How sweet is a picture book where the villain gets foiled *and* gets mooncakes?
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival is that book. Ssshhh, don’t spoil the ending like I just did. To savor thoroughly, read aloud with a toddler-through-early elementary student who, at first glance, sees nothing more than a book about a holiday. Ho-hum.
Your young co-reader may follow along restlessly at first as a mother bunny sets off with her basket to gather food. The bunny pulls some carrots, and she gets some hawthorn berries from a friend, some pine nuts and honey from two other friends. She trades two carrots with a farmer for flour. She receives a pair of intricate molds, prepares some fruit-nut filling, wraps the filling in a floury dough, and bakes a batch of pretty mooncakes for her family.
Now—what? You saw a wolf trying to eat her back there? Where? Oh, there . . . and there! He almost got her! There he is again! He’s losing her every time. He’s getting furious and tired until—look, she does see him. She leaves him a note! It says—let’s read it together—these three mooncakes are for him! Oh!! Now wait, where did that wolf first show up? Clear back on the front cover? Can you take me through all that again?
The entire wolf subplot is in the illustrations, so the adult gets to read innocently along about the bunny and then—oh!—get schooled by the child who’s watching the wolf. It’s delicious.
Meng Yanan’s warm watercolors, the neat conceit, and the display of forgiveness yield a surprisingly rich repast.
I love how the bunny stays well clear of the wolf’s jaws and yet affirms the wolf’s dignity. It feels like more humans used to know how to do this. If we can recognize it in a picture book, does that mean we still know how to do it ourselves? Hmm.
Anyway, more tasty tidbits about this book:
The original text of Happy Mid-Autumn Festival appears in the back, providing an opportunity for Chinese-reading children and families not only to access the story, but also to share the beauty and sound of the language with friends.
The translation was done by a British then-high school student named Jasmine Alexander, who had studied Chinese as a second language for five years. After winning a contest run by The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, she received mentoring from none other than Helen Wang, translator of Bronze and Sunflower by Cao Wenxuan, after which an award in China was named, which this picture book won. Alexander’s photo and story, and Meng’s photo and story, may spark interest in the creative processes behind the book.
Older students literate in both Chinese and English could take a crack at translating the Chinese themselves before comparing it with the published version.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival would display beautifully in August/early September alongside A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin and other mooncake mainstays. School librarians, order this pick now for Mid-Autumn Festival and #WorldKidLitMonth (September) next year . . . you’ll be glad you did!
The publisher, Balestier Press, is one of the heroic small presses bringing world titles into English despite as-yet low demand in the Anglosphere. Order direct from anywhere (or via a favorite bookseller), and they’ll get this treat right to you.
Happy Mid-Autumn Festival
Story and Pictures by Meng Yanan
Translated from the Chinese by Jasmine Alexander
2018, Balestier Press
- Talking Translation: Jasmine Alexander
- Bai Megui Translation Competition, The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing, University of Leeds
Avery Fischer Udagawa’s translations from Japanese to English include J-Boys: Kazuo’s World, Tokyo, 1965 by Shogo Oketani, “House of Trust” by Sachiko Kashiwaba in Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories, and “Festival Time” by Mogami Ippei in The Best Asian Short Stories 2018. She is the International and Japan Translator Coordinator for SCBWI.