written by Roseanne Greenfield Thong, illustrated by Meilo So
About: A cute little tale about finding the magic within, told in the style of a Chinese folk tale. Plus, noodles! That made it an instant hit with my kids. The author spent 16 years living, working and studying in Asia, the illustrator is Hong Kong-born and British Empire raised. This book goes nicely in my collection of books about makers.
Non-Eurocentric / Western-centric setting and characters
Little girl finding her own ability to do incredible things
A maker story
Author and illustrator both having a genuine connection to the culture they’re depicting
What: A red and gold snake wall decoration for the Chinese New Year.
About: This is something I did with Kid 3 and Kid 1 back in the Year of the Snake. We were making a point of noticing seasons, seasonal festivals and changes throughout the year in that age bracket, partly because we’d moved to a new state and new climate, and also because that’s part of my basic grounding in druid practice.
How: I got a pack of red plastic disposable plates from the supermarket and we each decorated a few plates, then I put them on the wall under the supervision of Kid 3. I wanted something gold for decorating and couldn’t find any gold markers or stickers except for one pack of alphabet stickers. Between that and the black marker we managed a few random decorativenesses, with no particular structure other than sticking to the traditional colours. I cut a couple of the plates to make the extra shapes. Kid 3 did this with some enjoyment, Kid 1 with a minimal engagement before wandering away to their own devices.
What: A picture of a monkey, using gold doilies as a belly / focus and adding in other features.
About: Each year I’ve tried to do an art or craft activity related to the Lunar New Year festival. We live in an area that has a high population of non-Caucasians, and many of our local businesses either take holidays or hold special events for the New Year. The activities are intended to be a chance for us to talk about stuff as much as anything, setting up the beginnings of cross-cultural understandings. This year, the beginning of Year of the Monkey, happened to fall in the middle of our worst heatwave for the season. So instead of my planned very messy fireworks paintings (which I may still do next week), we went to the air-conditioned local library and did work with textas and glue and other safe-in-public materials.
How: We found a book with pictures of monkeys in it in the kids’ non-fiction section – involving discussion of how the books are grouped by category so first we have to find all the animal books, then we look at each of those books to find one with monkeys in it. Kid 6 is the one who really needs to practice categorisation, but this time they got the idea much faster than Kid 4 (who hasn’t tried to find interesting books on those shelves before). Then we looked at all the pictures of monkeys. We glued the doilies down – I’d had them in my craft materials drawer after seeing them in my local supermarket one day – and the kids drew whatever extra bits around the belly they felt like. As we worked, I referred back to some of the monkey pictures and we talked about what the monkey faces actually looked like, how drawing zig-zag lines instead of straight lines made it look more like fur, whether or not monkeys had tails. Whatever kind of came up in discussion – the point is to talk as much as anything. We also talked about the festive colours of Chinese New Year, the dragon art project Kid 6 had done in school that day, where and what Chinatown is, when Kid 6 can wear a Chinese dress – again, whatever came up out of their random thinking.
Extras: I’m thinking I might follow this up at some point with either a drawing exercise where we only use zig-zag lines, or with another trip to the library to pick a different animal to look up and work out how to draw. Both of those aspects seemed potentially interesting/useful. The other obvious follow-on is to try using a doily as a stencil, colour through the holes and then lift it to see the pattern.