a new year’s reunion by yu li-qiong and zhu cheng-liang

It’s Lunar New Year! Happy Year of the Dragon!

While there are quite a few books describing the many wonderful cultural traditions associated with Chinese New Year, none of them so thoroughly tugs at my heartstrings like A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong and Zhu Cheng-Liang (Candlewick, 2011).

This luminous, poignant story opens with mother and child welcoming father home. They only see him during Chinese New Year since he works far away. At first, little Maomao is understandably wary of the prickly bearded stranger, but after a haircut he looks “more like Papa the way he used to be.”

They treasure every precious moment spent together, doing ordinary fix-ups around the house and participating in holiday activities (making sticky rice balls, visiting friends, watching the dragon dance on Main Street). Thrilled when she gets the lucky fortune coin her dad had tucked into one of the rice balls, Maomao is later devastated when she loses it playing in the snow. The coin, now a symbol of their singular bond and a treasured token of their reunion, eventually turns up. Time to say goodbye comes much too soon; Maomao places the coin in her father’s large palm, a parting gift laced with her with sweet anticipation for next year’s visit.

It’s easy to see why this book earned the prestigious Feng ZiKai Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award and was cited by the New York Times Book Review as one of the 10 Best Illustrated Children’s Books of 2011. Zhu Cheng-Liang’s beautifully evocative, color saturated gouache paintings are by turns joyous, poignant, playful, and endearing.

Interesting details provide a glimpse of lifestyle and customs in Maomao’s part of the world, and the artist’s brilliant use of red accents in every spread creates continuity and harmony. A symbol of happiness and good fortune, red is a character all its own, a vibrant heartbeat enlivening this timeless celebration. Telling body language, especially in the father-daughter spreads, effectively renders an emotional mélange ranging from unabashed joy to a restrained but fully palpable sorrow.

Apparently there are approximately 100 million migrant workers in China who return home only once a year during New Year’s. Transit systems make special provisions to accommodate this, the largest annual migration in the world, several weeks preceding New Year’s Eve. It is also believed there are more interurban trips made during this time than the entire population in China.

A New Year’s Reunion is definitely one of my all-time favorite books about Chinese New Year, a classic that should be in every home and school library to be savored again and again. Readers will likely gain a newfound appreciation for the family gatherings they take for granted and the luxury of having their loved ones close by throughout the year. I also see this story resonating with military families who must endure lengthy separations. Highly recommend this lovely, lovely book!


written by Yu Li-Qiong
illustrated by Zhu Cheng-Liang
first published in 2008 by Hsin Yi Publications, Taiwan
first American edition published by Candlewick Press, 2011
Full Color Picture Book for ages 3+, 40 pp.
Cool themes: Lunar New Year, families, multicultural celebrations, China, social studies

♥ Other Reviews: Julie Danielson at Kirkus, Terry Hong at Book Dragon, *starred review* at Publisher’s Weekly

(click for Savory Sticky Rice Ball Soup recipe at Sunflower Food Galore)


**A NEW YEAR’S REUNION. Text copyright © 2007 by Yu Li-Qiong. Illustrations copyright © 2007 by Zhu Cheng-Liang. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.

Copyright © 2012 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

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