Friday, March 02, 2007

China, Here I Come!

I learned this week that I will be spending nearly 3 and a half weeks this spring in China, Tibet and Taiwan. I wrote about applying for this trip in my entry entitled Dreaming of China. Part of my goal on this trip is to develop a series of resources for elementary teachers who teach about China as part of the social studies curriculum. In Virginia, these are the essential questions that students consider:
  • What contributions did the people of ancient China make to the development of written language?
  • What inventions came from ancient China?
  • What examples of architecture from ancient China are still present today?
In answering these questions, students must define the terms ancient and architecture while recognizing Chinese contributions that include:
  • characters and symbols of written language
  • inventions that include kites, silk cloth, the compass, bronze, and fireworks
  • the Great Wall
For a while now I have been reviewing a variety of children's books in an effort to find worthwhile pieces to include in a unit study of China. I have been committed for some time to integrating reading and writing into all areas of the curriculum, so in addition to the traditional informational books for this topic, you will many selections have been chosen expressly for the purpose of helping students develop skills in reading and comprehending fiction and poetry. So, without further ado, here is my list of books for the study of China in the elementary grades (grade 2 in Virginia).

Chinese Culture and History
  • C is for China by Sungwan So - This is an informative alphabet book that depicts the Chinese people and their customs, history, religion, and beliefs.
  • D is for Dancing Dragon by Carol Crane - This is another alphabet book that explores China's history and culture by describing its unique customs, art works, music, foods, geography and wildlife.
  • Colors of China by Shannon Zemlicka - What color is China? It's tan like the Great Wall, red like the Chinese flag, and green like fields of rice plants. This book makes a lovely introduction to China.
  • The Great Wall of China by Leonard Everett Fisher - This terrific informational book uses black and gray illustrations to tell the story of the construction of the Great Wall of China.
  • Count Your Way Through China by James Haskins - While counting from 1 to 10 in Chinese, this book uses each number to introduce concepts about China and Chinese culture.
  • Look What Came From China by Miles Harvey - An interesting guide that describes many things that originally came from China, including inventions, food, toys, games, musical instruments and much more.
  • Mrs. Frizzle's Adventures: Imperial China by Joanna Cole - Ms. Frizzle and friends depart for 11th century aboard a paper dragon. In typical Magic School Bus style, this book is filled with information about Chinese contributions to society.
Ideas and Inventions
  • The Firework-Maker's Daughter by Phillip Pullman - Lila, the Firework-Maker's daughter, wants to follow in her father's footsteps, but she soon finds out that she must face down the Fire-Fiend of Mount Merapi.
  • Liu and the Bird: A Journey in Chinese Calligraphy by Catherine Louis - A Chinese girl journeys to visit her grandfather, who asks her to draw what she has seen along the way. On each double-page spread readers will find a few lines of text, a large picture of the child on her journey, and a series of images that take a word from the story and show the Chinese character representing it.
  • Silk by Claire Llewellyn - This is a simply written and easy to read informational book on silk.
  • The Story of Kites by Ying Chang Compestine - The Kang brothers fly a variety of items in the sky in an effort to keep birds out of the rice fields. When the villagers become taken with the objects, the brothers open China's first kite factory. The book ends with directions for making and flying a kite safely, and describes what is known about the development of kites in China.
  • Catch the Wind: All About Kites by Gail Gibbons - Two children enter a kite shop to buy two kites and learn about the parts of kites and how different models work. After they make their purchase, the children take their kites to a nearby kite festival.
  • Kites: Magic Wishes That Fly Up to the Sky by Demi - Long ago in China, a woman commissioned an artist to paint a special dragon kite for her son so that he might grow to be strong and wise. When the son appeared "bigger and stronger, richer and nobler" to everyone who saw him, the villagers too went to the artist for their own kites. In addition to this story you will find brief explanations of the different emblematic figures, creatures, and symbols, mention of a Chinese festival devoted to kites, and detailed instructions for making a kite.
  • The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen - When an emperor is imprisoned in a high tower, his smallest daughter uses her kite to save him.
  • The Legend of the Kite: A Story of China by Jiang Hong Chen - Every spring the Festival of the Kite is celebrated in China. When a boy's kite flies away from him, his grandfather tells him the legend behind the celebration, encouraging the boy to build a new, more beautiful one.
  • Kite Flying by Grace Lin - A Chinese-American family works together to make a dragon kite to fly on a windy day. Front endpapers contain supplies needed to build a kite while the back pages depict different kite creatures and the attributes they symbolize. An author's note offers a brief history of kite flying.
Fictional Tales (There are many titles that could be included here, enough for a list of their own. To keep this section manageable, I have included some of my very favorite stories to read aloud.)
  • Lon Po Po by Ed Young - This Caldecott Medal winner is a Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood.
  • The Paper Dragon by Marguerite Davol - Mi Fei is a Chinese scroll painter. When the villagers in his community hear that a dragon has awakened to threaten the countryside, they nominate him to face the foe. After a long journey, Mi Fei finds the dragon, who offers him a series of riddles/challenges to perform.
  • Beautiful Warrior by Emily Arnold McCully - This is the story of two legendary women in seventeenth-century China. One is a Buddhist nun named Wu Mei, a beautiful warrior of kung fu. The other is a young girl Wu Mei saves from a forced marriage. In their time together, the warrior nun teaches the girl to save herself with kung fu.
  • The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty and the Beast Tale by Lawrence Yep - When a poor farmer falls into the clutches of a dragon, he begs each of his seven daughters to save him from death by marrying the horrifying creature. Yep's version of the story is skillfully retold.
  • The Ballad of Mulan by Song Nan Zhang - Told in both Chinese and English, this is the translation of a poem about a girl who dresses as a man and becomes a soldier to save her ailing father from conscription.
  • The Beggar's Magic: A Chinese Tale by Margaret and Raymond Chang - A beggar-priest comes to a village where the children and villagers care for him. Only one man, Farmer Wu refuses to share with the holy man.
  • Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story From China by Ai-Ling Louie - This Chinese version of the Cinderella fairytale is believed to be even older than the earliest European story, actually dating back to 9 BC.
  • The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong - This stunning picture book retells a legend involving the painter Han Gan, who lived in China 1200 years ago.
  • The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Dawn Casey - This book is a beautiful retelling of the ancient legend of the race of the animals across a great river to determine the order of the years on the calendar. Back matter includes information about the Chinese calendar in general, as well as the more specific information about both the Dragon Boat and Moon Festivals.
A Few More (I wasn't sure where to put these, but they are books that will nicely round this unit study.)
  • Beyond the Great Mountains by Ed Young - Created by the Caldecott Medal winner for Lon Po Po, this visual poem about China contains a series of double-page illustrations in cut- and torn-paper collage. The final end papers offer a chart of ancient and modern Chinese characters. This is a beautiful book to look at.
  • One Year in Beijing by Xiaohong Wong - In the format of a month-by-month journal format, Ling Ling describes Chinese culture and destinations, holidays and festivals, school and family life, and more.
If this list still isn't enough, check out this brief bibliography (not annotated, however) for kids of books about China. You may also want to visit the books section of the ChinaSprout web site.

I'll be spending a lot of time in the next two months reading and thinking about China. Please let me know if this list is missing any real gems for kids.

And finally, thanks to Elaine at Blue Rose Girls for recommending many of these titles in the comments of my earlier post.


  1. I am jealous - as a mom with a daughter from China - we read lots of books about China and our library now has an abundance of "China" books!!! I would love to travel and study like that - how wonderful and invaluable to your school system. Great!! Loved the book list - we've read most of them already too!!

  2. Hi Becky,
    Thanks for stopping by. Chloe is just beautiful! As a librarian, I'm sure you've read these adoption books, but I'll mention them anyway. I loved both The White Swan Express and Just Add One Chinese Sister.

  3. Tricia, congratulations! Please do blog about your trip when you go (or when you return).

  4. Tricia - you are right - those two are a few of our favorites- we stayed at the White Swan - so we LOVE that one!!!

  5. What a wonderful opportunity! You've already got some great resources listed in your earlier post. Have a great time.
    I've lived in Asia for over 20 years and have never been to china. And that was my original destination!

  6. Congratulations, Tricia! Have a great time.

    Grace is over in Hong Kong now. Check out her personal blog to see some of the photographs she's taken.

  7. Congrats! Your list definitely includes all the ones I would've recommended and goes far beyond it, even. Wow.

    Have a great time.