Written by Christina Matula, Illustrated by Pearl Law
I was shown the cover of this book and immediately wanted to read more about it. I soon learned that the author was a fellow Canadian who had also moved to Hong Kong. It felt right to reach out to ask author, Christina Matula, some questions about her book. In our conversations, I learned that she arrived in Hong Kong the same year I left so our paths never actually crossed, though her children now attend the school where I worked for 5 years, Canadian International School. Her book is a beautiful introduction to one of the most esteemed festivals in the city, The Mid Autumn Festival. A wonderful time to wander the streets searching for brightly coloured lanterns and munching on moon cakes.
Can you let readers know why it was so important for you to write about this festival?
I’m mixed Taiwanese and Hungarian, born and raised in Canada. My mother was always keen for me to know and understand more about my heritage, but growing up in Ottawa, it felt a bit removed from my day to day life. For Mid-Autumn Festival my mom would bring home delicious mooncakes from Chinatown, but my understanding of the meaning behind the festival didn’t go much deeper than that. Living in Hong Kong, I have been inspired to learn more about my roots and to pass this knowledge down in a way my children can enjoy and cherish.
Family and tradition are hugely important to this festival and to the culture in general- how do you and your family celebrate this and other festivals?
We’re so lucky to be immersed in the culture in Hong Kong. So many of the festivals revolve around family and food, my two favourite things. And many of the foods have specific meaning, which makes eating them feel more special. For instance, at Chinese New Year, you are supposed to eat fish, because the word for fish, yu, sounds like the word for plenty, meaning you will have plenty in the new year. For Mid-Autumn Festival, you are supposed to eat fresh seasonal fruit, like pomelo – the word for pomelo, youzi, sounds like the word for blessing, so you will have blessings in the coming year.
In many ways, Mid-Autumn Festival is a bit like Chinese Thanksgiving, bringing together friends and family in celebration. My favourite part of the evening is having a picnic in the park or at the beach under the bright full moon, lighting our lanterns, and most importantly eating mooncakes!
The illustrations are glorious; do they match the visions you had when writing?
I was lucky enough to pick my own illustrator on this publishing journey. I had seen Pearl Law’s work and I loved her modern, yet simple style, and her vibrant use of colour. We sat down together and talked through each spread. It was a collaborative process and the illustrations are exactly as I had hoped.
Is the story one that had been passed through the generations of your own family?
This particular legend I didn’t know until I moved to Hong Kong. I was studying Chinese at the local university when I first heard about Chang’e. That same month, I was helping out in my daughter’s class, making lanterns for Mid-Autumn Festival, when the Chinese teacher taught them the legend of the archer, the magic potion, and the Lady in the moon. I loved this legend and I tried to find a picture book in English about it, but couldn’t find anything. So I decided to write one myself! I think it’s really important for kids to see aspects of themselves, their families, and their culture in the books they read.
Mooncakes are synonymous with the Mid-Autumn Festival and are rather intricate in their design and flavours. Do you and your family have a favourite flavour?
The traditional mooncake is made with lotus seed paste and has a salted egg yolk inside, which looks like a bright yellow moon. It’s quite heavy and dense, hence the need to cut it into pieces and share. My favourite mooncake is red bean (there is a recipe at the back of my book). My kids love the custard mooncakes, particularly the ones shaped like bunny rabbits, which represent the Jade Rabbit who lives on the moon with Chang’e.
Are you exploring the potential to bring to life other important festivals in a picture book format?
Legends are a vital thread to our past and give us an insight into what people used to believe and how they lived. It’s amazing to see the similarities between legends across different cultures and they give you a greater appreciation of your own heritage. I have a few ideas brewing about other festivals, so watch this space!