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Read Globally: 9 Folktales, Fables, and Stories That Introduce Chinese Culture and History to Kids

by Devon Corneal

We’re all familiar with the classic American children’s stories, whose characters and narratives are passed down through families. We carefully tuck away our favorite battered copies of Dr. Seuss books, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Charlotte’s Web, and others for our children’s children. Our kids grow up playacting life on the American prairie thanks to Laura Ingalls Wilder and imagining themselves traveling to Where the Wild Things Are.

But children’s literature also gives us an incredible opportunity to fill storytime with tales from cultures and traditions around the world, and to discover authors who bring to life people and places our kids haven’t yet imagined or encountered. With that in mind, we thought it would be fun to look at stories that reflect a particular place, a place full of great history and tradition: China. Learn more about the beauty and wonder of China with these books by Chinese authors, retellings of traditional Chinese folktales, and new stories set in China — all to whet little readers’ curiosity about the faraway and ancient land.

  • The Cat from Hunger Mountain

    by Ed Young

    If you loved Ed Young’s Caldecott-winning Lon Po Po, you’ll be thrilled to know he’s done it again. This time, instead of a dangerous wolf, Young brings readers the wealthy lord of Hunger Mountain, who was never satisfied with what he had. It’s not until the lord ventures off the mountain that he discovers how to be content with the true treasures of life.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • The Race for the Chinese Zodiac

    by Gabrielle Wang, illustrated by Sally Rippin and Regine Abos

    This clever story explains how the Chinese Zodiac’s 12 signs were chosen and what animals missed out on a place in astrological history.
    (Ages 5 - 9)

  • The Cricket Warrior: A Chinese Tale

    by Margaret Chang and Raymond Chang, illustrated by Warwick Hutton

    This retelling of the Chinese folktale, "The Fighting Cricket," features a brave young boy who tries to save his family by becoming a cricket fighter for the emperor.
    (Ages 6 - 9)

  • Fortune Cookie Fortunes

    by Grace Lin

    Every kid I know loves fortune cookies, and Mei Mei is no different. But for Mei Mei, her fortunes may really be coming true. Join in the magic and learn about the history of fortune cookies at the same time. (Fans of Grace Lin should also check out Kite Flying, Dim Sum for Everyone, and Thanking the Moon.)
    (Ages 3 - 7)

  • Night Sky Dragons

    by Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Patrick Benson

    Yazul loves making kites but his father, a lord along the Silk Road, disapproves of his hobby. Then one day Yazul, along with a little help from his grandfather, uses his kite-making skills to help him save his family’s home from bandits. Gorgeously illustrated, Night Sky Dragons gives young readers a window into the history of trade along the Silk Road and life for the people who traded on it.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • The Shady Tree

    by Demi

    The best stories often teach us an important life lesson, and The Shady Tree is no different. Here, a spoiled wealthy boy and a poor one learn about the importance of sharing and the power of choices from the simple beauty of a single tree.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • Lost and Found: Adèle & Simon in China

    by Barbara McClintock

    Ever wonder what it would be like to travel through China and Hong Kong? Adèle and Simon do just that and try to recover all the things Simon loses along the way.
    (Ages 4 - 8)

  • Bronze and Sunflower

    by Cao Wenxuan, illustrated by Meilo So, translated by Helen Wang

    This middle grade story, and winner of the 2016 Hans Christian Andersen Award, is set during China's Cultural Revolution and follows a young girl named Sunflower whose life dramatically changes when she leaves the city for a rural life in the countryside and finds friendship with a boy named Bronze and his family. But poverty can be cruel, and Sunflower may not be able to stay in her new community.
    (Ages 8 - 12)

  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

    by Grace Lin

    Middle grade readers will see themselves in Minli and her dreams to meet the Old Man in the Moon. What they might not expect is that with the help of a talking goldfish and a dragon who can’t fly, Minli’s wish just might come true.
    (Ages 8 - 12)

Interested in great books originally written in Chinese? Additional recommendations can be found here. And if you have any other book recommendations, we’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments!

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