Thursday, February 26, 2015

My Review of Eileen Wacker's 'Red Penguin and the Missing Sushi'

In Eileen Wacker’s second book in the Fujimini Adventure Series, Fujimini Island is filled with excitement as the animals prepare for the much anticipated Moon Festival Celebration, a traditional Chinese harvest festival. All the hamsters are busily making beautiful traditional lanterns while Red Penguin is crafting her prized sushi. The other critters who live on Fujimini Island are doing all the can to help, including Blue Whale who just loves parties. Red Penguin is very proud of her sushi, and is doing a bit of showing off and bragging to the hamsters about how important it is. Suddenly, her beloved sushi vanishes. Has a simple mistake been made or is someone trying to teach Red Penguin a lesson about bragging? 

Given 4.62 out of 5 stars on Good Reads and 5 out of 5 stars on Barnes and Noble, this book is an excellent way to make kids smile and laugh along through the adventures of the Fujimini Island animals while also learning a subtle but important moral lesson about bragging. 

A customer reviewed the book on Barnes and Noble’s website, giving it a 5 out of 5 and commented:
“Red Penguin and the Missing Sushi is a clever and very funny little book. The characters are great and the story keeps children engaged. Plus, the author infuses bits of asian culture into the story. It's fun and educational!”
When asked about her inspiration behind this book author and CEO of ONCEKids Eileen Wacker responded, My inspiration for Red Penguin and the Missing Sushi was children’s hide and seek, sushi making and bragging! It is a true adventure story involving two best friends who decide to teach a sushi making bragging chef a lesson. Of course it backfires and the importance of working together to solve a problem comes into play! I love this story and the bragging penguin is really a great friend and chef!”

Enjoy the story on your kindle, hardcopy, or as an animated book!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A Summary and Review of Eileen Wacker's Pink Hamster and the Big Birthday Surprise

The fourth installation in Eileen Wacker’s Fujimini Adventure Series, stars the adorable and peppy Pink Hamster who is beside herself with excitement when she wakes up ready to celebrate her birthday. Her absolute favorite part about her birthday is the cake- so much so that she has been dreaming about it all night. As soon as Pink Hamster wakes up she races to find all her Fujimini Island friends to start her big day. Thoughts of singing, parties, dancing, presents, and of course cake fill her mind. When she finally stumbles upon her hamster friends, she realizes that no one seems to have even remembered her birthday, even her best friend Green Hamster. Is this going to turn out to be the worst birthday ever or do her friends have a little something up their sleeve?

Rated 4.91 out of 5 stars on Good Reads and 5 out of 5 stars from Barnes and Noble, this book is sure to please. Pink Hamster is a silly and lovable character who keeps children interested from the very first sentence with her spunk and charm

When asked about her inspiration behind the book, author Eileen Wacker responded, "The inspiration for pink hamster and the big birthday surprise was my little girl. She's a summer baby so she never had the traditional birthday, always last minute always family. She loves birthday cake and hershey bars. I know kids living and anticipating birthdays is universal so I thought if the character that loves her birthday the most thinking everyone forgot would make a great story. I added the part about little lies as we all know how they can backfire. I also planted her dreaming of a little white dragon as a shape shifting dragon would be featured in the next story! Of course there is a happy ending as birthdays should always be happy!"

Thursday, February 19, 2015

How the Chinese are Celebrating the Chinese New Year (Part Two)

Today is February 19th which means that the long awaited day, Chinese New Year, has officially arrived! Due to the time difference, people in China have already been celebrating for almost a day- and some people kick started their celebrations this past weekend! After the New Years Eve Reunion dinner has concluded and the red envelops have been exchanged, families eagerly await the sound of the midnight bells that will let them know the New Year has arrived. If they somehow missed the bells though, no worries because they certainly wouldn’t of missed the crescendo of fireworks and firecrackers lighting up the night sky the moment the clock struck midnight.

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Fireworks and firecrackers are one of the oldest and most important customs of the New Year, but in recent years they have been banned from major cities due to the danger and noise disturbances they’ve caused. But this doesn’t stop people in smaller cities and rural areas from practicing the firecracker tradition. Most families spend the rest of their night enjoying the fireworks show and little children run in the street throwing their miniature firecrackers and quickly covering their ears. 

This day marks the beginning of the Year of the Sheep, a mild and gentle animal that lives peacefully in groups. Last week, Hong Kong leader CY Leung gave a holiday speech, urging people to “be like sheep” during their celebrations this year, in an effort to avoid some of the accidents that have occurred in the past from some hardcore celebrating.  

Chinese families also use this time to give thanks to their ancestors. Many people will burn paper money and sweep the graves of deceased family members as an offering to their ancestors. These customs are a way for families to show their deceased loved ones respect and that they are missing them on this special day. It is also to ask for good fortune and protection for their children during the upcoming year. These customs are performed over the course of the holiday, but they are the most important during the first few days.

Depending on where you live, you might also witness lion and dragon dances during various parades, especially in Hong Kong and Macau.  
One of the most widespread traditions for the first day of the new year is for everyone to wear a new outfit (new clothes for the new year), preferable red in color. Red is the color symbolizing good luck, so it is the most common color seen during this important time. To spread the New Years cheer, people will wish everyone they see, stranger or not, “Gongxi”, which literally means “respect joy”, which can mean greetings or congratulations. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How the Chinese Celebrate the Chinese New Year (Part One of Two)

With Chinese New Year just two days away, activities for preparation are over and people are getting ready for the celebrations to start. Some people have already begun their celebrations, attending various parades and festivals this past weekend. Families have spent the last few weeks preparing for a reason, the Chinese New Year is not just one day, but a whole 16 days worth of celebrating. Also referred to as the Spring Festival, this holiday is the most widely celebrated holiday in China, as well as one of the most important traditions in the Chinese culture. Preparing included activities such as cleaning, shopping, getting a haircut, and more- but all of those should be finished by now as the people get ready for the festival’s arrival.

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If anyone still has some sweeping left to do, they’d better get on it! An important Chinese New Year’s tradition is a type of cleaning Chinese people call “sweeping the dust”, which is a symbol of bidding the old year farewell and making room for the New Year to bring good luck into the home. However, sweeping or any sort of cleaning is strongly advised against during the first two days of the New Year because it is believed to sweep away the good luck that the New Year brings. 
Now that the house has been cleaned and all the necessary items have been bought, it is time to decorate the house. Putting up New Year decorations and preparing the house for the holiday is something most families typically do the night before the New Year. Houses are decorated with red lanterns, red couplets, New Year paintings, and images of goats or sheep since this 2015 is the Year of the Sheep. Another important custom typically done on New Year’s Eve is to paste a “door god” image on to the front door. Although the “door gods” were originally made of carved peach wood, nowadays most people just paste printed images. These images are a prayer for health, peace, and longevity. Two door gods are thought to ward off evil spirits and keep them from entering the home. The door gods are always scowling and holding weapons to intimidate evil spirits and display power. 

The New Year’s paintings serve a different purpose. The paintings are put up to create a joyful and prosperous environment in the home. The subjects of the paintings are typically positive, happy ones including birds, flowers, ripe fruit, legends, treasure and more. 

And now that the home has been decorated and all the necessary items to bring in good luck and fortune have been put up, it is time for the New Year’s Eve dinner. Having a big feast with the family is seen as a critical aspect of the New Year’s celebration and most people try their hardest to make sure they are present. The food served on this special night varies depending on which region of China you’re in. In northern China, the traditional food for New Years Eve is dumplings shaped like a half moon. In southern China, they consume niangao, a cake made of rice flour, as their traditional dish. 

Since the family is all together for this wonderful dinner, parents and grandparents use this time to give the red envelopes filled with lucky money to the children. The gift symbolizes the parents’ wish for their children to stay healthy and grow a lot during the upcoming year. 

Much like New Year’s Eve in the United States, in China families stay up till at least midnight to witness the beginning of the New Year and hear the traditional midnight bells begin to ring. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Legend Behind Chinese Valentine's Day

Unlike many other parts of the world, the Chinese celebrate love and relationships on a day other than the 14th of February. Their Valentine's Day, known as Qi Qiao Jie or the Seventh Eve, occurs on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Like many Chinese holidays, there is a long history and deep tradition behind the seventh day of the seventh month that makes it so significant, especially for couples. Other than the difference in the day that the Chinese Valentine's Day occurs, there are differences in the gifts that are exchanged between couples. It is not as common to see flowers and chocolates exchanged between couples as it is in Western parts of the world, however there are still many romantic gestures and customs between loved ones on this day. In the past, colorful "shrines" made of paper, fresh fruit, and flowers are put up in as a tribute to the first two lovers of Qi Qiao Jie. As we see with many Chinese festivals and holidays,there are several legends which surround the origins of Chinese Valentine's Day. 

The first legend says that the seven daughters of the Goddess of Heaven caught the eye of a Cowherd during a visit to earth. The most beautiful daughter, the seventh born, caught the eye of the Cowherd, Niu Lang. Niu Lang decided to have a bit of fun by running off with the sisters' clothing. The seventh daughter took it upon herself to ask for their clothing back. After, Niu Lang and the daughter, Zhi Nu, were married. The couple lived happily for several years, but eventually the Goddess of Heaven missed her daughter and demanded she return to heaven. Despite her demand of a return, she took pity on the heart broken couple, and allowed them to be reunited once a year, the seventh night of the seventh moon. 

To commemorate the holiday, many lovers lie together and gaze at the star Vega, east of the Milky Way, a tradition that comes from another one of the legends that created Qiao Jie. This particular legend says that Niu Lang and Zhi Nu were fairies that lived on opposite sides of the Milky Way. They were quite lonely and the Jade Emperor of Heaven felt sorry for them, so he attempted to bring them together. Nui Lang and Zhi Nu became so love sick for one another that they spent every moment together and began to neglect their work. The Jade Emperor became annoyed at this, so he made a new law that the couple could only be together for one day of the year- the seventh night of the seventh moon. 

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

How Asian Countries Commemorate Valentine’s Day

Just as how many countries around the world celebrate love and romance on February 14th, several Asian countries have their own unique ways of acknowledging the special holiday. 

In America, when most people think of Valentine’s  Day, one of the first things that comes to mind is chocolate. Cause what would the romantic holiday be without some chocolate right? Well, many South Koreans would definitely agree with this notion. In South Korea it is traditional for chocolate to be given to loved ones on the 14th of February, however, unlike America where the men traditionally give the gifts (not always!), in South Korea it is the women who are responsible for wooing the men on this day. The men then return the favor a month later on a different holiday, known as White Day. When compared to other countries, such as Japan, it has been said that Korean women are known for the high amounts of chocolate they shower on the men in their life on Valentine’s Day.

The Japanese version of Valentine’s Day also centers around chocolate, (because what else matters, right?!). Another similarity to South Korea is that the women are also the typical gift givers on this day. Unlike the United States, gifts of flowers, cards, or dinner dates are not terribly common and almost all of the gift giving focuses on chocolate. Another difference from the United States is that the gifts are not just giving to one’s romantic interests, but friends, family, and even coworkers. The amount of chocolate given to the man signifies how much he means to the woman and how important he is to her. Many female friends will exchange chocolate between them, a candy called “tomo-choko”, tomo literally meaning friend. But don’t worry, women aren’t the only ones who do the gift giving for Valentine’s Day. Men are expected to return the favor to whomever gave them chocolates by giving them a gift that is twice the cost of the chocolates. So everyone gets to feel special for Valentine’s Day. The romantic date night that many Westerners associate the holiday with is actually celebrated by many Japanese couples on Christmas Eve, a long standing tradition. Valentine’s Day wasn’t introduced to the country till 1936, as an advertising ploy to foreigners, but since then the celebration has really caught on. 

Unlike the rest of the world, Chinese couples prefer to celebrate their version of Valentine’s Day on a day other than February 14th. Chinese Valentine’s Day, also known as Qi Qiao Jie, occurs on the seventh day of the seventh month of the Chinese lunar calendar. Chocolates, candies, cards, and flowers are not typically exchanged on this day, but there are still many other romantic customs and gestures associated with their most romantic holiday. 

In the past, colorful "shrines" made of paper, fresh fruit, and flowers are put up in as a tribute to the first two lovers of Qi Qiao Jie. There are two legends which surround the origins of the holiday, both involving the position of the stars on the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar. Like most of the Chinese holidays and festivals, there are many myths and legends, and a deep history behind this celebration of love. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

How the World Celebrates Valentine’s Day

Everyone in the United States is aware of how many in this country spend each February 14th, buying flowers, eating chocolate, and pouring your heart out to someone- but did you know that many other countries have their own Valentine’s Day traditions too? Surprisingly, February 14th seems to be a day of love in a large number of places across the world, including Scotland, Australia, Denmark, Britain, Germany, Italy and more. It is very interesting to read about holiday traditions for expressing ones love and affection on this day in other parts of the world and compare them to our own customs. 

In Italy, it was once a custom for couples to formally announce their engagements to family and friends on February 14th- making it a very special day for fiancĂ©es everywhere. To commemorate the special day, stores would be decorated several days in advance and filled with all kinds of sweet treats, especially bonbons, the traditional treat of the holiday. 

Scotland likes to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a huge festival. Present at the festival, there are an equal number of single males and females, all looking for love. Each male writes their name on a piece of paper which is folded and placed into a hat. The ladies are then asked to draw a name from the hat and spend the rest of the festival with the name she selects. After making an acquaintance the man presents the lady with a small gift and the ladies pin a heart shaped piece of paper with the man’s name written on it on to their sleeve. Another Scottish custom or legend says that that the first young woman or man encountered by chance will become that person’s valentine. A common gift exchanged between couples on this day is a traditional love-knot.

In Germany, couples also present their significant other with love tokens on February 14th to show their affection. In addition to the small love tokens, is has become customary for men to buy a bouquet of flowers for their partner on this day.
In some areas of Britain, it is custom to bake valentine buns with caraway seeds, plums or raisins. Another annual tradition includes giving children gifts of candy, money, or fruit after they have sung a special song. Poems associated with Saint Valentine are extremely popular on this day throughout the area, and are thought of as the best romantic versus. Much like in America, cards, flowers, and chocolates have become quite popular gifts for loved ones. 

In Australia, exchanging gifts with loved ones is customary as well, but rather than chocolates or flowers, Australians present their significant others with other types of gifts. Dating back to the Australian gold rush period, minors who found themselves suddenly with large amounts of money had no problem spending a lot of money on their loved ones for Valentine’s Day. From this came some rather extravagant traditional gifts, such as colored shells, satin cushions perfumed and decorated, and maybe even a taxidermied humming bird. 

People in Denmark like to be playful and have some fun on Valentine’s Day rather than be very serious and romantic. There is a custom of sending your beloved what is referred to in Denmark as “a lover’s card”, but it is also tradition to send pressed white flowers, called snow drops, to friends and family members. Many men send valentines called the joking letter, or gaekkebrev in Danish, which contains a poem but no signature. Instead of signing his name, he puts a dot for each letter in his name. The receiver of the card has to guess who sent it, and if she is right she is rewarded later in the year with an Easter egg. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Getting Ready For the Chinese New Year

Although Chinese New Year is a few weeks away, Chinese families are already busy preparing for the big celebration. Chinese New Year, also called the Spring Festival, is the most widely celebrated holiday in China- and a holiday this big requires a lot of preparation. For many families, preparation can begin a month ahead of time. The preparation is equally as rooted in tradition as the celebration itself and considered very important- so much so that there are step-by-step guides on how exactly to welcome the New Year. So these are the steps many Chinese families follow in the weeks and days ahead of the holiday, which this year is February 19th, to assure that their celebration goes smoothly and sets the stage for a great new year. 

1. Visit a Fortune Teller
With the holiday comes a new year filled with either good luck or bad, so many people visit a fortune teller to see what the upcoming year has in store for them so they can properly prepare themselves.

2. Clean the house
This is a crucial component of preparing for the New Year. Many hours of cleaning are required to get the house ready for the holiday, believing that cleansing one's home sweeps away any bad fortune. Although cleaning is an important aspect of the New Year's traditions, it is only in the few weeks approaching the holiday where it is necessary- once New Years Eve has arrived it is critical that all cleaning comes to a halt, due to the belief that one the New Year has arrived any further cleaning will sweep away the incoming good fortune. Once the house is spotless, it is tradition to hang chunlian, or paper couplets, in the doorways to encourage good luck to enter the home. 

3. Get a haircut
Not only do you want to start the year off with the right hairstyle, but cutting anything during the New Year celebration (even your hair!) is considered bad luck, so better get out and get it cut now! 

4. Hit the shops
It’s important to go shopping to purchase all the necessary items to make New Year celebrations festive and special. The first items to check off on the list? The food of course! One of the biggest parts of the celebrations are the dishes families prepare for one another. One of the traditional foods you’ll see in many households on the night of New Years are dumplings. Other items to check off the list include new clothes and red envelops. The new clothes (preferably red) are to usher in the New Year and the red envelops are to hold the gift of money that it is custom to give loved ones on the day of the New Year. Once you have treated yourself, it is time to treat your friends and family! The red color of the envelops and clothes is important because red represents good luck, something everyone wants to attract during this time. 

Participation in these cultural rituals will assure any celebrators a happy and luck-filled New Year this February 19th