Adele has been a youth services librarian for 25 years and a mother to a daughter from China for 20 years.
The Best Picture Books About China
Here are the best books for ages 2-10 about China and children with Chinese heritage. They range form re-tellings of folk tales to colorful books of facts about traditional New Year's celebrations in China and all over the world.
Whether you are a preschool or elementary teacher, a parent or adoptive parent, or someone who enjoys sharing the culture of China with children, these are the best books I've seen over the years for young children.
I've been a librarian for over 20 years, and picture books have always been close to my heart. I've read hundred of books about China and listed here the one that I believe have the best characters, most interesting stories and most beautiful artwork. I hope that you enjoy them.
Note: Click Here If You Are Looking for More Books for All Ages
- Best Books for Families with Children Adopted from China
These books cover adoption and Chinese culture for moms, dads, kids, tweens, and teens. Below you will find links to sites that list dozens of books for kids, adults, families, and classrooms.
New! A Book About Making New Friends in a New Country
Friends Are Friends, Forever by Dane Liu
Author Dane Liu based the story of Friends Are Friends, Forever on her real-life experience moving from China to America. It begins with two young girls, Dandan and Yueyue, who are celebrating the Lunar New Year with a tinge of bittersweet because the girls know that Dandan will have to move far away soon.
Still, they enjoy their last New Year together, and we see them delightedly watching the New Year’s Eve meal being prepared. “Crunchy vegetables skid around the wok. Flame-red chilies speckle silky noodles. Batches of dumplings jingle in boiling water.
As they eat the meal with the family, they listen to grandmother’s stories and Dandan says, “Garlic and ginger tickle my nose. I close my eyes and try to remember everything.” After the meal, she and her friend participate in their own New Year tradition of cutting intricate designs into red paper, and then freezing them into disks of ice. The next morning, they hang their creations on the trees, and Yueyue gives Dandan a present of red paper and string so she can make the craft “with a new friend in America.” Her friend hugs her and whispers, “Friends are friends, forever.”
On the next page, we see an illustration of the plane flight from China to the United States. In the US, Dandan misses her home. “No more breakfasts at Grandma Tai’s cart, dipping fresh crullers in hot, honeyed soy milk. Here, I eat alone.” She struggles to learn the language and find that the children laugh and her when she wears a traditional satin dress on her birthday.
But then a girl smiles at her. “You look awesome. Red’s my favorite color too.” It’s a girl named Christina, and soon they are painting together, building forts together, and Christina is teaching her English words. Dandan says, “With Christina, my voice blooms.”
The story ends on the next Lunar New Year’s Eve as Dandan and Christina eat a New Year’s dinner with the family and make the papercut and ice craft together.
It’s a sweet story that will help children empathize with classmates who have had to move and leave all that they knew behind. It also serves as an introduction to the beauty of Chinese New Year traditions and highlights the importance of kindness and friendship.
The bright illustrations bring the emotions of the story to life – as well as highlighting Chinese food—and Liu includes instructions for making the paper cutting craft.
New! An Easy Reader Book About Chinese New Year
Read More From Wehavekids
Alex’s Good Fortune by Benson Shum
Because it’s hard to find early reader books about Chinese New Year, Alex’s Good Fortune is a welcome title. The book, which has the simpler words and shorter sentences appropriate for beginning readers, starts with a Chinese-American girl named Alex who is getting ready to celebrate the new year. After she puts on her red shirt and red headband, she invites her friend Ethan over. They join in the dragon dance in the parade, and then receive lucky red envelopes filled with money as presents. They help to write good luck banners to post near the door.
Then we are told, “Chinese New Year also brings Alex’s least favorite tradition. Before the start of the new year, Alex had to clean her room, to wash away bad luck. After that, she swept the floor.” Fortunately, her friend Ethan offered to help and wiped the table.
Next, the pair helps the grandmother make dumplings, and after that we see all the food that the family has prepared for their New Year’s dinner along with the meanings of certain foods. At the end of the book, we see the children participating in the last festival of the new year, the lantern Festival.
For a short book, the story covers quite a bit of territory with most of the major customs of the new year. The illustrations are bright, cute, and lively. At the end the author includes a little more information about new year traditions, and a page with pictures of the Chinese zodiac animals. There is also a page with common Chinese new year wishes in pinyin and English along with a pronunciation guide.
New! A Romp to Catch a Dragon
How to Catch a Dragon by Adam Wallace and Andy Elkerton
What I like about How to Catch a Dragon is that it makes use of an active story to introduce children to some of the traditions of Chinese New Year. At the beginning we see a mother and grandmother preparing dumplings while the son sweeps the house. “I think we might be missing something,” says the mother. “A dragon would bring health and fortune.” From that point on, the boy and a group of his friends are on a quest to find the dragon. Readers will enjoy spotting the dragon’s tail as it winds through the town.
To catch the dragon, the children devise different traps, like a web made of noodles and sticky rice, or a “Dragon Inn” that looks like a large red lantern, or the gold coins that are in a lucky red envelope. But alas, they aren’t able to ensnare the dragon, even when they gather together to entice the dragon by carrying one of those dragons you see in a parade. At the end, the boy decides to content himself with watching the fireworks while the dragon, hiding nearby, says “Better luck next year.”
I liked little touches like seeing Chinese characters and traditional Chinese architecture throughout the illustrations. The pictures are nice bright colors, and every scene conveys a good sense of action.
The whole text is in rhyming stanzas, and at the end we see three columns with the words in English, then in pinyin, then in Chinese characters. It would make a nice little book to have if your children are working on learning Mandarin.
Some people have noted that the story seems to be set in China, yet the characters come from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. I didn’t think it seemed incongruous, since the story and the setting weren’t trying to be strictly historical. This book is part of a larger series, books that all start with How to Catch a… , and I think they were trying to be consistent with showing a diverse group of children in each book. At times, the rhyme is a little bit forced, but all in all I would say it’s a charming book with nice visuals and lots to talk about as you spot different customs and traditions as the children dash around in their quest to catch a dragon.
New! A Book Of Colors
Crayola Colors of China by Mari Schuh
Crayola Colors of China is a perfect very short book to read to a young audience or to bring home for a beginning reader. Each page only has one or two simple sentences, and it has gorgeous full-page pictures. I like especially that it introduces you to a little bit of the geography of China. The page showing the Rainbow Mountains is just spectacular as is the photo of the enormous sand dunes by a bright blue lake in the Badain Jaran Desert. There of course has to be a picture of the Great Wall amongst green hills, and I found it interesting that the publishers used a photo of the city at night to showcase the color purple.
The panda makes an appearance of course, to showcase the colors black and white, and the golden snubnosed monkey is chosen for the color orange. Then the book moves on to celebrations, and shows a variety of dragons being carried in a parade. The last photo is of a group of colorful lanterns being displayed for the lantern festival. The back matter includes a world map, a glossary, a list of additional resources, and a very brief index.
A Popular Character Celebrates
Maisy’s Chinese New Year by Lucy Cousins
If you have read any of the books about this cartoon mouse, who is the star of a television show as well as many books, you will know that they are characterized by bright pictures, simple drawings and straightforward text.
Maisy’s Chinese New Year, which is geared for ages 2-6, jumps right into the topic. We read, “Tomorrow is Chinese New Year. Maisy sweeps and tidies the house to get it ready!” We see a two-page spread in which Maisy is standing with the mop and bucket along with the vacuum cleaner and numerous cleaning supplies. These first pages not only provide an opportunity to talk with the child about common household things, but it also provides a nice introduction to the Chinese custom of getting everything clean for the new year.
On the next page, Maisy visits a market to buy food and, “a new red outfit.” Here again, the author works in a little cultural detail by mentioning that red is a lucky color. And again, young children can point out every day objects they might know like flowers and tomatoes. The text also asks them to point out all the red things they see in the illustrations.
In the next couple of pages Maisy’s friends arrived for the New Year’s celebration. They have a feast which includes some traditional New Year’s foods like mandarin oranges, noodles, fish, dumplings, and sweet rice cakes. There are also some nontraditional desserts like cupcakes, pie, and a gingerbread cookie. After dinner a couple of visitors bring them “lucky red packets” with money inside and Tiger tells the story of the race for the Chinese zodiac.
Next to the crew goes outside to view the fireworks and the next day the whole gang gathers together to be in the parade and carry the special dragon.
Children who are fans of the Maisy series will doubtless enjoy the bright pictures in this book. The illustrator has taken care to include additional details, such as a traditional Chinese vase, lanterns, and the character for luck written on the packets. It is a little puzzling to see things like a gingerbread man on the dessert plate, but all in all it’s a nice simple introduction to customs of the new year that will make a quick read for young children.
A Book About the Race for the Chinese Zodiac
The Great Race by Christopher Corr
The Great Race is a new take on the folk tale which explains how each year of the Chinese zodiac came to be named for a different animal. The Jade Emperor realizes that the people in China needed a way to mark the different years, and so he conceives of a race between the animals to determine which animals should get years named after themselves, and which order they should be in.
Corr does a nice job telling the story. The text is still brief, making it a good choice for a read-aloud, but he goes into a little more detail about the motivations of each animal.
Where Corr really makes this story his own is the illustrations. They are a brightly-colored folk art style, and I appreciate the large format and 2-page spreads that make the pictures ideal for sharing with a group of children. You can see an example below. Corr is an internationally-recognized artist who studied at the Royal College of Art in London.
Book Weaves Together Animals and Celebrations
Ruby's Chinese New Year by Vickie Lee
In Ruby's Chinese New Year author Vickie Lee cleverly weaves the story of the race for the Chinese zodiac into her tale of a girl going to visit her grandmother for Chinese New Year.
As we start the story, we learn that Ruby's grandmother usually came to visit for the holiday, but this year she is unable to travel. Ruby decides that she doesn't want to miss seeing Grandmother and makes plans travel to her grandmother's house. As a gift, she draws a picture of her family seated around a New Year's feast and tucks the picture into a lucky red envelope.
She sets off through the forest and meets a cat and a rat who agree to come along. But they realize they need to get across both the meadow and the pond. Rat suggests they ask Ox who is strong and dependable. Ox, indeed being the strong and dependable type, agrees to take them along with the New Year's treats she is carrying back to her farmer's home. As they travel, they meet up with the other zodiac animals: rabbit, tiger, snake, dragon, horse, goat, monkey, and rooster.
By then, Ruby can see her grandmother's house across the pond and impetuously jumps in and swims to the other side. The animals accompany her, but in the process, her drawing for her grandmother gets wet. "Oh no," says Ruby. "It's ruined. Everything is ruined."
The animals remind her that it is not all ruined. Along the way, they have brought fish, flowers, lanterns, streamers, rice cakes, and sweets. "And we have our family," Cat and Rat add. When Ruby makes it to her grandmother's door, the woman is of course delighted to see her. She assures Ruby that the drawing will dry. "And seeing you and your friends today is the best gift of all."
The last 2-page spread shows a joyful New Year's feast with all kinds of traditional foods, and the animals sharing in the bounty--except for the cat who had fallen fast asleep.
The real strength of this book is in the drawings which are colorful, modern, and bursting with life. I like the way the illustrator worked in things like ribbon dancing and lanterns into the scenes in which Ruby meets the animals.
At the end of the book, we get a few nice extras. The author includes a brief telling of the legend of the Chinese zodiac. We have a zodiac chart which gives the animals, their years, and their characteristics. And, we also get some instruction on how to make a few craft items: paper lanterns, paper fans, and good luck banners.
The Animals of the Chinese New Year by Jen Sookfong Lee
The Animals of the Chinese New Year is a little board book that very briefly tells us the story of the great race that determined which animals would be in the Chinese zodiac. At the beginning, we see a photo of a toddler boy dipping his hand in an outdoor pool. “The animals are in a race to cross the river,” the text says in English and Chinese. “The rat thinks about how to win.”
The next few pages show color photographs of babies who are exhibiting traits of the different animals.
For instance, the first page shows us a toddler in a rainbow-striped sweater pushing a toy car. The opposite page shows us a traditional papercut illustration of an ox and the sentence “The ox works hard to stay ahead” in both English and Chinese.
In like fashion, the two-page spread for “dragon” shows us a baby being held up in the air by his father with the sentence “The dragon flies on strong wings.” One of my favorites shows a toddler girl dressed in bright pink slithering along the carpet with her tongue poked out just a little, imitating a snake. The sentence says “The snake is quiet crossing a log.”
The book covers all twelve of the animals—ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog, and pig—though not in order of the zodiac.
At the end, a group of children are smiling, and one seems to be finishing a race. “The rat wins the race!” says the text. “All the animals are invited to the party.”
The photographs are charming and show children of many different heritages. Given how much babies and toddlers enjoy looking at pictures of other babies and toddlers, this book is sure to be a hit. It’s a story that encourages interaction. Caregivers and children can act out the motions and talk about the different animals.
A Book for Babies
Baby’s First Chinese New Year
This little board book from DK hits the highlights of Chinese New Year with brightly colored photos that demonstrate each of them. On the first page, we see a little boy and a girl decked out in their new lucky clothes. Then we see brightly colored paper lanterns, fortune cookies (I know, not from China but developed in America), red envelopes, cherry blossoms, tangerines, a meal of fish and dumplings, a family photo, animals of the zodiac, a dancing dragon, and fireworks. Each page only has a phrase or two. All in all, it’s a nice short introduction.
Celebrating the Chinese New Year by Barbara M. Linde
Celebrating the Chinese New Year is a book with short sentences and a relatively simple vocabulary, designed for beginning readers to read on their own. The reading level (DRA 16) for the text is appropriate for an independent reader who can read at the level of a late first grader or early second grader.
The book doesn’t need to be limited to this age group, though. Because it is a short book with lots of pictures, it also works well for a group age levels from preschool to kindergarten to introduce them to Chinese New Year traditions.
You can tell this book is designed to show children how a nonfiction book works because it includes a table of contents, a glossary, and a short list of recommended books and websites.
The text is straightforward and covers the following topics: how the dates are determined, how the holiday started, celebrating around the world, the tradition of cleaning house to clean out bad luck, the family focus of the holiday, lion and dragon dances, and the lantern festival.
Each section of this small book has a colorful, full-page photo and a page of text. For instance, in the section about family time, we see grandparents, parents and a toddler sharing a meal at a table. The text reads “Eating meals with the family is and important tradition. People often wear new red clothes. Some foods have special meaning. Round orange fruits mean happiness and riches. Rice cakes are a symbol for success. Tasty dumplings mean good luck.”
It’s a nice, short book that will introduce children to the basics of a Chinese New Year celebration.
Home for Chinese New Year by Wei Jie and Xu Can
I couldn't help thinking about the movie Planes, Trains, and Automobiles while I read Home for Chinese New Year, mostly because it is a story of a father using a multitude of conveyances to get home to his family for the new year holiday. In the beginning picture, we see a man looking at his cell phone, standing in line to get a train ticket while the snow falls all around. He has had a call from his son, Jiajun. "Daddy!" says the boy, "It's almost Chinese New Year! When will you be home? I miss you very much."