We love books. We love books that give our kids ‘racial mirrors’* even more. But books that provide racial mirrors AND Chinese culture? That’s hard to beat.
Here’s some of our top picks with some honest reviews by some of our families:
(…any that you’d love to add? Let us know in the comments section!)
Books for Younger Children
The Great Race by Christopher Corr
Ever wondered what the story behind the Chinese ‘Year of the…’ was? This book introduces children to the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac.
This book is ideal for slightly older children.
It’s worth noting that – like many folk stories – there are several versions of this story in China.
We especially love that the story highlights the kindness of the dragon, explaining the affinity for dragons in Chinese culture and society.
On a related note, you can find out what ‘Year of the…’ you are with this calculator.
Celebrate Chinese New Year by Carolyn Otto
This book should probably be in the ‘books for older kids’ section, but we wanted to keep the Chinese New Year books together.
This book is the only truly non-fiction book on our list and it deserves to be here. It gives a great overview of Chinese New Year in China in a way that truly CELEBRATES the customs and traditions.
It’s a favourite with kids and adults and one of the few books that goes beyond focusing on just New Year’s Eve and covers all aspects of this 2-week-long festival.
This is probably ideal for middle school aged kids.
My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz
This sweet book aimed at 2-5 year olds has beautiful illustrations and covers all of the main customs and traditional activities surrounding Chinese New ear.
Its bright and sweet and overall a very lovely addition to our Chinese New Year library. One thing to draw attention to though; some of the customs aren’t ones that you’d see throughout the mainland, they’re definitely more regional. Also, the ‘Happy New Year’ at the end of the book is actually a romanisation of Cantonese, not Mandarin which is the official language of China. At a guess I’d say this book is written to show how ABCs [American Born Chinese] in the West celebrate the Chinese New Year but it’s still lovely and worth having.
Animals of the Chinese Zodiac by Eric Carle
Eric Carle has always been a bit of a favourite with my kids when they were younger. His simple use of vocabulary and the vibrant colours in his illustration were irresistible to them. So we were pretty excited to see he had a book about the animals in the Chinese zodiac.
The book lists the years that each animal represents and then there is a double page spread featuring each animal and its attributes. Like all of his books, the illustrations are cute and the language is appropriate for younger ages.
BUT we were so disappointed that he didn’t tell the story of how the animals in the Chinese zodiac came to be. This book seemed like a great chance to bring the story of the Chinese zodiac animals into the mainstream…but it does it pretty weakly. It’s also fairly hard to get hard to get hold of in the US.
Our advice? The sweet illustrations and accuracy (while still being appealing to younger children) probably make it worthwhile IF you see it on sale. It makes a good companion book to other children’s books on the 12 animals – particularly for younger siblings. But we wouldn’t suggest going out of your way to get hold of it.
A BIG Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin
No list of books featuring China would be complete without at least one of Grace Lin’s titles!
There is a lot to love about this book. First of all this is a very sweet way [if a bit simplistic] to introduce kids to the phases of the moon. It also puts mooncakes – which are to mainland Chinese people what turkey is to Americans – on people’s mental radars without it being a lesson on Mid-Autumn festival.
This book is definitely relatable. Resisting temptation and choosing whether or not to obey our parents? Who’s not been there?
I love that the reader is left not quite being sure if Little Star is actually a child (星星 Xīngxīng is a cute nickname for a Chinese kid) or really a star in the sky.
Finally, the relationship depicted between Little Star and her mama is just adorable. This book is a bedtime favourite that subtly teaches a little Chinese culture.
The Pet Dragon by Christoph Niemann
A beautiful and engaging way to introduce kids to simplified Chinese characters!
The Chinese characters are cleverly displayed as part of the illustrations to the story about Lin and his dragon’s adventures.
Simplified characters are used across mainland China. Some top tips for those of you unfamiliar with Chinese characters; they’re not called ‘symbols’ and you don’t draw, them you write them!
The only downside is that this book doesn’t give the pronunciation of the Chinese character, so you’re purely introducing your kids to the visual representation of the word. But the book does that SO well that we still think its absolutely worth it!
Lin Yi’s Lantern by Brenda Williams and Benjamin Lacombe
Lin Yi’s Lantern is a lovely way to learn about Mid-Autumn Festival and some of the traditions and customs surrounding it.
It’s also a lovely story about choosing to do what’s right over the thing you’d like to do.
The illustrations are beautiful and it gently introduces families to the names of things that you might find in China e.g. moon gate for the round/circle style gates.
The author/illustrator have also taken the time to add notes on Mid-Autumn Festival as well as instructions on how to make your own paper lantern at home – we’re BIG fans of this added bonus!
A family review:
Lin Yi’s Lantern is a delightful book about a young boy who helps his family prepare for Moon Festival. This sweet story teaches readers customs and legends surrounding the Chinese Moon Festival. The illustrations are sure to capivate readers of any age.
“I love that book!”
“My favorite part was when he saw the Red Lantern at the end”
“I love that it’s about my China”
“I like the pictures the best!”
“I am so thankful for an organization like Homeland Ties! They provide trustworthy and culturally accurate services and products that help us keep our sons’ heritage alive in our home. We all look forward to new orders!”
The Nian Monster by Andrea Wang
A family review
Perfect Addition to Our New Year Fun!
My daughters and I think you will love this funny, well written, beautifully illustrated sequel to the traditional Nian monster Chinese New Year fable. No need to know the ancient story before reading this book, although your child may be inspired to discover it! Kids and mom alike enjoyed the engaging, humorous story, and the weaving in of “bite size” cultural nuggets enriched and fit the story. We learned new things together! The book itself is gift quality. Great addition to our library and New Year stash!
I’d say about 4-5 years old as a starting point audience, and my 6 and 8 year old loved this! I’m not sure there is such a thing as getting too old to enjoy a nice picture book, but this storybook would easily span a wide range of years. Littler ones would enjoy the story and illustrations to start, and get more from reading it year by year.
Illustrated Stories from China illustrated by Li Weiding
This book is a real classic and perhaps works better for older children. It’s a collection of thirteen stories and is 200+pages long.
The illustrations are in the traditional Chinese ink and pen style and a few families have told us that this is one of their most treasured books about China!
We love that, as well as an English translation of traditional stories, this book features some facts on the history behind each of the stories.
One of the really fascinating things about this collection is seeing if our kids notice the similarities between traditional European fairytales and traditional Chinese stories. For example, the Golden Slippers is very similar to Cinderella.
What makes this book feel so authentic is definitely its illustrations painted by artist Li Wei Ding who passed away in 2018. He was a professor of art in Shanghai, China and is a famous artist in China.
Books for Older Children
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon Gift Set by Grace Lin
For the longest time it was hard to find books that featured non-white children and even though there’s been a lot more diversity in books for younger children in recent years, finding good reads with authentic Chinese culture and influences for older kids can be tough.
But this set achieves that and with style. The earlier novels have won tons of awards and the newest was only released October 2019.
Read any list of reviews and two things about this trilogy stand out; it weaves beautiful narratives seeped in Chinese history and culture in a way that draws you in, almost everyone aged 8-108 years old love it.
We’ve only seen the first book [its magical] in the series but our girls will be receiving this set for Christmas. We’ll be sure to check back in and update you all on what they think (and as we live in China and they go to Chinese schools, they’re fairly hard to impress)!
The Magical Monkey King – Mischief in Heaven by Ji Li Jiang
Journey to the West/The Monkey King is arguably one of the most influential traditional tales from China. Go to most public parks in China on a weekend and you’ll find someone dressed as the Monkey King willing to take their photo with you (for a fee, of course!).
While the translation is available in English, many people find it a little difficult to get into. So this book is the perfect introduction to the well-loved story.
It tells of how the monkey came to be, the adventures he goes on and the problems he causes and how we should never dismiss people based on how they look.
Jade Emperor leaned back in his throne… “If it is just a little monkey, there is nothing for us to worry about.”
You don’t have to read too far into this book to know that the Jade Emperor spoke too soon. This is a good read for kids 8-12years old.
A Grain of Rice by Helena Clare Pittman
So we should definitely begin by noting that it’s unclear whether this mathematical folklore really did originate in China as there’s a few who contest the story came first of all from India. But as long as you don’t hold too dearly to the belief that this is 100% true (and let’s be honest, a book written by a non-Chinese author over 20 years ago is unlikely to be a fully accurate representation of China), then is a great read for 9-12 year olds that introduces power dynamics and how the wonder of multiplication can overcome them.
The story is set in 15th century China and the author’s use of language is simple but descriptive. It’s easy to see why this book has been a favourite of parents, teachers and kids for many years and, indeed, why it is still in print.
The book includes pencil illustrations that beautifully represent important themes in Chinese culture; such as food, feasting and family relationships.