Book Review: Dragon Dancer
Written by Joyce Chng
Illustrated by Jérémy Pailler
Published by Lantana Publishing
Publication date: 1st January 2018
Summary (from Goodreads):
It is the eve of Chinese New Year. Lanterns are hung in the shopping malls and Yao is preparing to wake the ancient sky dragon, Shen Long, from his year-long sleep. From the moment Shen Long opens his great amber eyes and unfurls his silver-blue tail, Yao will be propelled on a magical journey to battle the bad luck of the previous year and usher in the good. Will he succeed? Will his grandfather watch over him and protect him from harm? A beautiful story of a Chinese festival and its symbolism for Chinese communities everywhere, told from the perspective of Yao, the dragon dancer.
It was the eve of the Lunar New Year.
Yao, the dragon dancer, entered the room where Shen Long rested.
Shen Long was an ancient dragon. His great amber eyes were like full moons and his scales glittered like silver-blue sequins.
So, little one, have you come to wake me?
First impressions: I wanted to read this as soon as I saw the title because I love the dragon dancing that accompanies Chinese New Year. The beat of the drum and the graceful, yet erratic movements of the dragon make this such a thrilling experience. I was excited to see this represented in a picture book and will be sharing it with my class today!
From the beautiful endpapers which look like swirls of smoke through the sky or ink in water, I was immediately drawn into this stunning picture book. The story follows Yao, a young dragon dancer as he goes to wake Shen Long from his slumber for the Chinese New Year celebrations, following in the steps of his grandfather.
I loved how the text brought in the modern setting of a shopping centre, yet interwoven with this was the weight of centuries of tradition. The dragon’s voice is a force of nature and the boy and dragon dancer dancing together allows both to reach new heights.
This is a book which you gain more from with each re-reading and a definite favourite for me!
There was a rumble, as if from the bones of the earth, as Shen Long’s body unfolded inch by inch.
Are you ready to dance?
The voice was amused now, scornful and proud. Yao clenched his fists, angry at the dragon’s tone.
“Yes.” Another deep breath.
“Yes, I am.”
What I liked: The beautiful watercolour illustrations that manage to convey the energy of the dragon dance perfectly, the fact that this book showcases an aspect of Chinese culture and the Chinese New Year/ Lunar New Year period, which is celebrated in many countries around the world. I loved the link between Yao and his grandfather, a dragon dancer before him and the one who brought the dragon to life by, as tradition has it, painting in the pupil in his eye.
Even better if: More, more, more please! I would love to read more books inspired by Chinese culture and celebrations, especially if they also incorporate some Chinese word too!
How you could use it in your classroom: I will be reading this to my class for Chinese New Year, alongside The Great Race and playing them Gong Xi Fa Cai and a video of a dragon dance. I lived in China for four years and never miss it more than at Chinese New Year! (although not entirely sure I miss the noise of all the firecrackers!) If we have time I might also teach my class to sing ‘Xin Nian Hao Ya!’
(Thank you to Lantana Publishing for my review copy – we will be reading it in school this week!)
Watch an example of dragon dancing below (skip forward to 1:30 for the dance to begin!)
Lion dancing is also great fun to watch and very skillful!
Don’t miss my list of resources and books for Chinese New Year!
Thanks for reading!