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`Lotus’ offers Asian myths, traditions on pregnancy, birth

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No stage of life beckons people - even strangers - to offer advice more than during a pregnancy. It's a nine-month journey that seems to invite others to join in, to share stories, to swap their own versions of wisdom.

And no culture has more to say about the birth of a child - from conception to dedication, than Asians, apparently.When Shu Shu Costa was pregnant, she was alternately amused and charmed by the advice she got. Her own mother, in America for more than 30 years, warned her not to shower or bathe for 12 days after the birth of her son to "regain her heat."

Her aunts plied her with "treats" both tasty and terrible, each accompanied by a string of advice on the dos and don'ts of eating to preserve the baby's health.

She was so amused and charmed that she started collecting the myths and traditions from across Asia. The result is one of the most delightful books ever written. And you certainly don't have to be pregnant to enjoy it.

On the topic of food, she found:

- If you eat a lot of chicken, the baby will be born with loose "chicken" skin. (Korea) They also believe a pregnant woman who eats a lot of crab will produce a child that bites a lot. Ouch.

- A woman who eats food that is poorly cut will have a child with a careless disposition. (China)

- Sour foods will cause a miscarriage. (Japan).

On behavior:

- In Taiwan, they say if you look at an unattractive person your baby will be born ugly.

- In Japan, looking into fire causes the baby to be born with scars.

- If you look at pretty pictures, the baby will be pretty. (China)

"Lotus Seeds and Lucky Stars" is also an enchanting guide to the traditions that accompany the birth of a child. In some Asian cultures, no guests are allowed for up to three months. In others, they practically move in.

The Japanese name a child when it is seven days old. A Chinese mother and infant are allowed out of her room when a month has passed, an event celebrated by a huge party with food and gifts.

There are special, prescribed days for bathing, for visiting, for naming and introducing a child to friends. Many of the occasions are marked with special foods or poetry or other rituals.

Costa also provides a sampling of Asian nursery rhymes and recipes, all designed to keep a child and his or her mother safe and healthy and flourishing.

It's a short read. And a rich one.