately throw themselves into tasks to the point of burn-out, so alternate exciting projects where their leadership qualities can shine with intervals of calm review practice where they can relax and pull themselves together. Try weekly poetry memorizations and oral presentations with this group (How about William Blake's "Tyger, tyger burning bright"?) for something to look forward to that gives each child a chance to shine, maybe even a poetry slam or two? Field trips will have this group roaring for more. Intelligent, far-sighted and with a dramatic streak, these children often earn their stripes in the military, on stage as actors or comedians, or behind the wheel as chauffeurs and pilots.

If your class was born in 1987 or 1999, your classroom is year of the Rabbit!
Like the sheep (1991), this is a sensitive and artistic group. Be sure to create an organized, tidy environment with plenty of routine to help your bunnies thrive. Rabbits also have a strong social streak, and if you can invite children into the subject matter with "clubs" or other groups, they will be extremely receptive. This attentive group will tune in to read aloud, and their prowess as mini-administrators make for great reading groups as well. Though no child likes sarcasm, take special care to avoid it with rabbits, as it cuts them especially deeply. Music is their special gift and it can permeate your day without creating a distraction; get out those classical albums and watch them whistle while they work. Rabbits grow up to be attentive therapists, diplomats, fare well in public relations, and shine in the arts. This diverse spread of talent makes them effective teachers, too!

If your class was born in 1988 or 2000, your classroom is year of the Dragon!
The dragon is one of the most charismatic of the Chinese signs, so you have a classroom full of irrepressible personalities that will need your most acute attention to bring out the best in them. Energy and ideas percolate, sometimes manifested in hyperactivity and other times these children seem to withdraw into a world of their own invention. Maybe because they are so good at solving problems in creative ways, these children are not particularly good at taking advice, and you may hear a lot of "I know, I know!" when trying to teach. It stands to reason, then, that one of their favorite sayings might also be "I did it all by myself." Help dragons learn to organize and plan, so that their many dreams can come to fruition. Science and invention fairs will go over very well this year. The best ways to get dragons to open up and hear other people's ideas is through many classroom discussions, structured to insure that everyone's ideas get the respect they deserve. Dragons may also demonstrate specialized talents that are not necessarily academic; go out of your way to encourage parents to support them with outside classes. Unusually loyal and ethical, a good teacher will help prepare these straightforward souls for a world that might take advantage of their trusting natures. These children grow up to live by example in business and politics, and also thrive in fields like engineering and computer technology.

If your class was born in 1989 or 2001, your classroom is year of the Snake!
Intuitive, enigmatic and even Machiavellian, you have a classroom full of children who like their own space or they get rattled. Manage your classroom with special care to avoid boisterous and chaotic situations, as these children respond especially well to order and calm. Keep your eyes peeled also for cliquish behavior. These children may have unusual organizational skills and are good, ponderous problem solvers. Try activities involving logic and patterns, read lots of mysteries together, and if you can sew, make a quilt. They are also good at research, so give them plenty of opportunities to look things up on their own. While this group may be sometimes slow to start, take care to explain things more than one way and make yourself available for further questions. Once they get going, though, they attack their work with imagination and precision and bask in the sunshine of your praise. This group may have an almost mystical quality about them; pretend you are teaching at Hogwarts this year and you'll do all right. They grow up to become skilled craftspeople, surgeons, politicians and yes, magicians.

If your class was born in 1990 or 2002, your classroom is Year of the Horse!
You'd better make sure you have the children's input in creating classroom rules, or they will buck big-time. It's all about independence with this group, and they have a tendency to rebel, even have tantrums, if there are too many rules or expectations to conform exactly. Share lots of adventures and survival stories with them, and make sure they have plenty of opportunity to physically let off their steam. Explore world geography to help their minds run wild and free, and give them oral reports through the year, as this is a group of great communicators. Foreign languages may also entice them. Careers in journalism, air travel and hotel management may be in the cards for this bunch who will experience life at a full gallop.

If your class was born in 1991 or 2003, your classroom is Year of the Ram!
Oh, these children are so sweet! They have excellent fine motor skills and are an artistic bunch, and should have art and music integrated whenever possible. Their tendencies give them a special interest in the human face of history. Share lots of biographies of artists and peacemakers to inspire them, and to help them gain confidence. These children will also respond well to gardening activities and creating maps. Don't be shy about asking them to help with your bulletin boards, they are great at making visual displays! Socially, your students are sensitive and kind, but they can also be clingy and quick to cry. Work hard to make the physical environment of your classroom as cozy and domestic as possible to make the herd feel school is home away from home. They may grow up to build some pretty impressive homes of their own, as architects or interior designers, or they will carry their calm into the wider world as peacemakers.

If your class was born in 1992 or 2004, your classroom is year of the Monkey!
Be on your toes! Monkeys have a sharp wit and a naughty sense of humor and are known to start a bit of mischief just for the fun of it. These children also are intensely curious, imaginative and good at problem solving. Language is a great outlet for their world of questions and answers; journaling will be prolific. Regale them with trickster tales and allow them to explore using technology whenever possible. Books must abound in their environment, and learning centers will be a big hit. In fact, with monkeys the more resources the merrier, because they need plenty to keep these energetic minds on their work instead of plotting some diversion. If you use a project-based approach, Monkeys eventually come down from their trees to become super scientists and winsome writers.

If your class was born in 1993 or 2005, your classroom is Year of the Rooster!
Cock-a-doodle-doo, your class excels in all things dramatic, so break out those reader's theater scripts whenever you can! Besides being born performers, these little charmers have strong social skills and interact well with adults, so intergenerational projects will go over well. Be sure to accentuate the practical applications of subjects to avoid laying an egg; the straightforward algorithms of math will speak well to this brood. Though not famous for academic achievement, they tend to be perfectionists, so be generous with praise whenever you can to avoid classroom melodramas. Competitions are motivating for them, but with this group's effervescent sense of humor, the teacher will be the real winner this year. These students continue to be in the spotlight as they grow up and become performing artists.

If your class was born in 1994 or 2006, your classroom is Year of the Dog!
Lucky you, you have a classroom full of helpers! Make sure each child has a special responsibility in the class, or reach out into the community to lend a hand and watch them wag their tails. But beware, these dogs bare their teeth at busywork; feeling what they are doing is important to them, and this fact will be imperative towards motivating your pack. Try to find special interests and hobbies for each of your puppies, they are independent learners with a stick-to-itness that will make the passions you introduce now last a lifetime. These honest hard-workers grow up to be lawyers and judges, so all that arguing in class and insistence on fairness is just preparation for the future!

If your class was born in 1995, your classroom is Year of the Pig!
You have a very self-confident class with an indulgent streak. Average grades are satisfactory for this happy-go-lucky group, and character education is of greater interest than academic achievement. Feed their appetite for learning with plenty of activities that integrate cooking (and eating), and small group activities that satiate their need to socialize. Have plenty of joke books on hand, because when it comes to laughter, this group likes to give as well as receive! Many pigs respond well to extrinsic motivators, since pigs like special treats. Don't give up on them if they socialize a bit at first. Instead, enjoy their smiles and their willingness to roll with the punches; their laid back ways will make them receptive and eager as you try lots of new hands-on ideas in the classroom. Besides, you'll be a model; many piglets grow up to be teachers and boar classrooms of their own!

The zodiac images are papercut art from Artistic Chinese Creations. These are little treasures, how on earth do they cut such intricate designs from tissue? I like to get a bunch and read aloud TIKKI TIKKI TEMBO by Arlene Mosel, illustrated by Blair Lent, and give the cuttings as special prizes to the children who have the shortest name and the longest name (get extras, sometimes there is a tie!)

Gung hay fat choy...peace out and happy reading in the New Year, everyone!

"Chinese Classroom Horoscope," copyright 2003-2008, Please do not reproduce without attribution.
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