Review: Two New Years

Two New Years

by Richard Ho, illustrated by Lynn Scurfield

Chronicle Books, 2023

Category: Picture Books
Reviewer: Ann D. Koffsky

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In Two New Years, a family that is both Chinese and Jewish celebrates Rosh Hashanah in the Fall and the Lunar Year in the Spring. Both holidays are shown as parallel in their meanings and symbolism, and each spread displays Jewish customs alongside the Chinese ones. The rich backmatter gives a full and complete description of each of the practices from both traditions.

I was particularly struck by how effectively Ho finds universal meaning and values across the two holidays. For example, the text shares how, “We prepare foods that symbolize togetherness and the heartfelt sharing of good wishes.” The illustrations accompanying the words show the traditional Jewish Rosh Hashanah foods on one side, like apples and honey, and a Chinese traditional sectioned platter, with nuts and fruits on the other. Beautiful!

The illustrations are exuberant and delightful, and Scurfield’s choice to incorporate papercutting techniques is brilliant, as both Chinese and Jewish traditions have a long history of papercut art. She also does an excellent job portraying the dual ethnicity of the family without resorting to visual stereotypes: the kids are Jewish, Chinese, and adorable, too.

The overall message of how each of these two rich cultures do thing differently, but share core values is a worthy message and it is conveyed masterfully here, without preaching.

The Jewish representation in this book is authentic. The family portrayed is likely Modern Orthodox, with the mom wearing a head wrap, and both Mom and daughter dressed in skirts or dresses throughout. Dad is clean shaven, and he and his son both wear colorful Kippot. There is a (subtle) mechitzah in the synagogue scene. (I really appreciated that the artist showed the women's section with equal weight as the men's--that doesn't always happen!) Readers will learn much about both Jewish and Chinese experiences, especially if they make sure to read the backmatter.

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Reviewer Ann D. Koffsky is the author and illustrator of more than forty books, including the forthcoming Ping Pong Shabbat (Little Bee). Her book Noah’s Swimathon received a Sydney Taylor notable designation from the Association of Jewish Libraries.