For a brand new year, this month’s Hooked on Books appropriately covers the Lunar New Year! We are getting the scoop on some eastern traditions with Toronto-based author and illustrator, Flo Leung, and her debut title, The Tray of Togetherness. In her picture book, Leung teaches young readers more about the role of food and family in Lunar New Year observances. To learn more, read on!
What is Hooked on Books?
Our team at Teachers on Call loves to read and encourage students and their families to do the same. With Hooked on Books, we introduce our community to the latest children’s book with a behind the scenes author interview to learn more. A large focus is introducing readers to Canadian authors and illustrators from across Ontario and coast to coast with a mix of emerging and well-known literary talent including Barbara Reid, Vikki VanSickle and Lauren Soloy – just to name a few.
About our Author/Illustrator: Flo Leung
Flo Leung is a self-described food-loving illustrator who loves to read old cookbooks and eat butter noodles with her family. She is based in Toronto, Ontario and The Tray of Togetherness is Flo’s author-illustrator debut. To learn more about Flo and view more of her illustrations, check out her personal site.
An Interview with Flo Leung
For people unfamiliar with Lunar New Year, what is the Tray of Togetherness?
For many families, the Lunar New Year is a time to celebrate the start of a brand-new year with lucky traditions. Assembling the Tray of Togetherness with your family is one of those practices. The tray is actually a special candy box that families fill with treats to offer guests, with each item representing a good wish for the upcoming new year. Traditionally, the filled tray represents all the blessings, sweet wishes and good luck that you and your family would ever need for the new year.
Does every food included in the tray have a symbolic meaning?
Yes, although just how traditional each item is depends on how each family likes to put their tray together! There are definitely items that are time-honoured classics and have a strong symbolic meaning - the red colored watermelon seeds for a growing family, and candied lotus root for an abundant year, for example. Our family likes to interpret the idea of “sweet wishes” by including some of our own favorite, less traditional, treats - our additions have included chocolate peanut butter cups (in gold foil, of course) and orange and red gummy bears.
Is there an item you always include in your tray?
I’m particularly fond of the red and gold foil-wrapped Good Luck candies that taste like strawberries, they’re so nostalgic and remind me of growing up celebrating Lunar New Year with my family. My mother grew up in Hong Kong and looked forward to the tradition of enjoying the chewy-sweet White Rabbit candies during the New Year, so we always include those too. You’ll find both of these personal favourites included as the family assembles their own candy box in The Tray of Togetherness!
What tradition is your favourite in celebrating Lunar New Year?
It’s hard to pick a favourite, especially when so many Lunar New Year traditions are all about lucky food! But if I had to pick one, it’s the big family gathering on New Year’s Eve, often called the Reunion Dinner. Growing up, I loved seeing all my cousins and getting to eat noodles and dumplings (for good luck!), receiving lucky red envelopes and staying up late. Now that I’m a little older, and work and life have us all running around in so many directions, I love seeing all of our growing families spending this special time with each other, feasting and ringing in the new year together.
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