Festivals / Raymond Briggs

A Chinese Boy’s New Year

What a wretched January that’s been. Mild, wet and endlessly boggy. It’s at this time of year that we really need something to cheer us up, but Christmas has already blown its load and all we’ve got to look forward to is a drab February that isn’t even offering up any pancakes this year. The Chinese have the right idea though – New Year in January full of gifts, fireworks and lanterns.
This is the backdrop to the first story I’ll be sharing this year from Ruth Manning Sanders anthology Festivals. Published in 1973 it contains some of my absolute favourite work by Raymond Briggs.

A Chinese Boys New Year is taken from a book called Wu The Gatekeeper’s Son, by the American authour Eleanor Frances Lattimore. She grew up in Shanghai and made a career out of writing children’s stories about life in China. It reminded me a little of Astrid Lindgren’s Noisy Village stories, giving a window on a world that is not only foreign, but also now largely vanished.

We follow Wu as he does various little jobs around the estate, earning enough pennies to buy New Year presents from the peddlar for his parents and friend. His father’s specatacles are pariculalrly choice, ‘the frames were made of tortoiseshell, the glasses blue.’ They aren’t unlike the kind chosen for the giant in Briggs’ Jim and the Beanstalk.

Chinese New Year brings Wu’s older brothers home, and with them tales of the wide world. ‘You can never reach the end of it, no matter how far you go.’ But for the boy the excitement only highlights the importance of home and the approaching new year.

‘He looked forward to all the days of this happy new year. Spring would come, the goldfish would be in the pond once more.’

 

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