Folktales are stories passed down from generation to generation, and reflect the culture, customs and values from which they come. As with every country/culture we explore, we have enjoyed reading Chinese folktales and fables throughout the year. Some I have described in posts relating to their subjects (ie, dragons, kites), and here is a compilation of the rest. Of course, this is but a drop in the bucket of the rich folklore of the Chinese culture, though I do hope you'll dip your toes in it with us. Not all of these books are still being published, but I've included them as they could be found in libraries or second hand.
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by Shiho S. Nunes. This is a beautifully illustrated book with 19 fables, each two to three pages long, some dating back to 3rd century BCE. They are similar to Aesops fables, and we recognized some of these from the idioms we had learned.
The Mouse Bride: A Chinese Folktale by Monica Chang.
With lovely illustrations, this folktale tells of a father mouse who searches high and low for the best, strongest husband he can find for his daughter. He meets the sun, cloud, wind and a wall and comes to realize that a mouse would indeed make the best husband.
Yeh-Shen: A Cinderella Story from China by Ai-Ling LouieOne of the oldest recorded Cinderella stories, this Chinese folktale is about a girl living with her fathers wicked wife, who finds companionship from a magical fish. The wife discovers this bond, and chooses to end it by killing the fish. The fish's bones remain magical and are treasured by the young girl, helping her with the affection of the prince. It's interesting when reading this story to note the elements we recognized from our Western Cinderella stories and the elements noting traditional Chinese culture. We made a wishing box after having read this book that can be found here.
The Weaving of a Dream by Marilee Heyer. This book is richly illustrated, and tells the tale of a mother so obsessed with a painting she weaves it into a brocade along with her blood and tears. When the brocade is taken away, her three sons journey in search of it. Two of the sons become tempted by riches and abandon their search, while her youngest completes the magical journey, returning with the it.
The Greatest Treasure by Demi
This is a story of a rich and a poor man - the rich man is obsessed with his money, with little time for his family. He becomes jealous of a poor farmer who spends his evenings enjoying spending time with his family and playing the flute. The rich man gives the farmer a bag of gold, hoping to put an end to the merriment - which works for a time. In the end, his wife inspires him to remember the joy to be had that money cannot buy.
Ten Suns: A Chinese Legend by Eric A. Kimmel
This is the story of the ten suns, children of the god of the Eastern sky, whose lives are lived taking it in turn to walk across the sky every day, giving sunlight to the earth below. The children become bored, and decide to walk together - this causes so much heat, the earth becomes parched, wreaking havoc. A hero is called upon to take them down, leaving one sun in our sky.
You can learn more about this legend, and find sun related activities here.
Jade Stone, The: A Chinese Folktale by Caryn Yacowitz
With sweet illustrations, this folktale tells of a carver who is given jade to be carved into a dragon for the Emperor. However, the jade wishes another destiny, and the carver needs to decide whether he will follow orders or his heart. This is a great story about being true to your conscience.
Lon Po Po: A Red-Riding Hood Story from China by Ed Young
As you might have guessed, a wolf, disguised as three young girls' grandmother, their Po Po, in order to devour them. What we especially liked about this story is the ingenuity and courage from the oldest daughter in saving them.
The Shell Woman and the King: A Chinese Folktale by Laurence Yep
This folktale is about a young man who falls in love with Shell, a sea spirit who can change into human form. After marrying, his bragging brings her magic to the attention of a wicked king who imprisons the young man. To be free, Shell must perform three wonders. We liked this tale, and liked the glimpse into ancient China through the illustrations.
Great Race: The Story of the Chinese Zodiac by Dawn Casey
With great, colorful illustrations, this book tells the story Chinese zodiac. The emperor decreed that each year in the 12 year cycle would named after the animals in the order in which they arrived to his meeting place across a great river. Cat and Rat cleverly convinced good natured Ox to carry them across the river. Rat deceived his friend by pushing Cat into the water midway across the river, and jumping over Ox when they reached the shore, which is how Rat claimed first place in the race and in the zodiac. The endnotes include some of the characteristics associated with each year. You can learn more about the Chinese zodiac, and find a list of fun printables here.
The Long Haired Girl: A Chinese Legend by Doreen Rappaport
Illustrated with woodcuts and watercolor, this folktale is about Ah-Mei who decides to sacrifice herself to the god of thunder in order to spare her village of a deadly drought. This is a lovely story of self sacrifice for the greater good.
The Dragon Prince: A Chinese Beauty & the Beast Tale by Laurence Yep. With beautiful, colorful illustrations, this tale is about a daughter who saves her father from a dragon by agreeing to marry it. Upon marriage, the dragon becomes a prince and they live happily together. When she decides to visit her family, one of her sisters tries to kill her and take her place. Her dragon husband eventually realizes he is no longer married to his kind and loving wife and rescues her. I find it always interesting to read cultural variances of tales I grew up with.
The Stonecutter: (Chinese) by Demi
This simple story is about a stonecutter whose wishes are granted by an angel. With every wish that is granted, he finds himself believing there is a better, more powerful position he can find himself in. Finally, he comes full circle, wishing to be a stonecutter.
The Cricket's Cage by Stefan Czernecki
Colorfully illustrated, this is a folktale in which a clever cricket brings luck to a carpenter by designing an intricate cage, which becomes the model for towers in the Forbidden city.
You can learn more about the practice of keeping pet crickets and find cricket crafts here.
The Seven Chinese Brothers (Blue Ribbon Book) by Margaret Mahy
This is the story of seven brothers, who seem to be very much alike, though they each have a different magical powers. Using their powers, and relying on each other, they manage to put an end to a cruel emperor. We very much enjoyed this folktale, steeped in history and fantasy.
King Pom and the Fox by Jessica Souhami
A Chinese version of Puss in Boots, this is a tale of being outwitted by a cunning fox. King Pom, a man who guards his pomegranate tree catches a fox stealing some fruit. The fox makes a deal with the man to gain its freedom by offering riches, which takes them on many adventures.
The Dragon's Pearl by Julie Lawson
This story is the retelling of a legend in which a poor young boy, in the midst of a drought, finds a magic pearl creating bounty for his family and community. Unfortunately, this fortune becomes a source of envy for some, who come to steal from the boy and his mother. Worried about losing the pearl, the boy accidentally swallows it and becomes a dragon, ensuring there is always plenty of rain. This book has rich, textured illustrations, and a page at the end that explains and describes Chinese dragons. You can learn more about Chinese dragons with more book recommendations here.
Liang and the Magic Paintbrush (Reading Rainbow Books) by Demi
Another richly illustrated book by Demi, in this folktale a poor boy receives a magical paintbrush, turning everything he paints to life. An evil emperor insists the boy use the paintbrush to attain his own wicked means, but the boy eventually outwits him.
If you'd like more books related to the Chinese culture, you can find all our posts that include book recommendations here.
Books are a wonderful way to experience new worlds and ideas. Our house is filled with books, most of which are borrowed from our public library. Public libraries are an incredible resource, making books accessible to everyone, and we highly encourage everyone to discover theirs. If you are hoping to build your own home library, I've made it easy by linking book titles to Amazon.com. Please note that I have become affiliated with them, which means that if you make a purchase, you are also supporting this website.I've linked up this post to this great blog hop of reviews for Children's books the Kid Lit Blog Hop