10 books for kids to explore China and Chinese New Year

12 Books to Explore CHINA for Chinese New Year

My kids do a country unit on China in second grade where they spent a day celebrating Chinese Culture with Red Envelope Crafts. My kids also studied Mandarin Chinese and my oldest middle school Chinese language teacher also did a Chinese New Year celebration with crafts and food.

Last year was The Year of the Horse, this year Chinese New Year falls on February 19 and is the Year of the Sheep.

Will you celebrate Chinese New Year with books and crafts? Our favorite Chinese New Year books are here and I have 10 more newly published books on China to explore for the year to come!

Lucky Bamboo Books of Crafts: Over 100 Projects & Ideas Celebrating Chinese Culture by Jennifer DeCristoforo

With over 100 projects and ideas celebrating Chinese culture, Lucky Bamboo Book of Crafts is perfect for celebrating Chinese New Year with the kids and all year as well. Drawn from the history narratives to introduce a unit on China in the classroom or use for kids learning to speak Mandarin Chinese. This is a resource that you will come back to again and again! It’s truly a treasure trove of craft projects on Chinese culture! [non fiction, ages 4 and up]

The Sheep Beauty: A Story in English and Chinese by Li Jian, translated by Yijian Wert

The Docile and Compassionate Sheep

The eighth sign of the Chinese zodiac symbolizes obedience and kindness. People born in the year of the Sheep are sensitive, prudent and upright. Beneath the Sheep’s mild exterior lies an inner strength. They are able to protect themselves when needed. They are selfless and easily touched by the misfortune of others. The Sheep can seem pessimistic and be a worrier. They tend to resign themselves to fate and don’t like to be stuck with routines.

In this Chinese fable, a kind doctor finds a wounded sheep and cares for it, bringing it to his home until the sheep is well. The village is threatened by a tiger who demands a child from family. The villagers ask the doctor for advice and the sheep has a solution. It turns itself into a young girl and lures the tiger away from the village when the sheep tricks the tiger into falling into a spring. There is still danger; the tiger returns and tries to take a child but the sheep intervenes at the last second, sacrificing itself to save the boy. [bi-lingual in Mandarin Chinese and English picture book, ages 4 and up]

This is a Chinese folk tale that epitomizes the Chinese zodiac Sheep personality and is perfect to read to kids to celebrate this year’s Chinese New Year.

For sheep extension activities, here are some great ones from bloggers in the Kids Blogger Network:

JDaniel4’s Mom: Paper Plate Sheep Craft

jdaniel4 sheep craft chinese new year

ET Speaks from Home: Chinese New Year Craft Ang Pow Sheep (writing the word for Sheep in Mandarin Chinese)

ang pow to make the word sheep Chinese New Year craft

Kid World Citizen: Sheep Crafts for Chinese New Year (a round up of 8)

8 sheep crafts for Chinese New Year


Here is a sheep coloring page from ChildBook.com.

Sheep coloring page chinese zodiac

Mei Ling in China City: Divided by war, united by friendship … a lifeline of letters from China City to Manzanar by Icy Smith, illustrated by Gayle Garner Roski

Mei Ling in China City is a bi-lingual Chinese/English story, telling the story of the Japanese American relocation from an unusual perspective; that of Mei Ling in Los Angeles’ China Town writing to her best friend in Manzanar internment camp. As Mei Ling prepares to celebrate the Chinese New Year, she thinks of her friend Yayeko and others affected by the war. I love how this picture book embeds Asian American history into a Chinese New Year story. [advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]

All About China: Stories, Songs, Crafts and More for Kids by Alison “Aixin” Branscomb, illustrated by Lin Wang

If you want just one book to explore Chinese culture that includes projects, recipes, songs and crafts then this is it. It works on many levels from preschool to high school. You can use the informative text and illustrations as background information, or simply use the art projects, crafts and recipes to dive right for a full body experience.It also works as a crash course for anyone about to visit China as a tourist or to do business. [non fiction, ages 4 and up]

The Pandas and Their Chopsticks and Other Animal Stories by Demi

Think Aesop tales but with an Asian twist. Demi brings these delightful animal stories adapted from Chinese folk tales with a moral to life with her gorgeous illustrations. The morals of each of the stories are:

  • Be generous. It brings happiness to everyone. (The Pandas and Their Chopsticks)
  • Be careful around those who make a show of how good they are. (The Cat Who Prayed)
  • The weaker you are, the smarter you have to be. (The Fox Who Was King of the Forest)
  • Be careful with your thought. They can make false things seem true. (A Hedgehog Thinks Twice)
  • Great things can be done when everyone no matter how small, does their part. (The Helpful Hummingbird)
  • Pride often opens our mouths. Humility tells us when to keep them closed. (The Turtle Who Couldn’t Stop Talking)
  • Do not be content with ignorance. It will hold you back from far greater things. (The Frog Who Counted Two Stars From the Bottom of the Well)
  • He who boasts a lot achieves little. (The Kite on a String)
  • Our faults follow us wherever we go, unless we do something to leave them behind. (The Owl’s Hoot)
  • Be humble. It is the starting point of greatness. (A River Discovers the Ocean)

[easy short folk tales, ages 4 and up]

This Is the Greatest Place: The Forbidden City and the World of Small Animals by Brian Tse, illustrated by Alice Mak, translated by Ben Want

This book is a fun way for kids to explore The Forbidden City and its connection to the natural world. For anyone interested in Chinese architecture, young or old, This is the Greatest Place, shows the underpinnings of nature in Chinese culture. [picture book with Lift the Flaps, ages 4 and up]

Little Monk and the Mantis: A Bug, A Boy, and the Birth of a Kung Fu Legend by John Fusco, illustrated by Patrick Lugo

This is a must read for anyone who like Kung Fu, even if it’s just the Kung Fu Panda movies! It’s the story of the founder of a boy abandoned to the Shaolin monks who goes on the develop the Praying Mantis Kung Fu style.

It takes half a lifetime to master even one animal of the five animal styles of Shaolin Kung Fu. Kung fu does not mean fighting, it means accomplishing a skill through hard work over time.

The Kung Fu code

Respect: to consider yourself and others worthy of high respect.

Honesty: to be truthful

Kindness: to be gentle and helpful

Humility: not to think or consider yourself better than others

Perseverance: to continue despite opposition, hardship or discouragement. To never give up.

[advanced picture book, ages 6 and up]

Chinese Fables: The Dragon Slayer and Other Timeless Tales of Wisdom by Shiho S. Nunes, illustrated by Lak-Khee Tay-Audouard

Drawn from China’s golden age of fables during the fourth and third century B.C., these timeless tales teach and entertain. With delicate watercolor illustrations by Lak-Khee Tay-Audourard, these stories invite the reader to guess at the lesson it is trying to impart. I’d read a single story at bedtime, right before lights out so that we could ponder the story. The lessons are not always that clear so it’s a different way of looking at stories. [advanced picture book, ages 6 and up]

In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-chiu

“This book contains a fascinating account of life beyond the gates of the Forbidden City during the Ming and Qing dynasties. An extensive survey of its history is included, with line drawings and fold-out spreads that cover everything from the lives of palace inhabitants to the numerous political conflicts and intrigues that was an inevitable part of palace life.”—Travel Life magazine

[advanced picture book, ages 8 and up]

Summoning the Phoenix: Poems and Prose About Chinese Musical Instruments by Emily Jiang, illustrated by April Chu

It’s an interesting juxtaposition; using poems to introduce Chinese musical instruments to kids as well as a prose sidebar. If your kids are lucky enough to experience Chinese musical performances, this is the book to use before or after the concert! [poetry non fiction, ages 4 and up]

Three Years and Eight Months by Icy Smith, illustrated by Jennifer Kindert

As someone who is both Japanese and Chinese, I do think that the Japanese should apologize for war crimes committed during WWII when they occupied various countries including Hong Kong. The Japanese chose to steadfastly ignore any acknowledgements of crimes against ordinary citizens but their stories deserve to be remembered. Icy Smith puts forth a sanitized version of the three year and eight month occupation of Hong Kong; the women forced into servitude for the Japanese army story is particularly poignant. [advanced picture book, ages 10 and up]

The Great Race: How the Chinese Zodiac Came to Be by Charles Huang and Stacey Hirata, illustrated by Jerome Lu

The Emperor’s race which determined the animals and order in the Chinese Zodiac is faithfully retold in this app-like illustrated picture book that will appeal to gamers. [picture book, ages 4 and up]


Want to learn Chinese? Here’s a coloring sheet for a New Year Greeting from ChildBook.

Chinese New Year Greeting coloring sheet of Chinese Words in Mandarin Characters

map of china

Map of China

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.

10 books for kids to explore China and Chinese New Year

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. I especially like the coloring sheet and map bonuses!

  2. Glad to have found your comment box, since I’ve always wanted to tell you how much I like your reading suggestions. This list is especially great. Thanks.
    evelyne holingue recently posted…Publishers WeeklyMy Profile

  3. These look like great books! I have always been fascinated by the Erhu.
    maryanne recently posted…Growing Sugar Crystals: Delicious Science for KidsMy Profile

    • Hi MaryAnne,
      The Chinese instruments seem strange to me and I’m half Chinese but didn’t grow up around that kind of music. I have to remember that the traditional instruments like violin and cello that seem so “normal” to me are odd to the Chinese and that the Chinese instruments are even older.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Books for 8yold Boy Reluctant ReaderMy Profile

  4. This is a great list for the Chinese New Year. You always have such great suggestions and activities.
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…Hana Hashimoto, Sixth ViolinMy Profile

    • Thanks so much Patricia,
      I’m always trying to figure out what to do for Chinese New Year even though we typically don’t do anything special except go to Chinatown around Chinese New Year (but not actually on it because the parking is terrible). I’m always looking for an easy craft or idea to celebrate beyond food which is how we usually explore a culture. We are very food-oriented :).
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Books for 8yold Boy Reluctant ReaderMy Profile

  5. Wow! Another great list. All 3 of my children are learning Mandarin and we love to celebrate the Chinese New Year with them. We will be taking them to Chinatown and the New Year’s parade in Chicago. These books will definitely get them excited. Thanks for sharing!
    Kirsten recently posted…Money Saving Travel TipsMy Profile

    • Hi Kirsten,
      That’s so wonderful that all your kids are learning Mandarin! My kids started off learning Chinese for many years but it’s tailed off such that no one is learning it this year. I think field trips to Chinatown really helps to make Chinese more exciting and relevant. It’s funny but this tea shop in Chinatown called TeaDo is now motivating my kids to want to go to Boston’s Chinatown more than ever because they like the bubble tea smoothies. You are reminding me to get our Chinese tutor back!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Feather vs Bowling Ball: Which Falls Fastest?My Profile

  6. Very nice array of suggestions for different age groups. RENAE.

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