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Notes from a Children's Librarian: The Mooncake Festival

Book Cover The Shadow in the Moon

In mid-autumn, while the moon is at its biggest and brightest, East and Southeast Asian families come together and celebrate the Moon or Mooncake Festival to give thanks for the harvest. Lanterns are hung to symbolize the path to good fortune and mooncakes—round crusted pastries usually filled with red bean or lotus seed paste—are eaten.

This book list includes different versions of Chang’e, who is the lady and spirit of the moon, and also a fable about lanterns.

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In The Shadow in the Moon, by Christina Matula, illustrated by Pearl Law, Ah-ma tells her granddaughter the tale of how the shadow of the lady came to be trapped in the moon. Long ago, the earth was being scorched from the ten suns dancing in the sky, and so Hou-Yi, an archer, shot down nine of them. The immortals rewarded him with a potion for eternal life in the sky, but—understanding its power—Hou-Yui and his wise wife, Cheng’e, hide the potion. Later while Cheng’e is home alone, however, a thief breaks in and demands the potion, and Cheng’e drinks it to prevent him from stealing it. Hou-Yi comes home to find his wife trapped in the moon and forever pays tribute to her by staring up at her and serving her favourite round cakes.

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Mooncakes, by Loretta Seto, Illustrated by Renne Benoit, features a little girl snuggled under a blanket beneath the moon with her Mama and Baba, eating mooncakes and listening to three classic narratives. The first is a version of Cheng’e in which the wife swallows the eternal elixir in order to escape Hou-Yi, her selfish husband. The second tale is of Wu-Gang, who is promised immortality by a hermit if he does exactly as he says. But Wu-Gang’s laziness gets in the way and the hermit, who turns out to be the Jade Emperor, tricks Wu-Gang into chopping down a tree that cannot be chopped down. To this day, Wu-Gang is trapped in the moon, chopping wood. And in the last tale, the moon magicians come down to earth to test the animals’ goodness on earth. After asking fox and monkey, it is Jade Rabbit who selflessly offers up himself. The magicians reward him by bringing him to the moon where he can be seen forever offering food to those who need it on earth.

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Book Cover to Share One Moon

To Share One Moon, by Ruowen Wang, illustrated by Wei Xu & Xiayoyan Zheng, is a realistic story about a family new to Canada. In China, Mother has a high-ranking bank job and father is a doctor, but in Toronto, the protagonist’s mother must go to school to learn English and her father ends up taking a factory job. They can’t even afford mooncakes for the autumn festival. Nai Nai (grandma) tells the sad tale of Chang-Er who selfishly swallows two pearls given to her husband by the Queen Mother of the West to live forever in heaven. At the last minute, Chang-Er grabs a rabbit to keep her company, but the selfish woman doesn’t make it as far as heaven. Instead, she lands on the moon. The protagonist wishes Chang-Er and the husband were never separated—a metaphor for what happens to her family. Mama returns to China to her old job while her father stays in Canada to attend night school, determined to return to medicine. Hers is a family divided, but both under the same moon.

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Paper Lanterns, by Stefan Czernecki, is not about the Mooncake Festival but showcases a variety of colourful lanterns for this time of year. This fable about patience and the power of observation features Old Chen, master lantern-maker, who is not ready to give up the reins of his business to the next generation, even though Little Mouse (a small boy) begs him to. When Old Chen gives him a job sweeping, Little Mouse watches the apprentice who cuts the paper. He watches the apprentice who bends the bamboo and listens to the encouraging words Old Chen gives his two pupils. After weeks of perseverance, Little Mouse puts this knowledge into practice and builds a beautiful lantern, earning the trust of Old Chen, who eventually gifts him his lantern shop.

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On her first day as teacher-librarian, Julie Booker was asked by a five-year-old if that was her real name. She's felt at home in libraries since her inaugural job as a Page in the Toronto Public Library. She is the author of Up Up Up, a book of short stories published by House of Anansi Press.

 

September 27, 2021
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