February 2, 2023 by Amanda MacGregor Leave a Comment
Growing up, Chinese New Year was the big holiday in my family. We’d wear red, pay respects to our loved ones who had passed on, receive red envelopes, and gather for an enormous family meal of foods with special meaning, like dumplings for luck because their shape resembles gold ingots, or whole steamed fish for wealth because the Mandarin word for “fish” is a homophone for the word for “surplus.” (And when I say enormous, I’m referring first to the amount of food, then the number of guests second.) Animatronic Animal Sculpture
When I was younger, we’d make red paper lanterns and write riddles on them—“deng mi.” Because Mandarin is full of homophones and written characters are often a sum of parts, there are an endless number of fun riddles to choose from. My favorite as a child was: What’s one plus one? Because “one” is a straight horizontal line in Mandarin and you traditionally write top to bottom, if you write “one + one” in Mandarin and squish the lines together, it results in the Chinese character “王,” meaning “king.”
Chinese New Year begins on the first day of the lunar calendar, which fell on January 22 this year. The celebration typically lasts two weeks, coming to an end and a climax on the fifteenth day of the lunar calendar in what’s known as the Lantern Festival.
In the United States, floating sky lanterns are most commonly associated with the movie Tangled, but they’ve been popular in Taiwan long before that. Originally, hundreds of years ago, people in Pingxi would escape to the mountains in the winter, and the sky lanterns signaled it was safe to return. In the last 30 years, the annual Taiwan Lantern Festival sees thousands of sky lanterns sent simultaneously into the air over the Pingxi District. The tradition that always stood out to me was that visitors write their wishes for the new year onto the lanterns and send them into the universe. Watching the sky light up with wishes sounds like one of the most magical things a person can witness, so when I was brainstorming my next book and having a hard time feeling hopeful in 2020, I couldn’t stop thinking about wishing lanterns.
With a vague concept and a title in hand, I set out to write a contemporary story that feels like magic, with the magic coming from kind acts for others. I wanted to remind myself and others that even though it’s rare, magic can be found in the real world. And sometimes you have to make your own.
Thus was born When You Wish Upon a Lantern. The story follows Liya, whose family owns a wishing lantern shop in Chicago’s Chinatown. When she discovers that the store is struggling, she teams up with the boy from the mooncake bakery next door to make wishes come true for the customers in secret. Only, sparks begin to fly and she realizes she has a secret wish of her own.
Because this idea came from some of my favorite childhood memories, it’s no surprise that this book became a love letter to my culture. It features some of my favorite traditions, holidays, food, and folk tales. It features a tight-knit Chinatown community that readers can feel a part of with everything from intergenerational friendships to family feuds. This book is a celebration—of the beauty of everyday moments, of love, of community, of culture.
This year, Lantern Festival falls on February 5. And no matter where you are, there are fun ways to celebrate. My suggestion is to make paper lanterns with wishes hidden inside. And it’s a great activity for kids. In short, the instructions are:
1. Grab a rectangular piece of construction paper. Along the bottom, write a wish or two. (Don’t go further than 2 inches from the edge.)
2. Fold the construction paper in half lengthwise, with your wish going inside the fold, hidden.
3. With the paper folded, cut straight parallel lines into the paper starting at the fold, leaving about 2 inches or more intact at the edge and about 1-2 inches between each cut.
5. Bring the shorter edges together with the fold on the outside, forming an overall circular shape with your wish still hidden inside.
6. Staple, tape, or glue the edges together.
7. Add a handle on top if you wish.
There are also sky and water lanterns for sale that you can send off with loved ones. Most importantly, after you make a wish, perhaps you can help make someone else’s wish come true. Because as Liya and Kai learn in When You Wish Upon a Lantern, nothing is as magical as helping someone’s dream come true.
I hope in making lanterns, celebrating Lantern Festival, helping other people’s wishes come true, and perhaps reading When You Wish Upon a Lantern, some of you feel a little of the magic I felt while writing this book. May your wishes find the light!
“If there was ever to be magic found on this Earth—this sometimes wretched, unremarkable Earth—it’s when I’m standing on the shore of Lake Michigan, the cold water dancing with my bare toes, and I’m looking at a lit-up sky. It’s not alight with stars or fireworks or a big, bright full moon, but lanterns. Paper lanterns with people’s wishes written on the side, carried into the never-ending dark night by a fire inside that matches the fire inside the sender’s heart. What could be more magical than a sky aglow with wishes and dreams?”—First paragraph of When You Wish Upon a Lantern
Gloria Chao is a screenwriter and the acclaimed author of American Panda, Our Wayward Fate, Rent a Boyfriend, and When You Wish Upon a Lantern. Her award-winning books have received starred trade reviews and were Junior Library Guild, Indie Next List, YALSA Teens’ Top 10, and Amelia Bloomer List selections. After a brief detour as a dentist, she is now grateful to spend her days in fictional characters’ heads instead of real people’s mouths. When she’s not writing, you can find her on the curling ice, where she and her husband are world-ranked in mixed doubles.
About When You Wish Upon a Lantern
Acclaimed author Gloria Chao creates real-world magic in this luminous romance about teens who devote themselves to granting other people’s wishes but are too afraid to let themselves have their own hearts’ desires—each other.
Liya and Kai had been best friends since they were little kids, but all that changed when a humiliating incident sparked The Biggest Misunderstanding of All Time—and they haven’t spoken since.
Then Liya discovers her family’s wishing lantern store is struggling, and she decides to resume a tradition she had with her beloved late grandmother: secretly fulfilling the wishes people write on the lanterns they send into the sky. It may boost sales and save the store, but she can’t do it alone . . . and Kai is the only one who cares enough to help.
While working on their covert missions, Liya and Kai rekindle their friendship—and maybe more. But when their feuding families and changing futures threaten to tear them apart again, can they find a way to make their own wishes come true?
ISBN-13: 9780593464359 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/14/2023 Age Range: 12 – 17 Years
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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