By – December 20, 2023

Join Jew­ish Book Coun­cil and the JCC Man­hat­tan on Feb­ru­ary 20th at 3 p.m. for a sto­ry­time in the lob­by with the 73rd Nation­al Jew­ish Book Award win­ner for the Chil­dren’s Pic­ture Book cat­e­go­ry, Richard Ho, where he will read his win­ning book, Two New Years. Reg­is­ter here!

In this well-round­ed book about the Jew­ish and Chi­nese New Year, Richard Ho and Lynn Scur­field explore the con­nec­tions between two dif­fer­ent cul­tures in one fam­i­ly. While the cel­e­bra­tions are unique, they share com­mon ele­ments of remem­brance and joy.

The book begins by estab­lish­ing the tim­ing and back­ground of Jew­ish and Chi­nese New Year obser­vances. Each line of text is accom­pa­nied by a strong visu­al, includ­ing sky­lines of the Mid­dle East and East Asia and an inven­tive illus­tra­tion jux­ta­pos­ing the Chi­nese zodi­ac with the months of the Jew­ish year. Fam­i­ly mem­bers belong to dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions and eth­nic groups, and they come togeth­er in a vari­ety of activ­i­ties. The obser­vance of tash­lich, the blow­ing of the sho­far, the design of paper lanterns, and a col­or­ful dis­play of fire­works all hold spe­cial val­ue. In one image, a table is filled with both Jew­ish and Chi­nese foods, cap­tur­ing the book’s essence. Ho rounds out the illus­tra­tion with evoca­tive word choic­es: abun­dance … renew­al … pros­per­i­ty,” and good deeds.”

While many children’s books por­tray mul­ti­cul­tur­al Jew­ish fam­i­lies, this one is unique in that it fea­tures a reli­gious­ly obser­vant fam­i­ly. The mother’s style of cloth­ing con­forms to stan­dards of tzni­ut (mod­esty), and their syn­a­gogue has sep­a­rate sec­tions for men and women. Ho and Scur­field place their por­trait of a diverse fam­i­ly in a con­text that is both cul­tur­al and reli­gious. This approach will res­onate with read­ers who have sim­i­lar expe­ri­ences, and also enlight­en those who are less famil­iar with Ortho­dox life.

The includ­ed author’s note is essen­tial for fram­ing the book’s ori­gins. Ho explains how he came to be Jew­ish and express­es deep respect and love for his Chi­nese fam­i­ly. His thought­ful self-ques­tion­ing, and his hope that read­ers from all back­grounds will find val­ue in his sto­ry, are both mean­ing­ful addi­tions. Then, in a visu­al glos­sary, Scurfield’s del­i­cate col­or draw­ings are paired with Ho’s in-depth def­i­n­i­tions. Longevi­ty noo­dles, siman­im (Rosh Hashanah foods), and dif­fer­ent words for grand­par­ents all take on new appeal in this excit­ing look at the New Year.

Emi­ly Schnei­der writes about lit­er­a­ture, fem­i­nism, and cul­ture for TabletThe For­wardThe Horn Book, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, and writes about chil­dren’s books on her blog. She has a Ph.D. in Romance Lan­guages and Literatures.

Discussion Questions

Two New Years bril­liant­ly real­izes the goal of the pic­ture book: to be the per­fect syn­the­sis of text and image. Richard Ho’s spare sto­ry explores his her­itage through the cel­e­bra­tion of the Jew­ish New Year and the Lunar New Year. The cus­toms of Rosh Hashanah in the fall and the Lunar New Year in the spring share many sim­i­lar­i­ties, from the sym­bol­ism of foods, to the empha­sis on fam­i­ly and com­mu­ni­ty, to themes of renew­al and wish­es for new bless­ings. The nuclear fam­i­ly pre­sent­ed here is Ortho­dox, with a tichel (scarf)-wearing mom and a kip­pah-wear­ing dad and son. Lynn Scurfield’s beau­ti­ful ink and water­col­or illus­tra­tions favor reds, golds, and greens that make the read­er want to jump into the page. Sev­er­al spreads have gor­geous paper­cut bor­ders. Ho pro­vides a com­pre­hen­sive visu­al glos­sary that explains Jew­ish and Chi­nese terms. Diverse Jew­ish rep­re­sen­ta­tion is most wel­come in our world today, where many Jews iden­ti­fy with more than one cul­ture. Two New Years is a gift to all!