According to this book's jacket, the author and etcher, Thomas Handforth, visited the Far East on a Guggenheim Fellowship and published Mei Li in 1938 based on his experiences. The Caldecott Medal-winning story follows a young girl on the eve of the Chinese New Year as she ventures out to the streets of Peiping to enjoy all the mysteries the holiday has to offer. The black and white etchings are divine, and the story has a great flow to it, each sentence giving a nod back to the one that preceded it.
In North China, near the Great Wall, is a city shut in by the Wall. Not far from the city in the snow-covered country is a house with a wall around it, too. Inside the house on the morning before New Year's Day, everyone was busy. Mei Li, the little girl with a candle-top pigtail, was scrubbing and sweeping and dusting. Her mother, Mrs. Wang, was baking and frying and chopping. Her brother, San Yu, was fixing and tasting and mixing. A fine feast prepared for the Kitchen God, who would come at midnight to every family in China to tell them what they must do during the coming year.
Packed full of Chinese tradition, it's wonderful to experience another culture from a child's point of view. The girl herself is extremely charming, and wins your heart by how she deals with each adventure as it arises. Pictured here is "the good luck bell under the Bridge of Wealth", and I've been racking my brain trying to figure out how to incorporate this tradition into an American holiday. So fun! As the Chinese New Year falls on January 31 this year, we might all break out our good luck bells and celebrate.
Originally published in 2009.
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