Wednesday, April 20, 2016

NPM Celebrations - Chinese Language Day

April 20th is Chinese Language Day. The United Nations (UN) has 6 official languages – Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. Each of them have their own days to "promote multiculturalism and cross cultural understanding by showcasing the rich history and literary culture of each language." The dates for the Language Days were selected by the Department of Public Information for their symbolic or historic significance in connection with each language. The date for the Chinese day was selected to pay tribute to Cangjie, the figure attributed with the invention of Chinese characters.

Today's books and poems highlight Chinese culture.

A Suitcase of Seaweed and Other Poems (1996), written and "decorated" by Janet Wong, is a collection of 36 poems that celebrates all aspects of her heritage. Divided into three sections, Korean poems, Chinese poems and American poems, the poems are preceded by an introduction that describes the author's experiences with this part of her culture. Many of the poems revolve around family and food. Here are two poems from the Chinese poems section.

Albert J. Bell

Forty years of friendship
with my grandfather,
and still Uncle Al cannot eat
with chopsticks.

Forty years of friendship
with Uncle Al,
and still my grandfather forgets
to offer him a fork.

Grandmother's Almond Cookies

No need cookbook, measuring cup.
Stand close. Watch me. No mess up.

One hand sugar, one hand lard
(cut in pieces when still hard),

two hands flour, more or less,
one pinch baking powder. Guess.

On hand almond, finely crushed.
Mix it with both hands. No rush.

Put two eggs. Brown is better.
Keep on mixing. Should be wetter.

Sprinkle water in it. Mke
cookies round and flat. Now bake

one big sheet at three-seven-five.
When they done, they come alive.

Poems © Janet Wong, 1996. All rights reserved.

**When I first got this book, I actually tried this recipe/poem. Let's just say I failed miserably! Here's the recipe I use to make Chinese almond cookies.

My Chinatown: One Year of Poems (2002), by Kam Mak, is a lushly illustrated book that follows a young boy as he adjusts to his new life in the Chinatown of his new American city. The pictures are so beautiful and finely detailed that in some instances readers may be fooled into thinking they are looking at a photograph. The heart ache and longing for home the boy endures can be felt in every poem. These poems are also filled with stories of family and food. Here is the poem that begins the winter section of the book.

Back home in Hong Kong,
it's New Year.
Papa says we'll have New Year here,
in America, in Chinatown.
Mama says it will be just like home.

But it isn't home,
even when the firecrackers
hiss and crackle all night long
to scare off every evil spirit in the world.
In the morning, I go out along
to kick through drifts of red paper.
Somewhere there will be one whole firecracker
hidden, waiting for me.

But I can't find one,
even though the air dances
with scraps of red,
a snowfall the color of luck.
It must be someone else's luck this year.
Not mine.

Poem © Kam Mak, 2002. All rights reserved.

Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments (2014), written by Emily Jiang and illustrated by April Chu, is a collection of free verse poems told from the perspective of children preparing for a concert in which they will play their instruments. In addition to the poems are informational sidebars that describe the history of the instruments, how they are played, and their sounds.

Painting with Sound

Picking at my guzheng
I can feel

the crisp, clean
mountain air

breezing over
my unbound hair.

Strumming my guzheng
I can feel

the cold rush
of waterfall

filling my ears
with thunderous call.

Poem © Emily Jiang, 2014. All rights reserved.

Marvelous Math: A Book of Poems (1997), selected by Lee Bennett Hopkins and illustrated by Karen Barbour, is a collection of 16 poems on calculators, division, multiplication, fractions, time, and other mathematical topics. Here's one that uses Cantonese.

One to Ten

Yut yee sam see
Count in Cantonese with me!

Eun look chut bot
Can you tell me what we've got?

Gow sup. One to ten!
(Could you say that once again?)

Poem © Janet Wong, 1997. All rights reserved.

That's it for today. I hope you'll join me tomorrow for our next celebration.


  1. How wonderful to see my poems here, Tricia! And anyone wanting to HEAR Chinese can click on the link below for THIS NEXT NEW YEAR and then click again on the bilingual reading by me (English) and Minjie Chen (Mandarin); the link is halfway down the page, just under the photo of me and Yangsook Choi (the illustrator of the book). Minjie works at the Cotsen Library at Princeton University and was the lead translator on the Chinese bilingual edition of the book.

    1. Thank you, Janet! This is wonderful. I love listening to Chinese.

      Here's a direct link for folks.