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Awakening the Dragon: The Dragon Boat Festival    by Arlene Chan & Song Nan Zhang order for
Awakening the Dragon
by Arlene Chan
Order:  USA  Can
Tundra, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Kids love holiday traditions. In Awakening the Dragon, Arlene Chan presents the Chinese origins of celebrations involving dragons, and in particular of the 'Dragon Boat Festival'. Song Nan Zhang's beautiful illustrations convey the power and mystery of these mythical creatures, and the energy and excitement of the festival itself.

We are told that ancient Chinese believed that benign guardian dragons lived in palaces deep in rivers and lakes, but could cause havoc if angered. So the people kept the River Dragon happy by honoring him with dragon boat races, which ensured a good harvest. Apparently, the Dragon Boat Festival either evolved from this custom, or as a memorial to poet Qu Yuan, an honorable man who was unjustly banished and drowned.

Dragon boats are painted with a fierce dragon head at the prow and the beast's tail at the stern, and awakened by dotting the eyes with red paint. Since the festival is held on the 'unluckiest day in the year', there are traditions to ward away bad luck and evil spirits. We learn that boat paddlers train hard in advance of the races to build endurance. Then comes the event itself, the sound of each boat's drum 'pulsing like the heart of the mighty dragon.'

Awakening the Dragon is an informative book that describes the history and activities of an ancient, colorful festival, now celebrated in Chinese communities all around the world. I just searched the Internet and found websites for Dragon Boat Festivals in many big cities, including my own. Read the book, and you may also be inspired to join the celebration.

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