Sam and the Lucky Money is a children’s book written by Karen Chinn and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright & Ying-Hwa Hu in 1995. The unique watercolor illustrations show us the bright colors of Chinese New Year Festivals and tell us the story of how Sam learns about gratitude.
Every new year, Sam’s grandparents give leisees (lay-sees), which are red envelopes filled with lucky money and gold paintings on the front representing luck. Sam was excited because his parents allowed him to use it for anything other than school supplies this year. Sam zips his jacket and runs to the door to his mom to buy things from Chinatown for new year’s day.
Sam held onto his mom as they walked through the bustling crowd filled with the thump of drums and clang of cymbals. The display of food and all kinds of vegetables attracted the crowd, and he was told to hold on tighter so that he didn’t get lost.
Next to the vegetable stand, Sam kicks the mounds of red-paper mounds and feels something strange. He was startled by someone’s scream and was surprised to see an old man with bare feet in the midst of winter. He took a moment to stare at the old man’s bare feet and his dirty clothes and thought where his shoes might be. Sam then ran back to his mother who was picking up oranges and held on tighter than before.
Near where his mother was picking oranges, a bakery was displaying freshly baked char siu bao, honey-topped buns, and as they opened the door, the smell of sweet egg tarts and baked goods made Sam forget about the strange encounter. A young woman standing behind the counter asked Sam what he would like. Sam took a look at the buns and the New year’s cookies, but his mind brought back the strange encounter. Suddenly, he was distracted once more by the sound of a thousand leaves rustling outside. He ran to the window to see what was going on.
Sam was overjoyed when he saw the colorful, long-shaped body of the festival lion moving across the street. The lion was moving with the sound of the drums and cymbals but stopped in front of the meat market. The lion sniffed the giant leisee hung outside the doorway, and the crowd urged the lion to take all the meat and goods to bring them good luck in the new year. The lion then devours the leisee, making the crowd cheer in joy. Soon after, the lion continued moving along the street, and the crowd dispersed.
As Sam and his mother were about to go back to the bakery, Sam’s eye was caught by a “grand opening” sign at a toy store. He ran inside and started to look and play with every toy he could put his hands on, but what really caught his attention was a basketball. He settled on buying the basketball with his lucky new year’s money, and he was upset when it was worth more than what he had. Sam felt frustrated by the little amount of money his grandparents gave him and didn’t feel like it would amount to anything.
“Sam, when someone gives you something, you should appreciate it.” his mother consoled him as they left the store. The sun was starting to set, and Sam was visibly sad as he stuffed his pocket with the leisees and looked down as they marched down the street. He suddenly spots a pair of bare feet and instantly recognizes them. He stops, and his mother sees the old man too. She searches her purse for coins to give the man, and he bows his head in thanks.
As Sam watches the scene, he is surprised to see the man treating the money like it’s a million dollars, rather than only a quarter. He stops to think a little longer and then asks his mom if it’s really okay to use his money for anything. His mother answers yes, and Sam runs back to the man. He pulls out the leisees from his pocket, and the gold paintings shine brighter than before as he hands the man the red envelopes. He told the man, “You can’t buy shoes with this, but I know you can buy some socks.” The man and his mother both laugh at his remark. Sam and his mother then return home, and on the way, Sam realizes that the money is not lucky; it was him all along.
This story is a great way for us to understand how we should be grateful for things because others may not be as fortunate. The fact that we are able to give back to the less fortunate makes us more aware and appreciative of our situation. Sometimes, our vision is narrowed to what others may have or what we can’t have. That is why it’s important to look closely around us and appreciate what we have rather than what we don’t.
Written by Jumana Raggam
Chinn, Karen. Sam and the Lucky Money. Lee & Low Books, 1995.