Before the pandemic, teacher Yobe Qiu noticed that at her preschool in New York City, the educators had access to books that showed Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Christmas but not Lunar New Year or other Asian holidays.
“When it came time for Lunar New Year, there wasn’t a book that tied Asian communities together,” says Qiu. “A lot of people were talking about the Chinese New Year, but it’s really not Chinese New Year. The Chinese aren’t the only community that celebrate the new year.”
Since she wanted to have a book to share with her young students about all the holidays being celebrated around them, she decided to create one herself — about the Lunar New Year. And then she expanded on that to include the Moon Festival, which is on Sept. 21 this year, and the Double Fifth Festival (celebrated in June).
Qiu found herself with much more time to write during lockdown in 2020, since she had no classes to teach, and and she also saw that anti-Asian hate crime had spiked. She felt a strong need to educate kids about other cultures.
“It’s the middle of a pandemic, and I said you know what, I have to do this,” Qiu says. “It’s a mission of mine.”
In addition to the her holiday series, she has written “Asian Adventures A-Z” and “Asian Holiday Series Activity Workbook.”
Qiu says she has helped teachers with audiobooks and training so they can feel more familiar pronouncing unfamiliar names in the materials, and has helped them to get more information out to students and to be more inclusive of all cultures.
“If we don’t put up more books for little children to have these really important conversations — because children learn their role through what they see and what they read and what they talk about in schools — and we don’t stock their libraries and we don’t train our teachers to have these conversations about different cultures, different communities, people who have different interests and beliefs and colors, they won’t have the opportunity to even talk about these conversation topics,” Qiu says.
“Parents and educators aren’t always equipped with the information themselves, so including diverse children’s stories in your child’s library will help start those conversations, as well as help teach both parents and children alike about the sights, sounds, foods and celebrations in different cultures,” says Qiu.
“By showing kids culture and celebrating inclusion and diversity, they will be better equipped as future leaders of society.”
The book series
In the three vividly illustrated books, Qiu explains three Asian holidays and how each is celebrated, breaking down the descriptions into specific traditions’ celebrations.
In her book “Our Moon Festival” (illustrated by Christina Nel Lopez), Qiu shows the different ways in which the holiday, also known as the Mid-Autumn Festival, is celebrated in Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese celebrations. (The holiday is known as Zhong Qiu Jie in Mandarin, Tết Trung Thu in Vietnamese and Tsukimi in Japanese.) The three stories show how each culture marks the holiday, including mooncakes with family members in Shanghai and Hanoi, and Tsukimi dango (soft rice dumplings) for the more solemn moon celebration in Japan.
In “Our Lunar New Year,” the main characters are children from various traditions, and the book shows Chinese, Thai, Korean, Indian and Vietnamese festivities for the celebration.
In “Our Double Fifth Celebration,” kids can learn about the different observances of the Double Fifth (sometimes known as the Dragon Boat Festival) in Japan, Korea and China. (It’s observed on the fifth day of the fifth month).
This year, the author plans to celebrate the Moon Festival with her 3-year-old daughter.
They’ll call family members they can’t be with this year because of the pandemic and walk around with lanterns.
“When I was little, I was not interested in any of these at all,” says Qiu, laughing. “And now that I have a child, we’re going to get some mooncakes — have a party where we bring a bunch of different ones, and have her taste-test and talk about them.”
There are free worksheets about the Moon Festival available at the author’s website.
This story was first published on Sept. 9, 2021.
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