Chinese New Year<

Chinese New Year

   One of China's two "golden weeks," the Chinese New Year (also called Spring Festival) begins between January 21 and February 20 since China uses the lunar calendar. Festivities last up to 15 days. Families gather, lighting off fireworks, joining in colorful parades, and preparing large feasts. Children receive red envelopes filled with money, clothes, and other gifts. This is the Year of the Snake; those born under the sign of the snake are thought to be calm under pressure, graceful, contemplative (some would say cunning), and private. Explore Chinese history, culture, and mythology with the titles below.

Information and activities about Chinese New Year can be found online at:

Contributor: Peg Glisson


Ancient China
Liz Sonneborn

Books in "The Ancient World" series examine great civilizations and provide substantial resources with archival prints, scenic photographs, multiple artifacts, and a basic timeline. Historical elements about the people of China are prominently featured as significant influences to modern times are given in separate full-page text boxes titled "The Past Is Present" with contrasting visuals and text. Tremendous archeological discoveries continue to be uncovered across China's vast landscape combined with written records from three thousand years ago to create a rich heritage. For example, in 2011 the National Museum of China opened in Beijing while ancient Chinese art is showcased in the Shanghai Museum. By making appropriate connections to daily life in the series, youngsters trace significant details about ancient Chinese culture such as their rise to power, extensive rule by dynasties, abundant natural resources, and sacred beliefs steeped in mighty traditions. Remarkable accomplishments with minimal discussion about controversy are presented in a positive, bright layout. Pages have bold key words listed in the margin as a brief dictionary entry. Engaging chapters provide fascinating material with mini-biographies of famous rulers, a nice glossary, thorough index, and brief bibliography. Other books in the series cover the Incas, Mayans, and Romans. 2013, Children's Press/Scholastic, Ages 10 up, $34.00. Reviewer: Susan Treadway, (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780531251768

Ancient China: Beyond the Great Wall
Kathleen W. Deady and Muriel L. Dubois

This brief history of ancient China begins with a description of the caravans of traders that followed the 4,350-mile Silk Road from China to the Mediterranean Sea, taking precious goods like gold and glass to China and bringing silk, iron, jade and paper back to the West. The second chapter of the book begins with the earliest known Chinese nomads who, after thousands of years in western China, began to move east around eight thousand years ago to become farmers in river valleys. The Yangshao civilization reached its height in northern China around 3000 BC, and the Longshan civilization developed to the south and east around that time. The third chapter describes the early dynasties, beginning with the thirty kings of the Shang Dynasty from 1700 BC till around 1050 BC, when the Zhou Dynasty took over and ruled for more than eight hundred years. The fourth chapter tells how the Qin Dynasty defeated the Zhou and united China from 221 to 206 BC and connected earlier walls to create the 5,500-mile long Great Wall of China. The Han Dynasty followed, ruling from 206 BC till 9 AD and admitting new ideas. The Han interest in education and exploration led to better-recorded history and the building of the Silk Road. By 220 AD, the Han Dynasty was weak enough to split into three parts. Many of Ancient China's achievements are described in the fifth chapter: the system of writing in characters; the development of strong iron and bronze weapons; medical techniques, including acupuncture; inventions such as the wheelbarrow, gunpowder, the mechanical clock, and porcelain; and the use of astronomy. The text is well illustrated and includes occasional boxes with definitions and additional facts. Following the text are a two-page timeline, a nine-item glossary, four references for future reading, a FactHound link to appropriate Internet sites, and an index. The book is part of the "Fact Finders: Great Civilizations" series. 2012, Capstone Press, Ages 8 to 12, $25.99. Reviewer: Judy DaPolito (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781429668293

The Broken Lands
Kate Milford
Illustrated by Andrea Offermann

The Brooklyn Bridge is still under construction in 1877, but its potential to connect two parts of a growing city and its intersection with East River make it a source of great energy-energy that one particularly sadistic entity would like to use to create hell on Earth. Fortunately for the residents of New York, Sam, a streetwise cardsharp, and his hopefully-more-than-just-a-pal Jin, a Chinese immigrant girl who also happens to be a fireworks expert, have cottoned on to the devilish scheme and may just have the power to stop it. First, however, the two friends must identify and find the five pillars of the city, plan and set off a massive fireworks display (which serves as a public announcement), and deal with their own confusing romantic feelings-all within a couple of days or else the big bad guy is going to win. Much like Bray's The Diviners (reviewed above), this pays tribute to a time and place in U.S. history with vivid detail, capturing both the beauty and the struggle of New York in the late nineteenth century. The backstories of Sam and Jin, along with those of several secondary cast members, add nuance to their characterizations and also imbue the city with a sense of humanity-it is good and bad, gorgeous and flawed all at once. The battle for New York's soul then becomes even more urgent, and the race against the clock makes the four-hundred-plus pages fly by. Though this is a prequel to Milford's debut, The Boneshaker, it requires no knowledge of the other book, and it will be a true delight to fans of history, fantasy, and the triumph of good. 2012, Clarion Books/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Ages 14 up, $16.99. Reviewer: Kate Quealy-Gainer (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books).
ISBN: 9780547739663

Peggy Ferroa, Elaine Chan, and Yong Jui Lin.

The third updated edition of the 'Cultures of the World' series is a top recommendation for advanced elementary through middle school grades. Each book packs in well over a hundred pages of detail pairing contemporary color photos with maps, geography surveys, and discussions of the political economic and cultural history and lifestyle of each country. Newly updated additions include VENEZUELA, PHILIPPINES, AUSTRALIA, SRI LANKA, LIBYA, CHINA, THAILAND, MEXICO, CHILE, ARGENTINA, BRAZIL, and COLUMBIA. All are top picks for lending libraries seeking fresh and updated facts and figures suitable for in-depth student research and reports, and all feature bright contemporary color covers that will lend to browser interest. 2012, Marshall Cavenish, Ages 8 up, $32.95. Reviewer: Midwest Book Review (Children's Bookwatch).
ISBN: 9781608709915

Chinese Mythology Rocks!
Irene Dea Collier
Illustrations by William Sauts Bock

As a reference text with supportive chapter notes, expert commentary, and comprehension questions, books in the "Mythology Rocks!" series present a variety of cultural myths with accompanying pen and ink illustrations in subtle hues, to include a basic map of the country. Chinese influences that contribute to diverse myths range from early storytelling and history, the mixture of reality and myths, folk religion combined with Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, and images representing heaven and earth. Ten Legendary Kings were half-human, half-animal who perhaps ruled before known periods of the major historical dynasties as listed in two clear charts. With particular attention to sorting out fact from opinion or conjecture via direct quotes by well-respected authorities, students are guided by probing questions and an analysis of artifacts, historical records, ancient writings, and discoveries in modern times. A helpful Preface launches each book in the series with a consistent format in which chapters have an Introduction to frame the topic in a proper context. Differing perspectives and substantive research about diverse myths are also explored in the series for the Celts, Africans, Greek heroes, Greek gods and goddesses, and for the Mayans and Aztecs. 2012, Enslow Publishers, Inc., Ages 10 and up, $31.93. Reviewer: Susan Treadway, M.Ed (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780766038981

Circle of Cranes
Annette LeBox

Suyin lives in a small, poor village in China; she's part of an ethnic minority known for their needlework, but since her mother's mysterious absence, her father has refused to let her learn the craft. Then an outsider appears, promising riches if the village sends a worker to America, and Suyin is chosen. LeBox infuses her contemporary parable of the plight of undocumented sweatshop workers in New York's Chinatown with elements of the crane wife folktale. Even as Suyin struggles with harsh work conditions and exploitative bosses, she periodically enters a magical parallel world in which she discovers her heritage as a crane woman, part of an ancient sisterhood currently in dire straits due to the fate of Suyin's mother. Only by proving her worthiness will she be able to transform from girl to crane, save the sisterhood, and gain the power needed to save her friends in the sweatshop. The book has strong curricular value, with concise and accessible explorations of labor politics, exploitative economies, and global immigration issues; in addition, the information about heritage crafts and feminine subcultures in China is fascinating. The thread of female solidarity and friendship is a significant appeal factor, giving the book a great deal of warmth, and readers will be gratified that Suyin and her compatriots achieve their dreams despite the odds. An author's note gives additional background on both folkloric influences and contemporary American sweatshop practices. 2012, Dial/Penguin, Ages 10 to 13, $16.99. Reviewer: Claire Gross (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books).
ISBN: 9780803734432

The Cooking of China
Matthew Locricchio

This volume from the "Super Chef" series begins with a simple map that divides China into four regions--north, south, west and east. Locricchio then provides a brief, but useful summary of the differences in geography and climate and how they have affected the spices and cuisine of these four areas. A few iconic photographs represent each region. The recipes begin with two staples of Chinese cooking, chicken stock and white rice, but then move on to more elaborate dishes such as ginger beef and stir-fried shrimp with red peppers. They are all grouped by type of cuisine from soups and appetizers to main dishes and desserts. Most recipes include inviting, full-color photos of the finished dish, which is particularly helpful when young cooks are preparing unfamiliar foods. The recipes vary from simple to moderately difficult and all include extensive directions, which use the "on your mark," "get set," "cook" format. This ensures that all ingredients are available and prepared in the proper order. "Chef's tips" are included with several recipes; they offer advice on food storage, substitutions and slicing meat. Young chefs will be expected to use knives extensively for peeling and chopping vegetables, to use a stove top for stir frying and boiling and to use the oven for baking. The recipes are all healthy, stressing a variety of food groups and often including suggestions for making vegetarian adaptations. A discussion of helpful kitchen equipment emphasizes utensils used primarily in Chinese cooking, including a wok, an electric rice cooker and Chinese spatula. Also included are safety tips, a description of a variety of Chinese ingredients including bamboo shoots and hoisin sauce, as well as additional web and text resources and an index. 2012, Marshall Cavendish, Ages 10 to 14, $35.64. Reviewer: Leigh Geiger, PhD (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781608705504

Dragon of Seas
Pierdomenico Baccalario
Translated by Leah D. Janeczko

Tsheng, Elettra, Harvey, and Minstrel have reached a point where they know they have no choice but to meet again as the equinox is getting nearer. As this is the last book in the series, it is necessary to have read the "Century Quartet" series of books in order to truly understand what these four kids have gone through to get as far as they have in solving the mystery. The author provides suspense, drama, and intrigue throughout the book. It was all I could do to myself from flipping to read the ending of the story to find out exactly how it ended. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book as well as adults, because I had no problem getting hooked. The colored inserts in the middle of the book were great! Even though the author resolves all the questions and situations from the other books, on the last page, the author does bring it to the end; however I believe he has done so in such a way that he could write a book five. As a mystery fan, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to readers who like to think about what they have read over and over again. 2012, Random House, Ages 11 to 14, $17.99. Reviewer: Kathie M. Josephs (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780375858987

Dumpling Days
Grace Lin

Pacy (from The Year of the Dog and The Year of the Rat) is back, and this time her family is headed to Taiwan to visit family for an entire month. Pacy has never been to the country of her parents' birth, and the trip proves challenging: her mother signs her up for a Chinese painting class, where Pacy's American art skills seem worthless, and she's defensive about her inability to speak Taiwanese. Despite Pacy's initial resistance to the experience, her youthful observations of this new and very different place are spot-on, and the book paints a vivid picture of the international setting. The story is episodic, with chapters highlighting different outings and events and occasionally including a relevant family story or a folktale, and Pacy's own tidy line drawings, complete with explanatory captions, dot the pages. Though many new people appear, they're neatly contextualized along the way. This story will appeal to a wide audience, from those drawn to strong voices to those interested in experiencing the sights and sounds of a distant land. 2012, Little Brown and Company/Hachette, Ages 8 to 12, $15.99. Reviewer: Hope Morrison (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books).
ISBN: 9780316125901

Giant Pandas
Kari Schuetz

Giant Pandas are a rare sight in the wild, but these imposing bears are captured beautifully in this title from the "Animal Safari" series. Vivid color photographs display these black and white beauties in their natural habitat as they eat and climb in solitude. One or two sentences in large print accompany each picture in this nonfiction book for emergent readers. Words that may be unfamiliar to the reader are printed in bold type, and they are defined in the glossary. Topics covered include descriptions of what Giant Pandas are, where they live, and what they eat. An emphasis on the rarity of these animals provides an introduction to the concept of endangered species. Heartwarming scenes of a mother and baby panda, as well as the young bear's attempt to venture out on its own, are helpful for teaching about a Giant Panda's growth to maturity. The index and contents pages work together to direct a young reader to the information sought, which is helpful in preparing for future research projects. Children are encouraged to learn more about these bears by visiting web and library resources that are provided. Young readers will enjoy learning to read as they spend time with these cuddly giants. 2012, Bellwether Media/Children's Press, Ages 5 to 8 $22.00. Reviewer: Rachelle Andrade (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781600146039

The Great Voyages of Zheng He

Author-illustrator Demi (Buddha, Muhammad, The Boy Who Painted Dragons, and numerous other titles) employs her customary combination of delicate visual detail and clear, direct prose in this picture book rendering of the life of the Chinese admiral who led the Ming Dynasty's Treasure Fleets around the world in their remarkable dual mission of trade and diplomacy. The sheer might and size of the enterprise is impressive-the loads of precious goods, the "Galloping Horse-Ships" escorting the massive flotilla, the peaceful intentions that led the expedition as far as Siam and Malacca, India, Mecca and Jeddah, and the coast of eastern Africa. More personal details leave an impression as well. The sailors invoked the protection of Buddhist goddess Bodhisatta Mazu. In fact, Zheng He believed he saw a vision of her when they encountered storms at high sea. We learn as well that Zheng He dreamed of "a world of intellectual growth and religious tolerance, and a world of everlasting, worldwide peace." It is a goal worth discussing across the generations in our own time. In all this is a beautifully crafted introduction for young readers to a life writ large, at a time that was the peak of China's golden age of exploration. 2012, Shen's Books, Ages 7 to 10, $21.95. Reviewer: Uma Krishnaswami (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9781885008459

Mrs. Harkness and the Panda
Alicia Potter
Illustrated by Melissa Sweet

Here is a story to stir one's ambition. The year was 1934. Explorer William Harkness set out with one goal: to find a panda and bring it back to America. Not many people in the U.S. had seen a panda before. Sadly, William Harkness fell ill and died before he could complete his mission. Hearing the news, his wife Ruth was moved to carry on his work. It was an unexpected undertaking for an heiress from New York, but Ruth was particularly determined. After months of preparation, Ruth overcame the objections of friends, and made the arduous sea voyage to China. She hired a cook and a guide, and then took a trip into the mountains. There, she found a panda and brought it back to the U.S. where it "found a new home." Attentive readers will note that, as the timeline shows, the panda's home was not the U.S. for long; he died just over a year after arriving at a Chicago Zoo. They will also see that Ruth's life ended far too soon, at the age of 46. Still, Sweet's scrapbook-like illustrations are engaging, as is Ruth's story. The particular episode of Mrs. Harkness' life--and the panda's--which is featured in this book speaks of bravery and determination. Young readers will embrace that. 2012, Alfred A. Knopf/Random House, Ages 4 to 8, $16.99. Reviewer: Heidi Hauser Green (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780375844485

People's Republic of China
Wil Mara

The largest country in the world in terms of population, with the second largest economy and third largest expanse of land, as well as many thousands of years of tumultuous history--China is huge. It is a correspondingly huge undertaking to distill China's geography, flora and fauna, history, culture, belief systems, and traditions into a readable, engaging book for young readers. Veteran author Wil Mara succeeds admirably in this task. Wisely opening the book with a portrait of one individual man--an attorney beginning his busy work day in present-day Beijing, to where he has migrated from his family home in a rural province--Mara then deftly traces the rich panorama of Zhi Peng's nation in as much complexity as it is reasonable to present to young readers in the limited space of an introductory volume. Without minimizing China's human rights abuses within its authoritarian governing structure, Mara also pays tribute to China's astonishing economic and cultural accomplishments. The book is lavishly illustrated with appealing photographs that make turning each information-filled page a visual delight. Includes a historical timeline, list of "fast facts," bibliography for future research, and index. 2012, Children's Press/Scholastic, Ages 8 to 12, $39.00. Reviewer: Claudia Mills, PhD (Children's Literature).
ISBN: 9780531253526

Red Thread Sisters
Carol Antoinette Peacock

It's the dream of the girls at China's Tong Du orphanage to find real families, but Wen can't bear the thought of being parted from her best friend and spiritual older sister, Shu Ling. When an American family adopts eleven-year-old Wen, she promises Shu Ling that she'll make sure her friend gets adopted as well. Wen gradually settles in with the McGuires, but she's devastated to realize she may not be able to honor her promise to Shu Ling, who will soon age out of adoptability according to Chinese policy. The foregrounding of Wen's friendships, including her growing closeness with an American classmate, adds a new dimension to the familiar adoption story. Without belaboring the point, Peacock (herself an adoptive parent of Chinese-born kids) makes clear how much of an unfair gamble the adoption process can be; what helps Shu Ling most is Wen writing a compelling description for her on a website and advocating for her in the blogosphere. Overall, it's a fairly gentle treatment of a tough subject, and the prose, though occasionally stodgy, has an old-fashioned, accessible simplicity of style. Even preteens who can't grasp the magnitude of an international uprooting will relate to the pain of separation from one's best friend, and they'll rejoice at Wen and Shu Ling's hard-won reunion. 2012, Viking/Penguin, Ages 10 to 12, $15.99. Reviewer: Deborah Stevenson (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books).
ISBN: 9780670013869

Starry River of the Sky
Grace Lin

Stowing away on a merchant's cart, young Rendi is on the run from his tyrannical father and finds a convenient hideaway in the Village of the Clear Sky, an isolated village with few residents and even fewer visitors. Hired on as a chore boy at the local inn, Rendi spends his days angrily cursing his past and his nights struggling to sleep through the mysterious weeping only he hears--weeping he assumes is a result of the moon's absence from the sky. When an enigmatic and beautiful storyteller arrives at the inn, her tales captivates Rendi, but when his past finally catches up with him, he's reluctant to take the lessons he has learned from the stories and apply them to his own reality. Readers of Lin's Newbery Honor-winning Where the Mountain Meets the Moon will recognize both Lin's folkloric style and a few familiar faces, but as a companion piece rather than a sequel, this requires no knowledge of the previous book. While initially far less likable than Moon's vivacious heroine, Rendi eventually transforms from a spoiled, angry brat into a thoughtful, compassionate friend whose heroic actions drive the plot of the story. Lin reprises her technique of framing the main story with a selection of Chinese folktales (signaled by a change in font), and her spare, lyrical prose lends the entire endeavor a tone of quiet enchantment. The book has the same carefully elegant design as its predecessor, with a decorative line-drawn headpiece in a single strong color introducing each chapter, and occasional full-page color illustrations, saturated with ruby reds and deep, midnight blues, portraying key scenes and accenting the book's folkloric style. 2012, Little Brown and Company/Hachette, Ages 8 to 12, $17.99. Reviewer: Kate Quealy-Gainer (The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books).
ISBN: 9780316125956

Understanding Chinese Myths
Megan Kopp

Four books in the new series "Myths Understood" hold nearly fifty pages each of history and myths for grades 5-8, and provide colorful stories explaining the relationships of heroes and gods to man. Legends are retold and explanation given for how the stories helped people understand their world in titles that combine folklore, history, and culture. Megan Kopp's CHINESE MYTHS, Sheri Doyle's EGYPTIAN MYTHS, Natalie Hyde's GREEK MYTHS and Robin Johnson's ROMAN MYTHS each belong in any collection looking for contemporary colorful illustrations combined with a lively writing style. 2012, Crabtree Publishing, Ages 10 to 13, $22.95. Reviewer: Midwest Book Review (Children's Bookwatch).
ISBN: 9780778745075

Updated 02/01/13

To stay up to date on new books on this topic, consider subscribing to The Children's Literature Comprehensive Database. For your free trial, click here.
If you're interested in reviewing children's and young adult books, then send a resume and writing sample to