Learn about China and Chinese culture with these picture books set in China.
I was adopted from Hunan, China, but grew up in Indiana, USA. Indiana doesn’t have many Chinese people, but I loved learning more about my culture and history from books. Here are a few of my favorite picture books about China and Chinese culture.
Picture Books About China
Red Butterfly: How a Princess Smuggled the Secret of Silk out of China by Deborah Noyes
A young Chinese princess is to be married off to the prince of Khotan in a far-away land. She begs her father not to force her, but to allow her to stay in the land that she loves with the things most precious to her–sour plums, pink peach petals, and of course the precious silkworm. Her father refuses, and off she goes, but with her is a clever plan to keep her secret and treasured parts of her homeland.
The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker
These seven remarkable sisters are each known for possessing a special talent–from counting beyond five hundred to riding a scooter faster than the wind to catching any ball thrown their direction. When the youngest sister is whisked away by a fierce and fiery dragon, it’s up to the six remaining sisters to use their skills and creativity to rescue her.
The Seven Chinese Brothers by Margaret Mahy
In this Chinese folktale, seven brothers who each possess a superpower must join their forces against an evil emperor who is out to destroy them and their village. This book is full of well-timed humor and wit.
Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges
Most girls that little Ruby knows just want one thing–to be married. Ruby, however, has other aspirations. She wants to grow up and attend university like her brothers. The only problem is, going to college isn’t something girls usually get to do. This sweet story was one of my childhood favorites.
A young boy named Ping had a reputation for being able to grow flowers just about anywhere. Wherever he tossed a few seeds, gorgeous blooms would soon appear. The Emperor, who also loved flowers, passed out a single seed to each child in the kingdom, promising that whoever could cultivate the best flower in a year’s time would inherit his throne. Ping plants his seed in a pot, but for the first time, nothing grows. As spring arrives, Ping must bring his empty container to the Emperor. This is one of my FAVORITE character-building picture books.
I See the Sun in China by Dedie Smith
A young girl travels from her small rural community to the big city of Shanghai for the first time. The two places are compared and the message of the book is clear: embrace the new and modern world while still respecting and holding to the traditions of old.
A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin
Little Star can’t seem to get enough of the soft, sweet mooncake her mother bakes. Problem is, her mother has given her strict instructions not to eat the cake just yet. Little Star can’t quite resist just a small bite–surely no one will notice–right?
The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
A Chinese-American girl sees the gardens of her neighbors full of bright and colorful flowers. She longs to have a garden just like theirs, but instead her mother plants bumpy, ugly vegetables. Her mother tells her to wait because the “ugly vegetables” are better than flowers, but the girl isn’t sure she believes her. That is, until harvest time comes and those vegetables turn into a delicious soup that smells so good it brings the neighbors over.
Mei Li is upset when her brother, San Yu, gets to go to the New Year’s Eve party and she is forced to stay home just because she’s a girl. She bribes her brother into taking her along, and while in the city Mei Li competes against her brother multiple times, proving that girls are just as capable as boys. When she gets home, the kitchen god is waiting for her, much to her delight.
A monkey heads to Square Inch Mountain where he trains with Master Putt in fighting with a magical twist (shape-shifting, riding the wind, cloud somersaults, and more). Then he sets off to use his newfound talents against the Dragon King and the Jade Emperor. Soon, however, he finds that his skills have captured the notice of Buddha himself.
Dia’s Story Cloth: The Hmong People’s Journey of Freedom by Dia Cha
Dia’s aunt and uncle created a story cloth to help them remember their journey as refugees leaving China and fleeing to a camp in Thailand in the 1950s. Forced to leave everything behind after their city was invaded and bombed by communist forces, Dia’s relatives remain true to their heritage, even while being pushed from place to place. The story cloth helps Dia remember that the spirit of her people, the Hmong (which means “free people”), cannot be broken.
The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Jiang Hong Chen
A young Chinese boy grows up and develops a talent of painting horses that is unmatched across the country. When a warrior comes to the boy and asks him for a horse, the boy paints one that gallops off of the canvas and rides bravely into battle with the warrior sitting astride him. Together the two face many battles bravely, until the horse suddenly disappears.
The Emperor and the Kite by Jane Yolen
Princess Dejow is often overlooked by her family and flies her beloved kite constantly to ward off the loneliness. When her father is taken captive and imprisoned in a high tower, Dejow proves that she is big enough to help when she first uses her kite to fly supplies to her father and then later to help him escape. This act of ingenuity and resourcefulness earns Dejow a place beside her father, helping to rule the kingdom.
Fortune Cookie Fortunes by Grace Lin
A great way to introduce the history of fortune cookies and their integral part in Chinese culture. Mei Mei discovers that her fortunes, as told by the cookies, are really coming true!
Night Sky Dragons by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham
Yazul’s family disapproves of his kite-making skills, but he has a real talent for it. His father, a Silk Road trader, doesn’t see the purpose in kite-making at all, that is, until it is up to Yazul and his kites to save the day from bandits.
Chinese Fairy Tales Reimagined
Yeh Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-Ling Louie and Ed Young
Treated horribly by her stepmother and evil stepsisters, Yeh-Shen finds her only comfort in this version’s fairy godmother–a pet fish.
Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
In this Chinese version of Little Red Riding Hood, a wolf appears at the door of a home inhabited by three sisters, posing as their grandmother. Together, the sisters turn the tables on the crafty wolf and outsmart him by offering him healing in the way of the tall gingko tree. Grab the book guide here.
Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim (Chinese-American)
In this Chinese retelling of the familiar story, Goldy Luck enters the home of three panda bears and leaves a path of destruction in each room she enters.
Books That Include Beginning Written Chinese
On a brilliant autumn afternoon, Xiao Ming and his friends travel to a farm, where he and the readers will learn to recognize ten different farm-related Chinese characters. Grab a free printable supplement here. (There are also other books in this series!)
The Pet Dragon by Christoph Niemann
Lin loves her pet dragon, so when he mysteriously disappears, she sets off to search for him. While Lin continues to look for her wayward pet, readers will learn to spot Chinese characters in the illustrations along the way.
My First Book of Chinese Words by Faye-Lynn Wu
In this ABC rhyming book, readers will learn basic Chinese characters for everyday items.
Welcome to Mandarin Chinese with Sesame Street
The familiar and much beloved Sesame Street characters help readers learn Chinese characters for friendship, greeting, and getting along.