The Lunar New Year, sometimes referred to as Chinese New Year, is based on the Chinese lunisolar calendar, so its corresponding date on the Gregorian calendar varies from year-to-year. The exact date varies from culture to culture in some cases, but it typically happens in late January to mid-February. Because of cultural diffusion and imperialism, the Lunar New Year is/was also celebrated in other countries under different names with different associated traditions: Korea (Seollal/설날), Vietnam (Tết), Japan (Oshōgatsu/正月; since a little over a century ago Japan has switched over to celebrating New Year on January 1st), Mongolia (Tsagaan Sar), and Tibet (Losar/ལོ་གསར)་. It is also celebrated in places with many diasporic Chinese populations, such as Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, the United States, Australia, etc.
For the Chinese calendar, each year is associated with a zodiac animal. There are twelve zodiac animals total, and they cycle every twelve years. This is the order: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep/Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig/Boar. The zodiac animals for some countries, such as Vietnam, differ from the Chinese zodiac in one or more ways. Your zodiac animal is based on the year in which you’re born. If your birthday is in January or February, you’ll have to double check to make sure you’re not actually the tail end of the previous year, as some sources only state the solar year without regard for the discrepancy between the two calendars.
This year’s Lunar New Year is January 28th, and the Chinese zodiac animal for the year is the Rooster, which is actually my zodiac animal, as I am turning 24 this year (I can’t believe I’ve lived through two zodiac cycles, dang). In celebration of this holiday, I’ve made a list of Asian books that are related to or mention Lunar New Year or the Chinese Zodiac (and its variants/derivatives) in some form or fashion.
For more details on how the holiday varies from place to place and culture to culture, you can check out NBC Asian America’s article. There’s another lunisolar calendar-based new year celebrated in many Southeast Asian and South Asian cultures, and I will have a separate post for that in early April.
The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat by Grace Lin – Contemporary, Middle Grade
Based loosely on the author’s own childhood, the Pacy Lin series chronicles the adventures of young Taiwanese American Pacy Lin. She struggles to fit in, makes new friends, develops her writing/illustration talents, and learns more about her Taiwanese heritage and family history through stories from her relatives.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord – Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
The year is 1947. Shirley Temple Wong moves to the U.S. from China. She doesn’t speak much English and faces prejudice from people around her. However, when she discovers Jackie Robinson, his success gives her hope that she will be accepted and succeed.
Archer’s Quest by Linda Sue Park – Contemporary, Middle Grade
Twelve-year-old Kevin couldn’t care less about centuries-old history or his Korean heritage. They’re boring and irrelevant to him. But then the mysterious Archer appears in his bedroom. Kevin soon learns that Archer is a legendary king from Korean history who has mistakenly traveled to 1999 from the First Century B.C. Now, Kevin must rely on his wits, his math skills, the Chinese zodiac, and some Korean history research to deliver Archer back to his time before it’s too late.
Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai – Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Novel-in-Verse
Hà knows only Vietnam for the first ten years of her life. Then, the war comes, and in 1975 (the Year of the Cat in the Vietnamese zodiac), her family flees Vietnam for the United States. In America, she is a foreigner, and aside from figuring out how to fit in and speak English, she must learn to heal from the trauma of war and displacement.
Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Lee – Historical Fiction, Young Adult
Samantha is on the run from the law for killing in self-defense. She hopes to catch up to a westward-bound caravan that her father’s friend is traveling with. Her only ally is an escaped slave, Annamae, and they are forced to dress up as boys as a disguise. During their journey they encounter friends and enemies alike, and the threat of being caught follows them. They walk a dangerous path, but with their wits and the help of friends, they may just survive. (Note: The rabbit, snake, and dragon on the cover represent different characters’ zodiac signs, which are mentioned in the book. ^^)