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Best Books for Families With Children Adopted From China: Fiction and Nonfiction on Adoption, Culture, and History

Updated on July 30, 2017
Adele Jeunette profile image

Adele has been a youth services librarian for 20 years. She has been mother to a daughter from China for 17 years.

Books for Families with Children from China
Books for Families with Children from China

Essential for your library, these books cover adoption and Chinese culture for moms, dads, kids, tweens, and teens. Below you will find links to sites that list dozens of books for kids, adult, families, and classrooms.

Ming Goes to School
Ming Goes to School

New! Ming Goes to School

I was immediately charmed by the sweet watercolor illustrations in Ming Goes to School . They are absolutely charming. This is a book that will help answer questions and ease the anxiety children may have about going to school.

At the beginning, we see Ming holding hands with her father as he takes her to the schoolroom entrance . (it's either a preschool or kindergarten class.) The text tells us that school is where she learns a number of things: to say hello to her classmates (a diverse group of children), to wave goodbye to her dad, to play with the other children building railroad tracks, and sand castles and making snow angels.

When we see her watching other children on the slide, but hesitating to join in, the text tells us "growing up takes time." After school has ended, we see her eyeing the the slide from the classroom, and then running joyfully to it. On the last page, she sits triumphant on the top of the slide, looking back at us.

The text is simple, yet poetic--and very short, which makes it just right for sharing with little ones with short attention spans.

Lost and Found: Adele and Simon in China
Lost and Found: Adele and Simon in China

Lost and Found: Adele and Simon in China

My first thought on reading Lost and Found: Adele and Simon in China is that it would be great to read if you are going homeland trip to China, or if you've already been there on such a trip. Even though the story is set in 1905, many of the landmarks are the same: The Great Wall, the bamboo forests, the fishermen on the Li river.

It would also be nice to share with a group of older children, since it has short text that introduces some of the more famous places in China. You will want to allow some time at the end, though, for the children to look through the detailed drawings for the articles mentioned in the text. The book has a "Where's Waldo" aspect, in that a certain article is hidden in each drawing.

Here’s the story: Adele and Simon are two children who are traveling around 1905-era China with their uncle. Adele relates their adventures back to their mother via postcard. They start in Hog Kong where the children’s uncle buys Simon a variety of things (hat, jacket, knapsack, abacus, fan, ink box, among others). He buys Adele a Brownie camera so that she can take photos of everything. Then they travel all around china: a silkworm factory in Hagzhou, the city of Tongli near the Yangtze, Peking (Beijing), the Great Wall, the Mongolian city of Xilinhot, the Magao caves of Dunhuang, the ancient city of Xi’an, the bamboo forests near Dazhou, the monasteries of the Wudang Mountains, the cormorant fishermen on the Li River, the terraced farms of Longsheng, and then back to Hong Kong.

At each place, we see a beautifully illustrated and details illustration of the place along with a reproduction of a postcard and a brief note that Adele has sent describing the place. Adele also mentions an item that Simon has lost in each scene. Readers can then search the scene to see if they can find the item that Simon has lost track of.

At the very end, Adele develops the pictures she took, and find that she has managed to take a photo of each lost item. It’s McClintock’s clever way of giving us hints to help find the items. Those hints should relieve quite a bit of frustration in looking for the items. I know they worked wonders for me.

The artwork is so nicely done that I wanted to find out more about this book, so I went to McClintock’s blog and found out quite a few interesting things about its production. She says that she spent 10 years painstakingly researching this period of China to get the artwork and description right. She drew everything by hand even meticulously recreating the stamps on the postcards. Her son, a Doctoral candidate in Chinese religious studies at Brown helped to guide her through the research.

One of the best parts of the book for me is the explanatory matter at the end of the book in which she gives more detail about each place the children visited.

She also said the Chinese mainland printer would not print the book because they didn’t like the period map for political reasons. They ended up going with a printer in Hong Kong who specializes in coffee table art books, and she is so pleased with how the colors and the artwork came out in this book.

McClintock calls this book “a labor of love,” and it is one of those books to buy for the fun it will give a child and also as an artistic keepsake for your permanent collection.

The Shadow Hero
The Shadow Hero

The Shadow Hero

The Shadow Hero is fabulous, not only for guys but for gals, as well as comic book buffs.

This book has everything you'd want in a superhero story--unassuming young man living in Chinatown, tiger mother, bad gang boss, special cape, 1940's ambiance, and a spirit force in the form of a green turtle. It's laugh-out-loud, poignant, and (don't tell the kids) educational. I hope Yang & Liew intend to write many more.

Found in China
Found in China

Found in China

Found in China is a film that documents the trip of several adoptive families who have chosen to go on a cultural heritage tour of China. They take in the sights and experiences and visit the places the children were reported to have been found.
It’s a touching film, but it doesn’t include any major life-changing developments (no birth parents are miraculously found). It would be well worth watching before taking a trip to China because it provides its audience with realistic expectations of what the experience will be like.

The Forbidden Kindgom
The Forbidden Kindgom

The Forbidden Kindgom

When you have a movie like The Forbidden Kindgom starring both Jet Li and Jackie Chan, you know you’re going to be watching lots of action, humor, and high kicks.This is a movie that younger kids, teens, and grownups can enjoy. The story is that of an American boy who discovers one of the immortals (played by Chan) from Chinese mythology and ends up joining him on a quest which will also involve the Monkey King (played by Li): one of the most well-know characters in Chinese literature

High School Musical: China
High School Musical: China

High School Musical: China

Like its American cousin, High School Musical: China is more bubblegum pop than drama. But I have to say, it's one of the rare films distributed in America that gives an inkling of what a Chinese teen’s life is like now.

Most of videos about China that I’ve see show people planting rice or riding bicycles through the countryside. On our most recent trip to China, we discovered that many of the bicycles are gone, replaced by motor scooters. High School Musical: China, shows a more updated version of what China is like.

The movie isn’t merely translation of the American version. Disney employed a Chinese team: production company, writers, director, and actors. Somewhere there, underneath all the slick production numbers and flashy outfits, this is a sweet film about Shanghai teens who are working their way through conflicting expectations of family and society.

House of Flying Daggers
House of Flying Daggers

House of Flying Daggers

House of Flying Daggers is a movie for teens as well as parents. Director Zhang Yimou is known for his cinematography, and he doesn’t disappoint here. From the majestic and ornate imperial court to the verdant bamboo forests, this film is lush and beautiful.

But the film is not just eye candy. This is a story which includes rebellion against the regime, intrigue, and romance (clean romance, the story is so busy with its delightful plot twists to give the leads very much time to get dewy-eyed).

The daggers do fly indeed, but with minimal gore, and in the end you have an insightful tale about the conflict between duty and freedom.

Kung Fu Panda
Kung Fu Panda

Kung Fu Panda

You know how it is. Some movies, you’re not terribly excited to go see. I was afraid Kung Fu Panda would be another manic CGI movie Madagascar, but you can call me pleasantly surprised.

Po, the panda main character is an endearing fellow who finds himself in a classic fantasy story: a clumsy guy who doesn’t seem to have any talents is nonetheless chosen to rescue his companions from the evil forces which threaten them.

Kids who watch this movie will actually learn a little good information about Kung Fu styles. And the dumpling scene on its own is worth the watching.

This movie makes a pleasant night’s viewing for the family.

Recommendations for Books to Read to a Group for Chinese New Year

People have asked me which books are best for reading to a group of children. Here is a list of some of the best books I've found to read to school or library groups. It also works well to read one of these books if you are having a Chinese New Year party. You can find more thorough reviews of each book on the links above.

Good Chinese New Year Books for Young Children

These books, which have short blocks of text and lots of colorful illustrations, are best for young children up to first grade.

My First Chinese New Year by Karen Katz. Charming illustrations. Short text. A toddler girl tells children about the customs of Chinese New Year--getting new clothes, special foods, getting a haircut, etc.

Bringing in the New Year by Grace Lin. Lin has the most gorgeous illustrations. A rollicking dragon decorates the cover of this book. This book goes into a little more detail than the book listed above, but covers much of the same territory describing customs and traditional ways of celebrating the new year. This one is great for preschool groups ages 3-5.

Red is a Dragon by Roseanne Thong. This book talks about different colors of things that surround a young girl. What I like about it is that it includes everyday things like red watermelon, a blue ribbon the girl won at the fair, the brown hat that her grandfather wears, etc. And then, it also includes specific cultural things like the red dragon at the parade, a green jade bracelet, and so on.

Good Nonfiction Books to Read for Chinese New Year

Look What Came From China! By Harvey Miles Great photos and short text teach about things invented/developed in China – fireworks, sunglasses, compasses and of course giant pandas

Celebrate Chinese New Year by Carolyn Otto Wonderful colorful photos and different levels of text that you can use with all ages. Read the short descriptions for a younger group and talk about the pictures. For an older group, you can read more of the explanatory text. Published by National Geographic, this book's strength is the excellent large, color photos. Customs, foods, shots of celebrations from different countries.

Good Folktales to Read for Chinese New Year

These are good if you want to emphasize certain values to the kids.

Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim Retelling of Goldilocks with that focuses on doing what you can to help out when you make a mistake. Love the little details—rice porridge, zodiac rug, turnip cakes.

The Pandas and Their Chopsticks by Demi This book is great if you just have a little bit of time. It contains a number of fables that are two or three pages long.

Two of Everything by Lily Toy Hong I LOVE this story. An elderly couple discovers a pot that doubles everything they put into it. Things get complicated when the woman falls in, and two of her come out of the pot. Kids love seeing what’s going to happen next.

The Empty Pot by Demi A story that emphasizes honesty. The emperor gives seeds to all the children to see what they can grow. All the other children bring beautiful flowers, but Ping, who is a bit of a gardener, can't get anything to grow. When he 'fesses up to the emperor, he finds out that he is the only honest one. Lovely illustrations.

The Runaway Wok by Ying Chang Compestine A takeoff of “The Runaway Pot” that emphasizes sharing.

The Seven Chinese Sisters by Kathy Tucker Each of the sisters has a talent that they can pool to get their youngest sister back when she is taken by a dragon. Girl power!

The Race for the Chinese Zodiac by Gabrielle Wang A short re-telling of the story of the race that determine the order of the years named for different animals. The Emperor of Heaven decrees that all the animals should race across the river. Rat is sneaky and clever and ends up first, before the steady and dogged ox. Monkey, rooster and sheep figure out how to make a raft. Dragon, whom you'd expect to be first, is delayed because he stopped to help some villagers. Dog was too busy playing and pig too busy eating, which is why they ended up last in the order.

Books That Lend Themselves to Activities and Crafts

The Squiggle by Carole Lexau Schaefer A Chinese-American girl finds a length of red ribbon and imagines several shapes—the great wall, a dragon, etc. Afterwards, it’s fun to give each child a length of yarn and have them make the shapes as you re-read the book.

Dragon Dancing by Carole Lexau Schaefer A girl works with her preschool class to make her “birthday dragon.” The children draw and decorate until they have a fancy dragon. After reading the book, you can have the children decorate their own dragons with rick-rack, feathers and spangles.

Books and Videos for Families with Children from China
Books and Videos for Families with Children from China

© 2011 Adele Jeunette

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    • Adele Jeunette profile image

      Adele Jeunette 5 years ago

      @Stacy Birch: I'm not a great traveler either, believe me. I have a lot of food allergies, which makes it difficult. But we had a great time in China. Our daughter was healthy, and the adoption agency arranged all the transportation and guides for us. All we had to do was get our suitcases together and show up in the lobby at nine o'clock, and everything else is taken care of.

    • Stacy Birch profile image

      Stacy Birch 5 years ago

      Nice lens, I'd probably get a child from the us before I'd think about china, because I'm scared to to travel, but it is so much more easy for older couples to get a child there than here and there are so many children in china who need a good home.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      good lens

    • lemonsqueezy lm profile image

      lemonsqueezy lm 6 years ago

      My book club read Girl in Translation and we enjoyed it very much.