By Krystal Chuon
Sokita Celebrates the New Year: A Cambodian American Holiday, by Barbara Lau and Kris Nesbitt, is a simple and colorful book filled with many photos that neatly tie into the descriptions of what a Cambodian New Year is all about. The book starts off with an introduction of Sokita and her family, which consists of three brothers, a mother who was born in Battambang, Cambodia, and a father who was born in Da Lat, Vietnam. The book mentions that due to a war, Sokita’s parents had to relocate to Greensboro, North Carolina. The authors make no mention of the Khmer Rouge or Pol Pot, but considering the book’s target audience is young children, the omission is understandable. Delving into the dark and complicated details of the Khmer Rouge regime would be too harsh for young readers and would derail from the main point of the entire book: the celebration of Cambodian New Year.
The book does a good job describing Cambodian New Year, such as how it is celebrated in mid-April because that is when farmers finish harvesting their crops and can finally relax, and what Buddhists, such as Sokita and her family, believe in. They value acts of kindness and giving to other people and believe that killing living creatures or stealing and lying is “very bad.” Lau and Nesbitt declare, “The New Year celebration is a special time to practice the teachings of Buddha,” something that many Cambodians would agree with.
The book continues to explain other aspects of Cambodian New Year, including the preparations involving cleaning the house and buying special foods, and then finally the day of the celebration, when Sokita’s family blesses the New Year at their home and goes on to enjoy all the festivities at the Greensboro Buddhist temple, where the fun begins. The color photos help as visuals for children and perhaps adult readers who might otherwise be unable to imagine what Cambodian New Year is like. Photos include Sokita’s mother dressing Sokita in a Cambodian outfit, many bowls of Cambodian food placed in front of Buddhist monks, and young Cambodian dancers performing in front of a big crowd watching as the dancers’ bright clothing glistens in the sun.
Sokita Celebrates the New Year is a fun, short read for the young and old. It does well to explain terms that young readers may not understand and goes into the details of what occurs before and during the New Year celebration without explaining too much or too little. The photos illustrate what is being described and show how enjoyable the Cambodian New Year celebration can be. This is a wonderful book for young readers who are still learning how to read and older readers who are interested in learning about another culture and its way of marking the important occasion of a new year.