Books and Mooncakes
By Stephanie Wallace, Library Assistant 2
Picture this: leaves, just beginning to change color, glimmering gold, silver, and bronze under the light of the full moon. Countless paper lanterns in every color, many in the shape of rabbits, illuminating walkways and windows. The sounds of music playing and people laughing drifting from dining rooms and backyards. The smell of fresh mooncakes mixing with the scent of noodles and roasted duck. In countless homes across China and many East Asian countries, these snapshots showcase just a few ways the Mid-Autumn Festival is celebrated. This year, it’s on September 10.
The Mid-Autumn Festival, also known as the Moon Festival, is held on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar. Every country that celebrates it has their own unique traditions, but for everyone, it’s an opportunity to visit home, reconnect with friends and family, and appreciate their blessings.
If you and your family want to learn more about the Mid-Autumn Festival, a great place to start is to learn about the folktales associated with the holiday. “Mooncakes,” written by Loretta Seto and illustrated by Renné Benoit, is a picture book about a young girl who celebrates the holiday with her parents. While they eat mooncakes together, an iconic pastry shared on this day, the girl’s parents tell her the stories of Chang’e and her husband, Hou Yi; the Jade Rabbit; and the Woodcutter, Wu Gang.
The story of Chang’e, the Lady in the Moon, is particularly popular, and different versions exist. “The Shadow in the Moon: A Tale of the Mid-Autumn Festival” by Christina Matula and “Celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival” by Sanmu Tang are two other picture books with their own unique retellings of the story. As an extra bonus in both of these books, the authors share their own recipes for mooncakes.
Children who are beginning to read independently may enjoy “Autumn Festival Fun,” adapted from an episode of Nickelodeon’s “Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness” television show by Tina Gallo. In the story, Po the panda must help Mr. Ping, the owner of a popular restaurant, make thousands of mooncakes in time for the celebration.
Intermediate readers who are comfortable with chapter books may appreciate “The Dreamweavers” by G.Z. Schmidt or “Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend” by Katie Zhao. In “The Dreamweavers,” a pair of twins must save their grandfather from the Emperor’s prison after the mooncakes which he meant to give to the prince as an offering are tainted by a mysterious darkness. In “Winnie Zeng Unleashes a Legend,” the titular protagonist, Winnie Zeng, accidently awakens both evil spirits and her own shamanic powers after using her family’s magical cookbook to make mooncakes for her school’s bake sale.
Anybody who loves young adult graphic novels will adore “Mooncakes” by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu. In the book, a young witch named Nova and her childhood crush, a werewolf named Tam, grapple with their magical responsibilities. As they prepare for the mid-autumn season, Nova and Tam must battle demons sent by a cult seeking to harness Tam’s powers and learn what makes their abilities special in order to succeed.
My favorite recommendation on this list is the adult fiction series “Heaven Official’s Blessing” by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu. The translated series follows the adventures of Xie Lian, crown prince of a kingdom that has since gone to ruin following his ascension to godhood. “Heaven Official’s Blessing” is part of two unique Chinese genres, danmei and xianxia. Danmei focuses on romance and relationships between men, and xianxia is historical fantasy, which focuses on ancient China, achieving immortality, and the crossover between the three realms of heaven, the ghost kingdom, and beyond. The Mid-Autumn Festival is featured prominently in the third volume, but the series is a wonderful place to start if you are interested in learning more about Chinese culture.
If all of these books have gotten you interested in hosting your own party inspired by the Mid-Autumn Festival, consider using the recipes in “Mooncakes + Milk Bread: Sweet & Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries” by Kristina Cho. It showcases a wide variety of crowd-pleasing snacks, drinks, and appetizers you can make for your guests.
No matter how you choose to enjoy the Mid-Autumn Festival, I hope this selection of books will deepen your appreciation of East Asian cultures. When you gaze upon the moon tonight, remember: anything well-loved deserves its own holiday.