Lunar New Year is approaching and a young, biracial girl in an intergenerational family gets ready for a week-long celebration of the new moon. She can hardly wait to stay up late and play with everyone. It’s time to take out the Tray of Togetherness. Its’ eight, red-lacquered trays form a circle which will need to be filled with treats for good luck. A hunt through an Asian market where pungent fruit, live shrimp, chocolate coins and assorted nuts takes us down memory lane. There are many choices from pistachios to White Rabbit Candy. Finally, at home, they are ready after hanging up love knots, lanterns, and stuffing red envelopes. The smiley eyes and happiness say it all. New Year is about giving more than receiving. It’s “show and share.”
Toronto-based author and illustrator, Flo Leung, brings her experience from food television and staging to her debut book. The design of the public market, the kitchen, and the living room are cozy and evokes nostalgia. We see a modern family wired to communicate with remote relatives yet there is an appreciation for vintage charm illustrated by a collection of records and a winking bulldog. On the back of the book, the author explains the wordplay between Cantonese and English. The double-meaning will pique the interest of Cantonese speakers. Tangerine is kam, which sounds like “gold” in English and lotus root in Cantonese is “lin ngau (pronounced “leen yow”) which sounds like, “having every year.”
Framed photos of diverse families on the walls show us we can choose who will be in our families just as what can go into a Tray of Togetherness. How would you assemble your own special candy box? There are more than eight to choose from. Among the unchosen are dried red dates for good luck in every endeavor.
A Tray of Togetherness is a celebration, a sweet offer to take away any bitter aftertaste from the previous year. It is also a metaphor for inclusion. Does your family include aunties, uncles, friends, and neighbours? To ward off bad luck, it’s best to fill your tray up to the brim for 2023.
Recommended for children 3 and up. Pre-K teachers and children’s librarians can convert the book into a fun participatory felt board story.