Top Middle Grade Books to Learn about Chinese Culture
Dragonwings and Dragon’s Gate by Laurence Yep
The first person on any list in this category must be Laurence Yep, a San Francisco native who has a Ph.D. and has been writing children’s books for a long time. He won the Newbery Award for these two books, which were both set in historic California. He has also written a lot of other books. Dragonwings is now a well-known story about a Chinese immigrant boy who wants to build flying machines. His father works in a laundry, but he also wants to build flying machines. He comes to the U.S. to help build the railroad across the country.
Ho-Ming, Girl of New China by Elizabeth Foreman Lewis
To find kids’ books about China, I looked through my childhood bookshelves. I found an original 1934 version of this book about a 12-year-old girl who lived in what was then modern China. He won a Newbery Medal for a book called Young Fu of the Upper Yangtze, which he wrote a hundred years ago. Even though China has changed since then, her books are still worth reading because they show how traditional values clashed with modern Western ideas. There isn’t any more of Ho-Ming, but Young Fu has just been republished again.
Yang the Youngest and His Terrible Ear by Lensey Namioka, illustrated by Kees de Kiefte
This is the first in a series of four books about four Yang children, immigrants who live in a musical family in the United States. They are all very happy. In the United States, nine-year-old Yingtao, the youngest boy, likes baseball more than the violin. He meets an American boy whose family wants him to play the violin, but he doesn’t. Namioka, who was born in China and married a Japanese man, has written a lot of great books set in America, China, and Japan.
Half and Half by Lensey Namioka
This cute story isn’t new, but it spoke to me. One of the few books about mixed-race kids like my daughter’s Her father is from China, but Fiona Cheng wants to learn more about her Scottish roots. At the annual Folk Fest, she has to choose between two shows, one for each side of her family.
In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord, illustrated by Marc Simont
It was first published in 1984, and it’s still a favorite. It’s witty, lively, and charming. A few years ago, I read the book again and found it as good as ever. Set in 1946, it tells the story of Shirley Temple Wong, a Chinese immigrant girl who starts fifth grade with very little English.
Stickball and baseball games are two of her favorite things. After being ignored by her classmates from many different races, she learned how to play stickball. The illustrations are so cute that they make the story come to life.
Red Butterfly by A.L. Sonnichsen, illustrated by Amy June Bates
If you’re like most people, you’re not sure you’ll like reading a book that is written in verse. But this one won me over with its lyrical story-telling and vivid emotions. In this story, Kara is raised by an American woman who hides her because she doesn’t have the right to adopt Kara. In this book, Kara’s voice tells you how she wants to be at home, but doesn’t know how to get there.
The Great Wall of Lucy Wu by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Lucy grew up in the United States, and she likes pizza more than dim sum and prefers to play basketball on Saturday mornings than go to Chinese language school on Saturday. Lucy is ready to claim a room of her own when her father invites an elderly great aunt to live with them. Her sister is going to college, and Lucy is ready to claim her own room. All of her plans have failed. But the old lady manages to break through Lucy’s walls of stubbornness when it comes to things from China.
The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang
Shang’s new book, which came out in 2017, also made me fall in love with him. Peter Lee, 12, is heartbroken over the death of his big brother, who died before the story began. The only way Peter can get his mother’s love and attention is to play baseball. His mother rarely gets up from the couch. When Peter’s strict father becomes the coach of his team, he thinks things will go wrong. But his father turns out to be a good person and smart. And the team has a surprise that no one thought would happen.
Just Like Me by Nancy Cavanaugh
This is an interesting story about Chinese girls who were adopted by American parents, and the author has been through this herself. Her parents want Julia to be friends with two other girls who were adopted from the same Chinese orphanage as her. Julia doesn’t want to go to summer camp because of this. They aren’t “just like” her. During a week of misadventures, she learns that those girls and other people in their cabin have problems with their identities, too.
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
Grace Lin is one of the best writers and illustrators in the world, and no list about Chinese culture is complete without her work. If you like fantasy books, this one is for you. As Minli embarks on an epic quest to find the Old Man of the Moon, she hopes he will help her family. Minli is a strong and determined girl who meets a dragon that can’t fly and a fish that talks. She also manages to find a place in the reader’s heart.
The Cat from Hunger Mountain by Ed Young
Loved Ed Young’s Caldecott-winning Lon Po? You’ll be happy to hear that he has done it again. He doesn’t show us a dangerous wolf this time. Instead, Young shows us the rich lord of Hunger Mountain, who was never happy with what was in front of him. It isn’t until the lord leaves the mountain that he learns how to be happy with the real treasures of life.