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At my kids’ elementary school, our second grade spends part of the year studying China. These are my favorite ten books to learn about China, both past and present. It’s a mix of nonfiction and fiction, and also different genres covering picture books, early chapter books, and a graphic novel.
What books am I missing? Thanks for your suggestions!
10 Great Books on China for Kids
10. Mei-Mei Loves the Morning by Margaret Tsubakiyama
Experience life in modern-day China with Mei-Mei, her grandfather, and her bird as they spend the morning on biking through the streets of an urban city in China. First stop is a chat with a cobbler on the street. Then, it’s off to the park for tai-chi. The lao-bing man’s stall for pancakes is their last stop before heading home. Filled with multigenerational warmth, Mei-Mei’s sh0ws kids that life in other countries has the same gentle rhythms of eating, exercising, and playing as their own. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
9. The Greatest Power by Demi
In this sequel to The Empty Pot, Ping is now emperor and contemplates what the greatest power is. He calls for a parade so kids can present what they think it is. Could it be money, technology, beauty, or something else? China’s contributions in these areas are brought forth by the children. This picture book introduces China’s inventions to the world, as well a Chinese philosophy. [picture book, ages 4 and up]
8. Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing by Guo Yue and Clare Farrow, illustrated by Helen Cann
The Cultural Revolution comes to life through the eyes of a young boy in this gentle easy chapter book about a difficult period in Communist China. [early chapter book, ages 8 and up]
7. I See The Sun In China by Dedie Smith
Told in English and Mandarin Chinese, this picture books shows the day in the life of a young girl and she travels from a small town in China to Shanghai to spend time with her aunt. The contrast between life in a small village to that of a large modern city in China is wonderfully juxtaposed to give readers a sense of the different sides of life in China. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
6. Little White Duck: A Childhood in China by Na Liu and Andrés Vera Martínez
This is a great way for kids to learn about everyday life in Wuhan, China in 1976. Set at the end of the Cultural Revolution, Na Liu’s tells her own story during the years China made great strides to modernize. This graphic novel is about small moments seen through the eyes of a young girl, rather than the larger political upheaval. Her life was filled with small tender moments despite living on the cusp of great change. [graphic novel, ages 8 and up]
5. Mystery of the Giant Masks of Sanxingdui by Icy Smith
Discover the lost civilization of Sanxingdui in Sichuan Province, China, over 3,000 years ago. In 1986, the discovery of monumental bronzes in Sanxingdui was hailed as “The ninth wonder of the World”.This picture book imagines what might have happened to the people who produced these astonishing bronze artifacts. [picture book, ages 6 and up]
4. The Terracotta Girl by Jessica Gunderson
Terracotta soldier with his horse. Image from Wikipedia.
The Terracotta Army was discovered in 1974 by local farmers in Lintong District, Xi’an, Shaanxi province. These amazing lifelike sculptures depict the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China. In this early chapter book, life is imagined for a young girl who wishes to join the Emperor’s army but ends up depicted as a young female terracotta soldier. [early chapter book, ages 7 and up]
3. You Wouldn’t Want to Work on the Great Wall of China!: Defenses You’d Rather Not Build by Franklin Watts
Qin Shi Huangdi, the Emperor who united China, built the Terracotta Army and The Great Wall, was known as a strong ruler who was also ruthless and cruel. Life during this time was very difficult for ordinary citizens. The Great Wall — 1,800 miles on China’s northern border — was built by unlucky hundred of thousands who toiled and died to build this wonder of the world. This is a fascinating and entertaining picture book that makes the reader grateful not to have built the The Great Wall. [nonfiction picture book, ages 8 and up]
2. The Silk Route: 7,000 Miles of History by
The Tang Dynasty, 618-906) was a high point in Chinese civilization, where silk was the most highly prized in the ancient Western world. Silk traveled the 7,000 trade route from China to Byzantium, a perilous journey across mountains, steppes, and deserts of Central Asia. At each stop, silk is traded for other goods, specific to that area. Ideas too are exchanged, as people from different countries and religions cross paths. The ends notes are also fascinating, detailing more of the rich history of the Silk Road.
Pair this book with The Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth to find out how the silk industry spread beyond China. I also have a post on My Silk Road Heritage using another picture book, A Single Pebble: A Story of the Silk Road.
1. The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong
This picture book reads like a folktale but Han Gan really existed 1,200 years ago in China. He grew up impoverished but became a great painter of horses. Chen Jiang Hong painted the illustrations using the same technique than Han Gan used. In this story, Han Gan’s talent is rumored to bring real horses to life from the images that he paints. A warrior asked for such a horse to fight the enemy at the gates. Han Gan’s horse was invincible and the warrior, while on his back, could not be hurt. The warrior’s thirst for conquest saddened the horse and he threw the warrior off his back and ran off. The warrior searched for the horse, returning Han Gan. Mysteriously, one of his paintings had a new addition … the warrior’s horse. [picture book, ages 5 and up]
More Great Books for Kids on China
Angel in Beijing by Belle Yang
Join a little girl on a charming romp through modern-day China, visiting Chinese monuments and historical sites as well as touching on Chinese holidays including Lunar New Year and Dragon Boat Festival.
The story revolves around a white cat that a little girl finds up in a tree, scared of the noise of the firecrackers. She rescues the cat and brings it home, naming it … “Kitty.” (That was not supposed to be a forever name!).
Kitty goes with the little girl as she traverses around Beijing on her bicycle. During Dragon Boat Festival, Kitty gets intrigued by a kite and takes off into the air as the kite is airborne. The little girl is distressed to lose her cat.
She searches for her cat the next day all over the city. Finally, she happens upon a hutong (traditional Chinese house) where she hears a cat. To her surprise, there is Kitty! But now Kitty has a new name and the little girl realizes how Kitty has found someone who needs her. [Picture book, ages 4 and up.]
p.s. To learn more about China, including Chinese New Year activities, please see these posts:
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