The International School of Beijing’s (ISB’s) elementary school library team has drawn up a list of their top picks for children's literature about China. Read on for a selection of books, suitable for every elementary school grade level, for your child to explore and enjoy.
Recommended by Alexander Wills: Library Assistant
1. The Story about Ping. Ping lives on a boat on the Yangtze River with his family. Every day they go and look for food, coming home to their boat when the sun sets. Ping gets lost and has to find his way home all by himself. I loved this book when I was little; Ping is a cute little duck and the story is exciting. Before I came to China (In 1985!) I imagined it looking like the pictures by Kurt Wiese. Author: Majorie Flack; Illustrator: Kurt Wiese; Age Range: 4 – 8 years; Grade Level: Preschool – 3.
2. Little White Duck: A Childhood in China. I chose this book because of the way it mixes personal stories of a little girl’s childhood in China with a lot of the history of China at that time. It made the history seem more real to hear it in a story and from a child’s point of view. Author: Na Liu; Illustrator: Andres Vera Martinez; Age Range: 9 – 13 years; Grade Level: 5 and up.
Recommended by Jenny Wang: Library Assistant
3. 孔子说.孙子说 (Confucius Said, Grandson Says). China is an ancient country, which has produced great philosophy throughout its history. I think China’s most valuable contribution to world culture are Confucius' thoughts. His theories are the essence of Eastern philosophy. This book introduces and explains the theories of Confucius in a simple and thoughtful way; using cartoons to explain these ancient and profound concepts. Author and Illustrator: 蔡志忠 漫画 (Cai Zhizhong); Age Range: 4 – 8 years; Grade Level: Preschool – 3.
4. 彩虹色的花 (The Rainbow Flower). This book is about love and giving: after winter comes spring, the lifecycle continues, and the spirit of helping others remains. This is a favorite of my son’s: its appealing illustrations punctuate a story that engenders hope, colorfully depicting its central values of kindness, community, and optimism. Author and Illustrator: Michael Gregniec; Age Range: 3 – 5 years; Grade Level: Preschool – Kindergarten.
5. 小石狮 (The Little Stone Lion). Xiong Liang is a highly-respected, highly-awarded Chinese new-generation picture book writer. This nostalgic story is ingeniously sparse; simply told through beautiful images, with basic Chinese characters, but the result is powerfully evocative. Author and Illustrator: 熊亮 著 (Xiong Liang); Age Range: 3 – 5 years; Grade Level: Preschool – Kindergarten.
Recommended by Rebecca Taylor: ES Cybrarian
6. A New Year’s Reunion. This is a delightful picture book documenting the return of a migrant worker to his hometown for Chinese New Year. The story is told through the eyes of his young daughter using simple words and beautifully bright illustrations. All of our lives are influenced in some way by the migrant workers in our community and families so this book helps hold up a literary mirror to our daily lives. Explanations and references to experiences familiar to all of us yet unique to Chinese New Year make this a captivating, easy-to-read story for the whole family. Author: You Li-Qiong; Illustrator: Zhu Cheng-Liang; Age Range: 3 – 7 years; Grade Level: Preschool – 2.
7. The Pet Dragon. Want a fun and engaging way to explain and explore the connection between traditional Chinese culture and Chinese characters? This is the book for you! Journey with Lin as she searches for her pet dragon through the streets of Beijing and beyond, all the while learning the origins of common Chinese words and characters. Author and Illustrator: Christoph Niemann; Age Range: 4 – 8 years; Grade Level: Preschool – 3.
8. What a Place! Enjoy this lyrical romp through the events and seasons of Beijing as the author celebrates her love of her adopted hometown. Brought to life with lush illustrations by a proud Beijing local and told from the author's daughter’s perspective, this is a wonderful bilingual story documenting the lives of an expat family posted to Beijing. Author: Lana Sultan; Illustrator: Xu Wendi; Age Range: 3 – 7 years; Grade Level: Preschool – 2.
Recommended by Paul Wong: UES Librarian
9. When the Mountain Meets the Moon. This is a rich story about family, love, the evil of greed and the joy of gratitude. Min Li which means “quick thinking” grows up with very little and begins a quest to find the old man in the moon. It’s great to read how the author has constructed Min Li as a strong female who is not afraid to take risks in the hopes of changing her family’s fortune. I also like how the author weaves between her own vivid and powerful narrative and the stories of the jade dragon, and the old man in the moon, told by Min Li’s father, which draw from characters and themes described in traditional Chinese folklore. Author: Grace Lin; Age Range: 8 – 12 years; Grade Level: 3 – 7.
10. Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier. Thirteen-year-old Ming lives in a small village during the cultural revolution of China in the 1970s. Ming’s father, an archaeologist is convinced that the terra-cotta army was created to serve and protect Emperor Qin’s tomb in the afterlife. Amazingly, one statue comes to life and tells Ming stories. He learns the history of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, known for building the Great Wall of China, and how and why the terracotta soldiers came to be. Chinese words and characters are incorporated throughout, and history is woven into the action that ensues against the evil plot of the town’s Political Officer. I appreciated the photographs within the book of Chinese village life in the 1970s, the Great Wall, and, of course, the excavated tomb with its many terra-cotta soldiers. It also features a special recipe for Ming’s stir-fried noodles: with worms! Authors: Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine; Age Range: 8 – 12 years; Grade Level: 3 – 7.