The Nian Monster: A Book Review

I’m very excited to have been sent The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang to review in celebration of Multicultural Children’s World Book Day 2017. Reading Culture fits well into their mission to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include children’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves and I’m thrilled to be promoting an organization that aligns so closely. You can find more information on them and other diverse books in the special links below.

The Nian Monster
Written by Andrea Wang
Illustrated by Alina Chau

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The Nian Monster (Albert Whitman & Company), cover

The Lunar New Year is upon us, and this timely folklore is an excellent introduction to Chinese culture. The tale begins with Po Po (Grandma) telling little Xingling, the tale of the Nian Monster. Lurking in the mountains above Shanghai, he would come down each New Year to devour entire villages but until now, the Chinese traditions of loud sounds, hot fire and the colour red have kept the monster away.

Three days before the New Year’s celebrations, and attracted to the aroma of a Lion’s Head Casserole wafting through the window, the Nian monster pays little Xingling a visit. She is forced to think on her feet when she finds that the monster has outgrown the traditional tricks from thousands of years ago. She quickly finds his weakness to be delicious Chinese cuisine, and we follow her around Shanghai as she finds the best noodles, sticky rice cakes, milkfish and tea to fill him up and knock him off his feet. This is a sweet adventure with a finale that literally blows the Nian Monster out of the water.

Andrea Wang makes her debut in children’s fiction with a traditional story that is set in modern-day Shanghai. Whether at home or in the classroom, this would be a good addition to a young bookshelf and reading culture. We learn about specialty Chinese dishes, landmarks in Shanghai, and are introduced to the Chinese language. This book can even go beyond the obvious lessons and ignite a deeper conversation. For example, Wang’s main doe-eyed character, Xingling  takes on her Goliath through strategy, intelligence and pride in her culture, which young readers can relate to, or at least be inspired by. How would they beat their monster?

Alina Chau’s illustrations capture  the excitement and busy-ness of a modern Shanghai. Her unique watercolour technique gives  a traditional feel of Chinese ink on rice paper — which is a great talking point in itself — and the colour red flowing throughout the adventure keeps us reminded of the story’s roots. When it comes to teaching about a different culture I would have liked my kids to have seen less ambiguous depictions of Shanghainese people but Chau still does well at portraying a fear-stricken Shanghai which is what really makes this thriller.

Younger children will love the bright colours while the older ones may enjoy learning  a new language. The book is better read with an adult for the opportunity to engage in cultural conversations about everything from geography to food,  language expression, symbolism, and an important message for everyone: that every monster, no matter what culture or background, has a weakness. This is definitely one that can be brought down off the shelf, again and again.

Additional Resources:

Teacher’s Guide created by Anna Chan Rekate
Story time Event Kit created by Curious City
Origami Bookmark Craft

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ABOUT MULTICULTURAL CHILDREN’S WORLD BOOK DAY

Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/17) is its fourth year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness on the ongoing need to include kid’s books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.  

Despite census data that shows 37% of the US population consists of people of color, only 10% of children’s books published have diversity content. Using the Multicultural Children’s Book Day holiday, the MCBD Team are on a mission to change all of that.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2017 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board. Platinum Sponsors include ScholasticBarefoot Books and Broccoli. Other Medallion Level Sponsors include heavy-hitters like Author Carole P. RomanAudrey Press, Candlewick Press,  Fathers Incorporated, KidLitTVCapstone Young Readers, ChildsPlayUsa, Author Gayle SwiftWisdom Tales PressLee& Low BooksThe Pack-n-Go GirlsLive Oak MediaAuthor Charlotte Riggle, Chronicle Books and Pomelo Books

Author Sponsor include: Karen Leggett AbourayaVeronica AppletonSusan Bernardo, Kathleen BurkinshawDelores Connors, Maria DismondyD.G. DriverGeoff Griffin Savannah HendricksStephen HodgesCarmen Bernier-Grand,Vahid ImaniGwen Jackson Hena, Kahn, David Kelly, Mariana LlanosNatasha Moulton-LevyTeddy O’MalleyStacy McAnulty,  Cerece MurphyMiranda PaulAnnette PimentelGreg RansomSandra Richards, Elsa TakaokaGraciela Tiscareño-Sato,  Sarah Stevenson, Monica Mathis-Stowe SmartChoiceNation, Andrea Y. Wang

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also work tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

Special Links:

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers
Free Kindness Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators
Free Diversity Book Lists and Activities for Teachers and Parents


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