Sunday, January 15, 2012

A New Year's Reunion: Tuan Yuan by Yu Liqiong, Feng Zikai Book Award Winner, The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Illustrated Children's Books


Life isn't fair so read it and weep
Annie Ho 

A New Year's Reunion by Yu Liqiong is one of my favourite books and my daughter's, as well.
It is the story of Maomao, a little girl in China spending Lunar New Year with her parents and friends. 

Her father is a migrant worker who returns home only once a year. 

The book is beautifully written and illustrated. There's probably enough material for a feature-length animated film! The first time I read it, I fought unsuccessfully to hold back tears when I finished. 

I introduced the original Chinese version of this story to my daughter shortly before she turned two. I wondered if she would see the parent-child love in the story and relate that to her own life.

I had expected that my daughter would at least point out the illustration of Maomao riding on her father's shoulders, because she had recently done the same thing with her own father; we even had a photograph of that incident (almost identical to the illustration in the book) that my daughter had seen several times.

Instead, she became fixated on the two illustrations showing Maomao with her father at the barber shop. My daughter had just had her hair cut recently, hence her interest in that visit to the barber.

I continued to read A New Year's Reunion to my daughter, and she continued to flip back to those pages whenever I tried to move the story along. I concluded that perhaps she was a little too young for this storybook and put it away on the bookshelf, planning to bring it back out when she was older. 

Then one day, many months later, as my husband walked out our front door with luggage in hand to go on a business trip, my daughter blurted out, 'Papa's leaving, just like Maomao.'
She got it! All this time she had got it. 

Incidents like this make me even more passionate about sharing my love for books with my children. A reader takes away so many new and different things every time he reads a story. We still read A New Year's Reunion every Lunar New Year, and my daughter and I have since had many engaging discussions about all aspects of this wonderful book.

With younger children it's fun to use A New Year's Reunion to learn about the winter season and Lunar New Year traditions. 

With older children, parent and child can explore the theme of separation and absence, or relate the Chinese migrant worker to domestic helpers in Hong Kong who leave children behind in their home country.

As parents, we shouldn't be afraid to introduce stories that aren't candy-coated or seen through rose-coloured glasses. A child should be encouraged not only to share laughter over happy, silly stories but also to talk about why some stories are not enjoyable for him to hear or make him feel sad. 

For me, it's nice to just experience a great storybook with my daughter, even if it touches upon deeper or heavier themes that she has yet to fully grasp. 

In addition to A New Year's Reunion, two other great children's books that also bring tears for their meaningful message and accompanying illustrations are The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein and I Love You Forever by Robert Munsch. 

A New Year's Reunion was originally published in Chinese as Tuan Yuan, and won the first prize at the 2009 Feng Zikai Chinese Children's Picture Book Awards. 

The English version, published by Candlewick Press, was released late last year and promptly recognised as one of The New York Times Book Review's 10 Best Illustrated Children's Books of 2011. 

Annie Ho is a board governor of Bring Me A Book Hong Kong, a non-profit organisation devoted to improving children's literacy through reading aloud to them and providing easy access to the best children's books for underserved communities across Hong Kong.

A read-aloud session in English and Putonghua will be held today to launch sales of the English-language Reunion, from 2.30pm-3.30pm at The Commercial Press, shop 115, 1/F, Olympian City 1, 11 Hoi Fai Road, Kowloon. Annie Ho will read the story in Putonghua.

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