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From The Asian Reporter, V21, #02 (January 17, 2011), page 15.

Illuminating the Lantern Festival

Celebrating the Lantern Festival

By Sanmu Tang

Better Link Press, 2007

Paperback, 32 pages, $4.95

By Julie Stegeman

The Asian Reporter

It is the 15th day of the Lunar New Year calendar, and Little Mei is confused by all the activity around her. "Grandpa, Daddy, what are these lanterns for?" she asks in the book Celebrating the Lantern Festival. Readers can learn along with Little Mei the traditions and history of the Chinese festival.

Little Mei’s family explains to her that the Lantern Festival is "a very special day when every household lights a lantern and eats sticky rice dumplings."

Grandpa further teaches Little Mei the story of the Heavenly Bird of the Jade Emperor. After the bird was mistakenly slain by humans, the Jade Emperor, full of wrath, directed the Fire God to set the world ablaze. Under the direction of the Emperor’s daughter, the people save themselves by causing the Emperor to believe the earth was on fire by lighting lanterns and setting off fireworks. The Lantern Festival is a commemoration of this story.

The book presents a delightful bonus: Little Mei and readers alike receive an eight-step lesson on how to make yuanxiao — sticky rice dumplings — out of rice flour, water, and fillings such as sweet sesame seed or peanut paste.

"Look," her mother tells her while boiling the tasty treat, "Once the dumplings float, that means they are ready to eat."

Similar to many children’s books, the most interesting aspect of Celebrating the Lantern Festival is its illustrations. From charming depictions of Little Mei pulling a toy duck on a string or celebrating the Lantern Festival with her family to the resplendent Heavenly Bird and the angry visage of the Jade Emperor, the pictures are captivating and make the book even more enjoyable.

Celebrating the Lantern Festival is one of four children’s books written by Sanmu Tang about Chinese festivals. The other three are Celebrating the Dragon Boat Festival, Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival, and Celebrating the Chinese New Year.

"Grandpa, I love the Lantern Festival," says Little Mei at the end of the book. And once you’ve read the story and learned all about the festival, maybe you will, too. Who knows, you may even become inspired to light a lantern and whip up a batch of sticky rice dumplings.

This book review was published as part of The Asian Reporter's Lunar New Year special edition.

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