Using books to celebrate festivals and different cultures
At BookTrust we know how important it is for children to see their backgrounds, and that of their friends’, reflected in books. We asked Natasha Yim why books on festivals are so crucial in this.
Growing up in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, Chinese festivals were a big part of my upbringing. I loved their loudness, their flair, their colour and vibrancy. They were always centred around food and family, and in the case of Lunar New Year, came with two weeks off from school and little red packets of money given by generous relatives. Festivals, with their noisy parades, centuries-old legends, fancy decorations and dances, are great ways to experience cultures from around the world.
When I wrote my picture book, Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas, it was a perfect opportunity to showcase Chinese culture and traditions through the celebration of the most important Chinese festival of the year – Lunar New Year. The story featured elements that are important to the festival such as specific foods, clothing, decorations, and rituals.
Since then, I’ve written and published three more books about Lunar New Year, because festivals are a fabulous way to introduce culture and traditions to young readers. Most festivals share common themes of food, family gatherings, age-old beliefs and superstitions, and colourful legends. These provide wonderful avenues for children to compare their own cultures and traditions with those of other cultures. From learning about language differences (Lunar New Year is called the Spring Festival in China, Tet in Vietnam and Seollal in Korea), children can also study the variety of costumes, culinary delights, dances, games, or art.
Festivals also offer fantastic, creative ways to expand any story with a celebratory theme beyond the pages of the book and into the home or classroom. Kids can immerse themselves in learning about culture through arts and crafts, calligraphy, cooking, dance, and much more. In addition, reading books about other people’s lives and what is important to them, can create empathy in the readers, and lead to many interesting conversations.
Plus, festivals are great fun to write about! My latest release, Lunar New Year, illustrated by JingTing Wang, follows fictional character Ling as she helps her family prepare for the new year festivities. It includes fun facts about the festival, hands-on activities, and even a dumpling recipe.
Lunar New Year is celebrated around the world by many different Asian cultures, but there are geographical and regional differences in how the holiday is observed. As a writer, it was interesting to research how other Asian cultures celebrate Lunar New Year. Which rituals are the same? Which are different? I certainly learned a few things I didn’t know. These details can lead to discussions about identity and belonging, which are important themes for children to think about. And books provide a friendly, positive entry way into this topic.
There are other Chinese festivals I’d love to bring to life in stories. My upcoming book Luna and the Case of the Missing Mooncakes features the Mid-Autumn Festival. Next on my list – the Dragon Boat Festival!
Lunar New Year by Natasha Yim, illustrated by JingTing Wang, is out now.
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