RovingFiddlehead KidLit

Nonfiction Picture Books: Chinese History, Culture & Folklore

March 12, 2012

In preparation for an upcoming trip, I’ve been enjoying many books about Chinese history, culture and folklore. This is just a sampling that fits in with the Non-Fiction Picture Book Challenge, but please leave suggestions for others in the comments!


Mao and Me is a beautiful autobiography by Chen Liang Hong (author/illustrator of Little Eagle and The Magic Horse of Han Gan). It is not a comfortable book as it portrays his childhood during a very turbulent period. Growing up during the Cultural Revolution, Chen experienced grief and hardship of his father being sent away for reeducation as well as pride when becoming a Little Red Guard. Details of family life such as his grandmother’s cooking, his grandfather’s bird and his sisters efforts to earn candy money, all accompanied by his beautiful artwork, make clear that he grew up in a world both drab and beautiful. The book ends rather abruptly after Mao’s death and his father’s return. While it is filled with sorrow, it is also a much more optimistic portrayal of the Cultural Revolution through a child’s eyes than I expected.

I highly recommend D is for Doufu: An Alphabet of Chinese Culture by Maywan Shen Krach and illustrated by Hongbin Zhang. This is an incredibly rich alphabet book introducing 23 Chinese words and phrases with their interesting historical and cultural meanings. I really appreciated the explanations for the pictographs and cross-references when pictographs reappeared in later words and phrases. These connections had me frequently flipping back and forth between the entries for a deeper understanding of previously-read words and phrases.

The last three are folklore, but since my library shelves folklore in the nonfiction section, I am going to include them in the nonfiction picture book challenge. Da Wei’s Treasure by Margaret and Raymond Chang captures Da Wei’s journey following the treasured mountain-shaped rock his father received from a fisherman. Many interesting adventures ensue, most notably when he enters an undersea palace and exits with a kitten. In true folkloric tradition, its roots in Pu Songling’s tales were adapted by Raymond Chang’s own mother to include a wife a s a tranformed cat.

The Jade Stone by Caryn Yacowitz and illustrated by Ju-Hong Chen is a tale of listening to one’s inner creative voice. Again, an artist has been commanded by the emperor to create something. This time Chan Lo must create a dragon of wind and fire from a beautiful piece of jade. But this is not the image that speaks to the stone carver. Bravely Chan Lo forges ahead and carves the jade carp that glide through his dreams.

The Cricket’s Cage by Stefan Czernecki is a delightful tale of a carpenter facing punishment when he cannot create an design for the Forbidden City that satisfies the emperor. A cricket inadvertently aids the carpenter when he draws a design for the new cage he has been promised. The tale reminded me of Masterpiece by Elise Broach and I am now very curious whether Broach is familar with this folktale.

nonfiction monday

Today’s Nonfiction Monday roundup is hosted by Rasco from RIF.

3 thoughts on “Nonfiction Picture Books: Chinese History, Culture & Folklore

  1. Ms. Yingling says:

    Nice group of related books. Thanks for posting!

  2. Pingback: Rasco From RIF » NONFICTION MONDAY ROUNDUP: Step right up!

  3. This is a great selection indeed! we are playing around with a Festival of Asian Lit theme sometime May/June, so I shall pin these titles in my Pinterest board so that I’d be reminded to borrow them in the future. 🙂

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