Favorite Chinese New Year Books

Chinese New Year is my favorite time of the year. I love the excitement and the preparations, and yes, I love the fireworks going off at all times of the day and night. I also love how it is a celebration that values family so highly.

Migrant workers are the labor force that is building China. Migrants move to far off cities to work long hard hours in order to support their families left behind. Many only return home during the Chinese New Year, making it an even more special family time.

This week I have been reading two titles from our Chinese New Year books that are precisely about families of migrant workers that come together at Spring Festival. Both are told from the point of view of the little daughter left behind, and both are sweet tales of reunion and family love.

 Paper Horse, by Kim Xiong

Paper Horse, by Kim Xiong
Kim Xiong is a Chinese illustrator who has produced several beautiful children’s books, some of which are authored with his brother Li Xiong. We have his books in Chinese and in English. In The Paper Horse, a little boy falls asleep dreaming of riding out on a paper horse cut out by his nai nai (grandmother) to meet his parents, who are returning home for Chinese New Year. The translation is a bit clunky at times, and the rhyming doesn’t quite work, but the cheerfully rounded illustrations make up for any failings in the text. The back of the book in English also contains the text in Chinese characters and in pinyin.

A New Year's Reunion, by Yu Li-Qiong



A New Year’s Reunion, by Yu Li-Qiong. Illustrated by Zhu Chen-Liang

Little Mao Mao excitedly awaits her father’s return for the New Year. As her father helps her prepare for Spring Festival, he arranges for her to find a shiny fortune coin inside a sticky rice ball. The little girl loves her fortune coin, but she loves her father more. Her parting gift to him is a sweet affirmation of her good luck. Our first graders loved the colorful and humorous illustrations.


New Year Resolutions Part 3: Join a Book Club!

Another resolution which you can start to make true this Friday:  Join a book club. Ours!

The IST Library Parent Book Club meets once a month to discuss a book we have all agreed to read during the preceding month. Our discussions are very informal. We sometimes help ourselves with questions from a published guide, but most often we simply talk about what we liked and how the book resonated with us. We also often talk about other things as well: being parents, living as expats in China, our favorite movies and TV shows, and all sorts of topics. It is a lovely hour that we spend building community and fostering a love of reading.

Inferno, by Dan Brown - January 2014 IST Parent Book Club selectionOur January meeting will be on Friday, 17 January, at 9:15, after the elementary assembly. We will be discussing Dan Brown’s Inferno, his newest book. This novel follows Robert Langdon, the protagonist of The Da Vinci Code, as he races to prevent a madman’s catastrophic plans.

Join us for a lively discussion and cement your commitment to read this year.

Elementary Graphic Novels

Our students enjoy graphic novels and comics. They’re fun to read. They’re also excellent practice for inference skills that all readers need to comprehend text. In fact, they rely even more on inference than regular prose because readers have to take the visual cues from the illustrations and the text cues from the speech bubbles and labels, and weave them into a full narrative. Readers of graphic novels have to fill in all the gaps that the author leaves because there’s only so much space in a comic panel. This means that their brains might be working even harder to read graphic novels than other types of books.

We have several excellent series in our graphic novel collection for elementary students. Here are a few favorites.

Squish and Babymouse, by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm.


This of course starts off the list since Squish a) won the Panda Book Award for Middle Readers this year and b) we Skyped with the authors last week. Click here to visit the Babymouse website and here to visit the Squish website.

Lunch Lady series, by Jarrett J. Krosoczka.

Ever wonder what the lunch ladies do when they’re not working at the cafeteria? The one in this graphic novel series is a super hero by night and school cook by day. Armed with superhero kitchen gadgets like a lunch tray laptop and a spatu-copter, this lunch lady will save the day over with a little help from 5 plucky students.

Owly series, by Andy Runton.


This series is almost wordless. A few sound effects are written down, but the action takes place in pictures. Dialog is rendered in symbols. Readers need to supply their own narration and figure out the meaning of the symbols. Owly is an lonely little owl who is always looking for new friends. It’s a sweet, fun read.

Amelia Rules series, by Jimmy Gownley

Amelia used to live in New York City, but after her parents’ divorce, she’s moved to a small town to live with her mother and aunt. She has had to adjust to a new life, a new school and make new friends too. The series start when she’s in fourth grade and follow her up middle school. Perfect for our own fourth and fifth graders.

While the graphic novels I’ve featured above are all series, there are also lots of good standalone titles as well. Come by the library and let us recommend a few to you. Better yet, recommend some favorite titles or series of your own. We’ll do our best to try to include them in our collection.

Celebrating the Chinese New Year – at the library!

The Chinese New Year, or Spring Festival, will soon arrive. To prepare for it, stop by the library and check out a few of our favorite fiction books about the holiday.

Bringing In the New Year, by Grace Lin

Cover for Bringing in the New Year

Colorful illustrations and a simple text convey the excitement of the Chinese New Year. A trio of Chinese American girls get ready for the celebration. They sweep the old luck away, get new haircuts and clothes, put up rhyming couplets and decorate their house. At the end, they go to the parade where a dragon takes center stage.

At IST, we won’t have a full parade, but do be sure to come on Friday, 8 February, to scare off bad luck with firecrackers, drums and lion dancers!


The Dragon New Year, by David Bouchard

Cover for The Dragon New YearA Chinese grandmother explains to her young granddaughter who is frightened by the noisy, bright fireworks on the eve of Chinese New Year how it came to be that Chinese people celebrate the holiday with bright lights and much noise. The illustrations by Zhong-Yang Huang are magnificent, full of detail and drama. Combined with David Bouchard’s lyrical text, this is a perfect story for lap reading on a dark winter’s night.

Stop by the art room and see the magnificent dragon that the preK children made with cardboard paper scales. I’m sure that  Zhong-Yang Huang would have been inspired by the bright colors and the sinous shape of that collage.


The Kitchen God, by Kim Xiong

Cover for The Kitchen GodThe Kitchen God watches over Chinese families all year long. Just before Spring Festival he must make his report to the Jade Emperor, so the family must make sure that his mouth is sweet.

Kim Xiong’s illustrations are whimsical and fresh. Sometimes the translation doesn’t quite sound right, but never fear, we have the book in the original Chinese too.


The Runaway Wok, by Ying Chang Compestine

Cover for The Runaway WokA little boy is sent out to trade his family’s last eggs for rice to share with their neighbors on the New Year’s Eve. He buys a rusty old wok who turns out to be magic. The wok scampers about town taking food, toys and money from the greedy Li family and gives it to the boy’s family, who share it with their neighbors. Fun, colorful illustrations liven up this take-from-the-rich-and-give-to-the-poor story.


Celebrating the Chinese New Year, by Sanmu Tang


Cover for Celebrating the CNYThis is my new favorite book for Chinese New Year. Little Mei wants to know why we celebrate the Chinese New Year and everyone in her family gives her a different answer:  “Because we get new clothes to wear,” says Sister. “Because we get hong bao,” says Brother. “Because we eat jiaozi,” says Mother. “Because we set off fireworks,” says Father. Little Mei isn’t convinced so she asks her grandfather who explains about Nian, who saved the world from the monster Xi. While the language is clunky most of the times and the font almost gets lost in the pages, the idea is a delightful one and the illustrations are charming.


Celebrate the Chinese New Year by reading these or any of the many other books we have on the holiday. You are also invited to our China Week Assembly to be held in the theater on 8 February, at 2 p.m.

Invitation to CNY assembly

Grade 7 Readers Recommend

Stop by the library this week to see recommendations by grade 7 students on the library’s big screen display. These students read books from our Panda shortlists for Middle Readers and Older Readers, and posted reviews for those on our library OPAC.

Note that many books do not have reviews. To find reviews for the 2012 Panda Books, you need to find the Panda Book shortlist. Simply click on the Visual tab and navigate to the Panda Books 2012-2013 page.

Panda Books on Visual tab


To read a review on any other title – if it has one – follow these easy steps.

1. Find the book in the OPAC.

Find the title on the OPAC.

2. In the results that come up, click on the word “Details” for the book you want.

Click on the word "Details" for the result that you want.

3. Click on Reviews to see the reviews that have been posted to the OPAC. If there are no reviews, then perhaps you can post one yourself once you’ve read the book.

Click on the word "Reviews" next to the book cover or on the Reviews tab.


To post a review, you will need to log in to your personal account. Students in grades 4 and up can post reviews. Please note that all reviews are vetted by teacher librarians before they are published.

Here are three basic parts to include in your review:

  • a short summary of the book, a description of the setting or of any of the characters, or other information about the contents
  • what you liked the book about the book and why
  • to whom you would recommend the book

Please use correct English. Also, reviews are only 1000 characters long. That’s about 6 lines, so you need to be brief and make each word count. Yes, you can write about books you don’t like too. Just tell us what and why you didn’t like about the book.

Follow these easy steps to write your own reviews for books that you have read.

1. Find the book in the OPAC.

Find the title on the OPAC by entering it in the search field.

2. Click on “Details” for the title you want from the list of results.

Click on the title you want from the list of results.

3.  Click on “Reviews” on the details page for the book, and then on “Add Review.”

4. Write your review in the space provided. You are limited to 1000 characters. That’s about six lines of text.


Click on "Reviews" and then on "Add Review."

Your review will need to be approved by a teacher-librarian. It should be available for viewing about 24 hours after you have posted it and often less.

Mo Yan, the 2012 Nobel Prize Laureate for Literature

Mo Yan, born on 17 February 1955, is a Chinese novelist and short story writer. Before 2012, he was mostly know for the two of his novels that formed the basis of the film Red Sorghum, directed by award-winning Chinese director Zhang Yimou. Mo is currently the only Chinese author who has won the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“”Mo Yan” — meaning “don’t speak” in Chinese — is his pen name. In an interview with Jim Leach, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, he explains that name comes from a warning from his father and mother not to speak his mind while outside, because of China’s revolutionary political situation from the 1950s, when he grew up. The pen name also relates to the subject matter of Mo Yan’s writings, which reinterpret Chinese political and sexual history.”

“Mo Yan’s works are epic historical novels characterised by hallucinatory realism and containing elements of black humor. A major theme in Mo Yan’s works is the constancy of human greed and corruption, despite the influence of ideology. Using dazzling, complex, and often graphically violent images, he sets many of his stories near his hometown, Northeast Gaomi Township in Shandong province. ”

The Garlic Ballads
Shifu: You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh
홍까오량 가족

The above titles are available at the IST library.

“Mo Yan.” Mo Yan. N.p., 5 Nov. 2012. Web. 20 Nov. 2012. <http://history.cultural-china.com/features/moyan/index.html>.

Book Club for November: Geography of Bliss

This month’s selection for the IST Library-Parent book club is Geography of Bliss, by Eric Weiner. This book is a memoir by a self-professed “grump” who traveled to many different countries around the world looking for the secret to happiness.

book cover for Geography of Bliss

To support this month’s discussion or to inquire into the nature of happiness worldwide, we invite you to visit these links:

The Happy Planet Index – a site that ranks countries by life expectancy, experienced well-being (happiness) and ecological footprint.

World Database of Happiness – a database of scientific research on happiness. Like our IST students when starting research projects, the author begins his research on happiness by visiting the World Database of Happiness.

Author interview from Powell Books Bookstore – a short interview with Eric Weiner.

The author’s website – includes articles by Eric Weiner for NPR and links to videos.

Download a discussion guide for Geography of Bliss  from the Wake County Public Libraries for a bio on the author, book reviews, discussion questions and an interview with the author.

Our IST Library-Parent group is open to all Tianjin expats who love to read and want to discuss our reading selections in a friendly, safe environment. Where possible, we purchase copies of the books through online Chinese bookstores, making it very affordable. Register online to participate and to be added to the mailing list.

Book Review: To Live, by Yu Hua

Thanks to Mr. Sidney Suo for his review below of the book To Live, by Yu Hua. Translation is by Sky Zhang, a grade 10 student.

Among many award-winning Chinese authors Yu Hua was the first Chinese writer to receive James Joyce Award (2002). His novels have been translated into English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Japanese, Korean and many other languages. To Live is the most loved book by Yu Hua and it won Premio Grinzane Cavour, an award voted by Italian young readers and the Man Asian Literary Prize, an annual literary award given to the best novel by an Asian writer.

“Yu Hua is the most profound voice coming out of China today. To Live reaches not only into the very essence of the Chinese people but into the blood and bones core of what it means to be a human being.” Lisa See, author of On Gold Mountain

Books by Yu Hua are displayed with works by other contemporary Chinese authors as Su Tong, Mo Yan, etc., at a special location in the library. Non-fiction books on Chinese philosophy and Chinese history in Chinese and English are also available.

To Live

To Live was the first the book written by Yu Hua that I have read. After reading it for the first time about 10 years ago, I have read other works such as Shouting in the Rain, Chronicle of a Blood Merchant and Brothers by the same author. In comparison, To Live affected me the most and left me with the strongest impression.

I remember finishing this rather thin book in one sitting on a humid, warm afternoon in spring, unable to calm down my thoughts. The story took place at a time of change in the last century, and its captivating plot and life-like characters left me with a feeling of sorrow and grief which clung to my heart, and, like the humidity in the air that day, was unable to be waved away.

The story of To Live is told through the eyes of Fugui, who went through countless hardships and sufferings together with his family in those turbulent times. As the family’s only survivor and a witness of many unfortunate events, Fugui tells his story and experiences in a light-hearted way near the end of his life.

Lu Xun once said, tragedy is destroying something valuable in life for people to see. If this is true, then the story depicted in To Live is no doubt a total tragedy. The misfortunes in the characters’ lives caused even the carefree me ten years ago to shed tears. But being a grand piece of literature, the book not only showed life’s sufferings, it also sang of the greatness of life, and readers can’t help but be moved and emotionally warmed by the amazing humanity that the characters show even as they go through their tragic lives.

The title of the book, To Live, directs a fundamental philosophical question at the reader: Why do people live? What is the purpose of people’s lives?

Through the book’s most tragic character, Jiazhen, I seem to have found the answer, the message that Yu Hua wants to send to his readers: people live for the sake of living and nothing else.

My fellow readers, if, like me, you happen to have an afternoon to yourself and read this wonder of a novel, I believe that you too will find the answer that you are seeking for, comforting your sorrows and soothing your grief…

Where The Mountain Meets The Moon

mountain moon

mountain moon

Grace Lin is the award-winning author and illustrator of The Year of The Dog and The Year of The Rat, as well as picture books such as The Ugly Vegetables and The Dim Sum for Everyone!. Her newest novel Where The Mountain Meets The Moon is one of this year’s Newbery Honor books, and is also a Panda Book award nominee for the Middle Readers category.
This novel is about the adventures of Minli, a poor village girl, and her friend, a flightless dragon, seeking ways to bring good fortune to her family and village. A collection of Chinese fairy tales, stories and folktales are intertwined with Minli’s story. Readers will learn more about Chinese culture through reading the legends of the Old Man of the Moon, Dragon Pearl, Buffalo Boy and the Weaving Girl, Fish Leap the Dragon Gate, etc.
The targeted audience for this book is children aged 8-12 but it will also be appreciated by families and would make a good read-aloud at home. The beautiful illustrations in this book surprised me with their richness in color and their delicacy.

Join me in this wonderful journey of Chinese tales and please answer the question online.

Quiz: What is the secret to happiness written on the Paper of Happiness?
Clue to the Quiz: One word
Challenge: Read more Panda Book Award nominated books and vote for your favorite in January 2011.
Note: Books highlighted in red can be found in the IST library.

Donation from Chan family

Donated by Eric and Rachel Chan, the author's grandchildren

Both books can be found on the IST catalog.

We are delighted to add two books to our library collection: Once Upon a Bell Tree and A Little Grain of Rice, both by Theresa Lim Mun Sim. These have been graciously donated to IST by her grandchildren, Rachel and Eric Chan, who attend our school since 2008.

Both books are memoirs from Ms. Sim’s childhood. She grew up in Malaysia on a plantation she charmingly calls The Wood of the Thousand Rubber Trees. The text is accompanied by charming illustrations, black and white sketches in Once Upon a Bell Tree and watercolors in the sequel, A Little Grain of Rice.

These books will appeal to readers of all ages. Parents who read the stories aloud with their family will surely find themselves sharing their own recollections of childhood with their own children.