Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Review - PoPo's Lucky Chinese New Year

PoPo's Lucky Chinese New Year
by Virginia Loh-Hagan
illustrated by Renné Benoit
Date: 2016
Publisher: Sleeping Bear Press
Reading level: C
Book type: picture book
Pages: 32
Format: e-book
Source: library

When her Chinese grandmother comes to visit, a young Chinese-American girl learns of and participates in the customs and beliefs celebrating an authentic Chinese New Year.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I've had this picture book on hold at the library for weeks. It finally came in, just in time for the last day of Chinese New Year. Had I known how much I would hate this book, however, I wouldn't even have bothered.

The cover looks cute and the description of what the book is about lured me in. I wanted to learn something more about Chinese New Year. Well, I did... but it wasn't the things I expected. PoPo's Lucky Chinese New Year taught me that Chinese grandmothers think it's okay to instill a ton of fear and potential neuroses for the sake of tradition. That's not the kind of thing I want to see in children's books.

The book is so steeped in superstition that it made me uncomfortable. I've heard some of these before, but this book takes the fear to a whole other level. If you have a superstitious child, avoid this book unless you feel like dealing with a whole new set of rituals while they try desperately to avoid the number 4, throw out any red writing implements, and develop an unhealthy sense of entitlement.

The little girl in the book is kind of a spoiled brat. I just about had it when she talked about the lai see (red envelopes with money):

PoPo says MaMa and BaBa have to give lai see to little children, unmarried family members, and their own parents. Lai see have crisp brand-new dollar bills inside.

I'm glad I'm not a grown-up because I don't have to give away any lai see.

This is after she talks about wanting to be rich, so you can see the values that have been instilled. Then, on the next page, she tells her baby brother (who she's complained about from the beginning of the book):

"You're lucky to have me."

I don't think I've ever seen such a self-centred narcissist as a children's book character! It's kind of disturbing.

Also disturbing? Some of the superstitions that some kids could internalize. Like the one about not sleeping on New Year's Eve. You need to stay awake so your parents will live long lives. (Can you imagine the therapy that would be required if a sleepy child accidentally nodded off on New Year's Eve and then something awful happened to their parents?) There are so many rules and they all have to be followed or you'll get bad luck. Or monsters or evil spirits will get you. Okay, I get that this is the Chinese culture, but isn't there a way to share what Chinese New Year is about without scaring the changshan off of young readers?

Maybe it's just a cultural disconnect. Maybe I just don't have patience for superstitions, especially if they adversely affect people. Some of PoPo's superstitions seem to be bordering on OCD, and I don't think it's healthy to normalize that. I also hated the materialism, narcissism, and greed of the main character.

While it's not strictly a Chinese New Year book, I'd recommend Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim over this book. It still delves into some of the cultural traditions of the holiday, but it's nowhere near as neurotic and potentially harmful to already anxious children.

Premise: 0/5
Meter: n/a
Writing: 2/5
Illustrations: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 0/5

Overall: 1.17 out of 5

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