9 brilliant stories for children celebrating Chinese culture

Published on: 16 February 2018 Author: Su Yen

With the Year of the Dog just beginning, Snowflake Books founder Su Yen recommends nine books that will help you celebrate Chinese culture.

Su Yen from Snowflake Books

Over ten years ago, I moved from Taiwan to England to follow my dream of helping children to learn about other cultures, as I believe developing an understanding of the world can give young people the best start in life.

I set up Snowflake Books in 2011 because I found there was a lack of well-translated children's stories from China, and I think it's important that these authentic tales are represented in the UK.

Chinese New Year is the biggest festival in Chinese culture. In preparation for the big event, here are some recommendations of children's books that celebrate Chinese culture, values and morality. I've included a few Snowflake books and some of my other favourites, so if you're interested in opening your child's mind to captivating stories from around the world, why not start with some of these?

1. Cheeky Monkey: Animal Signs Series by Xue Lin, illustrated by Jian Zhi Qiu (Snowflake Books)

Cheeky Monkey: Animal Signs Series

This light-hearted story celebrates the original legend of the famous Chinese Monkey King. Every Chinese child knows about this special, magical monkey from the ancient classic text Journey to the West; the moral of the story is all about working hard. The tale can be enjoyed by little ones and older children, and this version is written in English and Mandarin, with colour coding and an audio CD included.

Reading age: 5+
Interest age: 3+

2. Chinese Fables: The Dragon Slayer and Other Timeless Tales of Wisdom by Shiho S. Nunes, illustrated by Lak-khee Tay-Adouard (Tuttle Publishing)

These 19 concise tales, many of them dating back to the third century, share a sense of Chinese culture and myth as they explore the foibles and wisdom of human nature with great humour and affection. Although the lessons they teach are universal, their wit and flavour are uniquely Chinese.

Reading age: 7+
Interest age: 7+

3. The Willow Pattern Story by Allan Drummond (North-South Books)

This is a heartwarming version of 'The Story of the Willow Pattern Plate', which we think was first printed in 1849 - it's a romantic fairytale based on the famous Chinese willow pattern pottery with its delicate hand-painted imagery. Allan Drummond's book is a retelling of the story as it was told to him when he was young, and I like how the tale's history is explained at the end of the book, when we find out where the willow pattern comes from.

Reading age: 9+
Interest age: 9+

4. The Story of New Year Beast by Xue Lin, illustrated by Jin Jie Ye (Snowflake Books)

The Story of New Year Beast

This colourful picture book explains how we celebrate Chinese New Year, and, most importantly, why we celebrate it. Written clearly and accessibly, it helps children understand the meaning behind the festivities and introduces them to the mythical beast of New Year. It's written in both English and Mandarin, with colour coding and an audio CD included.

Reading age: 5+
Interest age: 3+

5. Chinese Cinderella and the Secret Dragon Society by Adeline Yen Mah (Puffin)

Chinese Cinderella is so troubled by her real world that she creates make-believe characters in her dreams to find happiness. With similarities to the western story of Cinderella, this is an adventure-packed fantasy. It does portray the negative side of life in old China so it's not exactly a 'celebration' as such, but it still has many good points. And it's part of a series of Chinese Cinderella stories, which are based on Adeline Yen Mah's autobiography Falling Leaves Return to Their Roots: The True Story of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter.

Reading age: 8+
Interest age: 8+

6. The Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Dawn Casey, illustrated by Anne Wilson (Barefoot Books)

This is a wonderfully fun and colourful interpretation of the great zodiac race and can be enjoyed by youngsters and older children, with vibrant imagery bringing the story to life. An interactive, educational touch at the end of the story explores important days in the Chinese Calendar and reveals how to discover your own animal sign.

Reading age: 5+
Interest age: 5+

7. Chinese Farmers' Calendar by Jian Zhi Qiu (Snowflake Books)

Chinese Farmers' Calendar

This is a charming tale of a young boy discovering his Grandpa's farming diary, which explains the 24 terms of the farming calendar and how important these were historically in Chinese culture. It's a gentle, enjoyable and educational tale and it's written in both English and Mandarin, with colour coding and an audio CD included.

Reading age: 5+
Interest age: 5+

8. Lin Yi's Lantern: A Moon Festival Tale by Brenda Williams, illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe (Barefoot Books)

This is a delightful story of a young boy preparing for Moon Festival, with lovely lessons about how good things come to those who wait and how putting others first is rewarding. The book is beautifully illustrated to show the emotions of the characters and it even teaches you how to make your own lantern.

Reading age: 5+
Interest age: 5+

9. The Story of Wan-Nian's Calendar by Zue Lin, illustrated by Jian Zhi Qiu (Snowflake Books)

The Story of Wan-Nian's Calendar

This is Snowflake Books' very own version of the ancient legend 'Wan-Nian' and the story of how the Chinese Lunar Calendar was created. We added crisp paper-cut style, intricately detailed illustrations to the bilingual text - they're actually some of my favourite images as they're so different to the pictures in a lot of other books we have produced. This is written in both English and Mandarin, with colour coding and an audio CD included.

Reading age: 7+
Interest age: 7+


This blog has been updated from the original, which was published in January 2017.


You might also like

In Other Words

Celebrating children's fiction around the world

Find out more about In Other Words, which gives outstanding children's literature from around the world the chance to be translated into English.

Books in translation

Our favourite foreign children's fiction

If you're interested in exploring children's books in translation, these well-loved favourites and award-winning titles offer the perfect places to start.

Books we love

Our favourite books this month

Every month, we review new children's books - and here are the ones we like best of all at the moment.