10 Great Books on China for Kids

10 Great Books on China for Kids

We’re creating a Multicultural Children’s Book Day eBook of diversity book resources. Twenty-two bloggers and authors are contributing their best diversity lists to help educators and parents find the books they need: All Done Monkey, Books My Kids Read, Crafty Moms Share, Colours of UsThe Educators’ Spin On It, Franticmommy, Growing Book by Book, Imagination Soup, InCulture ParentThe Jenny Evolution, Jump Into a Book, Kid World Citizen, Uma Krishnaswami, The LogonautsMama Smiles, Marie PasticheElsa Marston, The Measured Mom, PragmaticMomRandomly ReadingWhat Do We Do All Day?, and Youth Literature Reviews. Proceeds from this eBook coming out this fall will be used to donate books to teachers and parents.

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 every day 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 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

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 John S. Major, illustrated by Stephen Fieser

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 folk tale but Han Gan really existed 1,200 years ago in China. He grew up impoverished, but because 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]

p.s. To learn more about China, including Chinese New Year activities, please see these posts:

Red Envelope Crafts for China Unit

Chinese New Year Crafts and Activities

12 Books to Explore China

Cultural Revolution and My Dad’s Story

Top 10 Chinese American Books for Kids

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.
 10 Great Books on China for Kids

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Thanks for sharing these….always looking to add to my list. I particularly love books by Demi.

  2. Love the selections. I particularly like, “Little Leap Forward: A Boy in Beijing.” Would love to read about the Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a boy.
    Patricia Tilton recently posted…Separate is Never Equal by Duncan TonatiuhMy Profile

    • Hi Patricia,
      I liked how that book gave a more gentle description of that time, as did the Little Duck one. My father’s friends who went through this won’t talk about it but I know that it was very rough on their. His friend who is a professor of sound waves is missing a few of his fingers.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Cover Reveal: THE NIAN MONSTERMy Profile

  3. Nice list! I like learning about new countries. 🙂
    Erik – TKRB recently posted…Perfect Picture Book Friday! They All Saw a Cat by Brendan WenzelMy Profile

  4. Oh we love reading our way around the world… one of our favourite picture books ever is: A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong and Zhu Cheng-Liang It is about a family in which the father is a migrant worker and he only comes home once a year for New Year. It is a beautiful and poignant tale…

  5. We like “I See the Sun in China”. I’ll have to look for your other recommendations.
    MaryAnne recently posted…Tiggly Words Review: Reading, Storytelling, Vocabulary, and SpellingMy Profile

  6. What a great collection! I love your lists of books. Thanks for sharing!
    Beth recently posted…Picture Books about ItalyMy Profile

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