Tuesday, September 17, 2002

"Exploring Chinatown: A Children's Guide to Chinese Culture":
By Carol Stepanchuk; illustrated by Leland Wong (Pacific View Press), hardcover, 64 pages, $22.95.

Book helps kids
with Chinese

Wrap that moon cake up with a few lessons in Chinese customs. The Moon Festival celebrated with the full moon Saturday is one of many aspects of Chinese traditions covered in "Exploring Chinatown: A Children's Guide to Chinese Culture," a new book by Carol Stepanchuk, illustrated by Leland Wong.

The book is San Francisco-centric, but the book demonstrates the universality of Chinatowns everywhere, as text and illustrations of temples, tea rooms, herb shops and acupuncture practices give youngsters ages 10 and up an overview of Chinese culture. They'll be able to read about food, then make potstickers, fried rice and chicken soup from recipes included in the book. They'll also learn about games, use of chopsticks and get quick lessons in calligraphy and brush painting.

The book chronicles Chinese history in the United States in a way easy for a child to digest, from days of the California Gold Rush, to days of anti-Chinese violence and exclusion, to the mainstreaming of Chinese communities. A paragraph at the end of the book is devoted to the history of Honolulu's Chinatown.

Along the way the author notes legends such as that of Chang E, exiled to the moon after swallowing a magic potion bestowing long life; discusses the meanings of symbols such as narcissus (fresh beginnings) and lotus (purity, harmony); and in a section on names, brings up the subject of "paper sons," those who, in the days of anti-Chinese immigration laws, entered the country as kin of unrelated residents they paid to claim them as family.

In addition to being a lively, fun and educational package for children, the book offers a fascinating glimpse of Chinese traditions to the armchair traveler who wishes to learn more about the culture, and even to third-generation Chinese-Americans who may find themselves learning about aspects of their culture such as the meanings of colors in the Beijing opera and how to use an abacus.

By Nadine Kam

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