'The best books, reviewed with insight and charm, but without compromise.'
- author Jackie French

Sunday 16 February 2014

Guest Post: A Horsey Chinese New Year with Author Sarah Brennan

KBR warmly welcomes dynamic Hong Kong-based author Sarah Brennan with this fabulous peek at the next book in her Chinese Calendar Tales series--along with a delicious Chinese culture lesson!

Hong Kong is still celebrating Chinese New Year as I write; the holiday officially lasts 15 days which can be great fun or a bit annoying, depending on how much work you want to get done!

It starts when the moon is at its thinnest sliver and ends when it is at its fullest - hence a different start date each year to keep us all on our toes, and to make it perennially tricky for those born in January or February to determine to which Zodiac species they belong! My brother labored under the delusion that he was a fiery Dragon for years before I finally informed him that in fact he was a fluffy Rabbit. Poor chap.

As a Hong Kong resident and busy children’s author, I’ve done everything I can to ensure a prosperous year ahead. I’ve paid all my bills, cleaned the apartment (sort of), cut my hair and festooned my house with red decorations and flowers. My days are now filled with the scent of jonquils and lilies, a reminder that Spring is on its way.

I’ve given Lai See packets filled with money to my kids, the doormen and the squadron of new cleaners which miraculously appears in my building once a year with cheerful smiles and an unmistakable air of expectation.

I’ve even visited the famous Wishing Tree in Lam Tsuen village, deep in the New Territories. There I waved incense, burnt paper offerings, wrote my wishes on special packets and hung them on a railing which, sensibly, has replaced the poor tree, which collapsed a few years ago from the weight of too many wishes!

And my daughters watched the famous fireworks over the harbour on my behalf. After 15 years of living here, I’m seriously over the fireworks, which I guess makes me a meanie.

Best of all, I’ve launched another of my Chinese Calendar Tales for primary school kids. I’ve been writing these for the last eight years, and have fallen in love with Chinese history and culture in the process.

I don’t know about you, but when I was at school in Tasmania, we learned white Australian history - select snippets on the history of England and Europe - and nothing about that vast country to our north with a civilization dating back 6000 years and characters to rival the most extraordinary heroes and villains Disney could ever invent!

So far I’ve learned, and included in my Tales, the story of Genghis Khan (indisputably the greatest warrior the world has ever seen; my husband kindly says that I’m the next greatest Worrier); Qin Shi Huang (he of Terracotta Army fame, who united China and was responsible for starting the Great Wall); Wu Zetian, China’s only female Emperor, who clawed her way to the top through cunning and cruelty then became one of the most enlightened rulers China ever had … now that’s my kind of woman), and, in my latest book The Tale of a Dark Horse, the Emperor Han Wudi. But for his love of a horse, the fabulous, world-changing Silk Road may never have existed!

And in between, I’ve had the good fortune to pass on to my readers some gorgeous Chinese folklore, including Lord Buddha’s Great Race, the Legend of Lady White Snake (arguably the very first Little Mermaid), and the Legend of the Brother in the Moon – sorry, make that Rabbit.

Now the fun begins, with my big annual school tour in Hong Kong, my annual visit to Shanghai schools for the Literary Festival, and, in late February, a quick trip to Sydney to visit schools, libraries and a bookstore or two. Then there are Skype visits to schools all over the world, which are always great fun!

It’s been such a pleasure introducing my series to Australia. There is a huge interest in China in my beloved home country, not just because of the fantastic Chinese diaspora that has found its way to its major cities in recent decades, but also due to China’s rise on the world stage and the growing realization that most Aussie kids will, in years to come, have quite a deal of contact with China and its people. It’s good to see this recognised in the Federal Government’s guidelines for cross-curriculum studies for primary schools.

With five more Animals left in the series, I’m going to be busy for years to come! Do take a look at my website at www.sarah-brennan.com, and my blog for school kids at www.sarahbrennanblog.com with its regular writing competitions. For a little taste of subtropical greenery on Hong Kong’s hippie Lamma Island, you'll find my lovely new YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhqxWLZkVd8. I hope to meet you all soon!

Sarah Brennan is the author of The Chinese Calendar Tales and the Dirty Stories series for primary school-aged children. Her books are available in Australia in good bookstores, and from Dennis Jones and Associates and INT Books. You can follow her on Twitter @Sarah_Rhymes