Where to start, where to start? We’ve amassed quite the collection. (I’ve mentioned just a few times that we adore books, right?). Given the large stack of books I want to include, I’m going to skip the covers and just give you authors and titles, or this is going to take forever.
Grace Lin: Bringing in the New Year, The Ugly Vegetables, Dim Sum for Everyone, The Seven Chinese Sisters, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon (even better if you are already familiar with Chinese folk tales), and just about anything else! Grace Lin explained in Where the Mountain… that she hated Chinese culture growing up; she just wanted to blend in at school. Eventually, though, her mother got her into reading folk tales. Not only did Lin discover she liked Chinese culture, she discovered she loved storytelling and illustrating.
Moonbeams, Dumplings, and Dragon Boats: A Treasury of Chinese Holiday Tales, Activities and Recipes by Nina Simonds and Leslie Swartz. Pretty much as the title says. It’s a perfect balance of the myths behind the traditions, different parts of the celebrations, and recipes. We pull it out regularly to look holidays up.
Long-Long’s New Year by Catherine Gower and He Zhihong. Long-long and his grandfather are going to the city to sell their crop of bok choy to earn money for the coming Spring Festival (aka New Year’s). Well told, lovely illustrations, and a re-telling of the New Year’s legend about the devouring monster, Nian (his name means “year”).
The Empty Pot and Kites by Demi. (She also did a lovely book on Mother Teresa.) Pot is sweetly illustrated and teaches a lesson on honesty. Kites, again, covers a lot of symbolism particular to China. She also has a New Year’s book (that we don’t own) that covers the symbolism of plants and activities, but also has a spread of Buddhas.
Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim Bridges. An Ezra Jack Keats book award winner. Ruby’s grandfather made his fortune in California, then came home, married several wives, and had a houseful of grandchildren. Being generous and wanting a better future for his family, grandfather pays a tutor to teach his grandchildren, including, oddly enough for the time, the girls. Ruby shows great promise, but knows she has to satisfy her mother’s wishes that she learn embroidery and grow up to marry well. But Ruby wants to go to college. The ending makes me cry every time and includes a photo of the author’s grandmother, Ruby, who was one of the first female graduates from her university.
The Trip Back Home by Janet S. Wong. Ok, this is actually about Korea, but it’s a beautiful look at a daughter and granddaughter going to Korea to visit her parents, who live in a very traditional small town. The little girl’s wonder at the house stove, the market, and stories about her mother’s childhood is contagious. Lovely illustrations.
The Khan’s Daughter: A Mongolian Folktale and The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty and the Beast by Laurence Yep. Yep also has a series of tween-aimed novels, but I haven’t read any of them. We have enjoyed his children’s books immensely. Very well-written.
Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures in Imperial China by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen. Ok, it’s a bit silly, but it really does cover a huge amount of factual information. Like other Ms. Frizzle books, you can read just the main storyline or include all of the sidebar info, depending on the child’s attention span.
All Sagwa DVD’s. They are out of production, and, sadly, only include a small part of the series, but they are excellent. Sagwa and her family are cats that do the writing for the local magistrate. The Foolish Magistrate is a bit annoying and overplayed, but the series does a decent job of covering Chinese festivals and culture. (Not on DVD, but available in a condensed form as a book is the episode “Bow Wow Meow”, about Sagwa’s cousin, who was adopted… and is a dog!)
Chee-Lin: A Giraffe’s Journey by James Rumford. A young giraffe is captured in Africa, passes through a series of owners, and finally ends up in the Emperor of China’s gardens. Sweet story. Includes a map at the end and an historical note about the exploration and trading voyages of Zheng He.
Adventures of the Treasure Fleet: China Discovers the World by Ann Bowler. There is some speculation that parts of Zheng He’s exploratory fleets went a whole lot farther than Africa, but this book sticks to the still amazing and well-documented trading and diplomacy trips throughout southeast Asia, around India, and down the eastern coast of Africa. Each page has a main storyline and supplementary historical information at the bottom.
There are a plethora of available folk tale and poetry books out there. We have several collections and some as stand-alone stories; all have been well done. If readability bothers you, the bilingual folktale books seem to tend to have choppier English translations than the all-English books.
Dim Sum: the Art of the Chinese Tea Lunch by Ellen Leong Blonder. Tons of excellent recipes and anecdotes! She also has co-written Every Grain of Rice, which I do not yet have, but seems to be heavier on the anecdotes. Blonder does her own illustrations in watercolor; if you love them as much as I did, I should point out that she also has an Etsy page where she sells prints.
Florence Lin’s Complete Book of Chinese Noodles, Dumplings, and Breads by Florence Lin (out of print). Great reference for a wide variety of noodles, along with many main dishes. The cold shredded chicken with noodles and Szechuan peppercorn dressing is out of this world!