12 Picture Books to Celebrate Chinese New Year

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A Dozen By Demi: Books to Celebrate Chinese New Year

With over 140 children’s books published to her name, the author/illustrator known simply as Demi has given readers dozens of stories to savor over the years. From the many picture book biographies she has created to the retellings of different cultural folktales, Demi provides a visual feast every time. Her authentic and original work shows reverence toward her material and strives to uncover universal truths in both stories and pictures. Her books are not only good reads but also leave you with something to ponder.

Demi has a distinct artistic style, characterized by vivid color, exquisite detail, and the use of gold leaf, which makes the illustrations glitter and shine and imbibes them with a kind of magic. Tiny, lively figures populate her books, and intricate patterns, often resembling rich brocade, adorn clothing, furniture, buildings, even the endpapers.

She is said to use the “four Chinese treasures” in every book: Chinese paintbrush, ink, ink-stone, and paper. Her commitment to traditional methods and materials is evident in The Dragon’s Tale. On the copyright page, she wrote about the colors used in mixing her paints and how “To all, powdered jade was added for good fortune!” She also noted, “The brushes were made of sheep, rabbit, goat, weasel, and wolf hairs picked in autumn for pliancy. A brush of one mouse whisker was used for extremely delicate work. She made changes by applying the juice of the apricot seed.”

A recurring subject in her extensive body of work is that of ancient China. Many of her books are steeped in Chinese art, history, folklore, and tradition. Here are a dozen titles are written and illustrated by Demi that celebrate Chinese culture. Happy New Year! Kung-Hsi Fa-Ts’ai!

The Dragon’s Tale and Other Animal Fables of the Chinese Zodiac

Twelve fables rendered within circular motifs tell stories about the animals of the Chinese zodiac. Each fable leaves the reader with a morsel of wisdom to chew on. (Published by Henry Holt & Co., 1996.)

Happy, Happy Chinese New Year! 

A simple, but charming introduction to the rituals and ideas behind Chinese New Year, from the last fifteen days of the old year spent cleaning and preparing to the first fifteen days of the new year spent celebrating. (Published by Crown Books for Young Readers, 2003.)

Happy New Year! Kung-Hsi Fa-Ts’ai! 

A look at the traditions, zodiac, symbols, and foods associated with Chinese New Year, and illustrated with vibrant double page spreads. More information than her other new year book, but this edition is harder to find. (Published by Dragonfly Books, 1999.)

The Boy Who Painted Dragons 

Ping paints dragons all over his house, not because he loves them, but because he is scared of them. The Heavenly Dragon gives Ping three pearls of wisdom. But in order to gain the wisdom of dragons, Ping must confront his greatest fears. (Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007.)

The Girl Who Drew a Phoenix

When Feng Huang  attempts to draw a phoenix to attain its magical powers, she is met with ridicule. The Queen Phoenix intervenes, however, and sends Feng Huang on a journey to discover powers that enable her to draw a phoenix that comes to life off the page. (Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008.)

The Empty Pot 

In order to choose his successor, an emperor challenges every child to grow the most beautiful flower from the seed he gives to them. Not one flower impresses the emperor. It is Ping’s empty pot which holds the truth. (Published by Henry Holt & Co., 1990.)

The Greatest Power 

Young emperor Ping sends the children of his kingdom on a year-long quest to find the greatest power in the world. At the end of the year, children present Ping with money, weapons, beauty, and technology, but none are as great as the tiny gift a young girl gives to the emperor. (Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2004.)

The Legend of Lao Tzu and The Tao Te Ching 

An artistically stunning introduction to the legendary Chinese figure, Lao Tzu, accompanied by twenty verses from the Tao Te Ching. (Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2007.)

Su Dongpo: Chinese Genius

With rich and elaborate illustrations, Demi tells the story of the 11th century Chinese genius, Su Dongpo, whose many talents include being a great statesman, poet, philosopher, painter, architect, engineer, and humanitarian.Lee & Low Books, 2006. (Published by Lee & Low Books, 2006.)

The Magic Pillow 

Based on a Chinese folktale about a boy who is given a magic pillow able to grant his wishes for fame, power, and wealth. But after a night of sleeping on the magic pillow, the boy is grateful for his humble life. (Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2008.)

The Emperor’s New Clothes 

A retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, set in old, provincial China. An emperor who loves to dress in new clothes is shown who is clever and who is a fool when he walks into the province wearing what he believes are magical robes. (Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2000.)

Liang and The Magic Paintbrush 

Liang, who longs to paint, finds a magic paintbrush which can bring his subjects to life. When the greedy emperor tries to use the brush to paint treasures for himself, the magic fails, giving Liang a chance to free himself and oust the emperor forever. (Published by Henry Holt & Co., 1980.)

Cheli Mennella
Cheli Mennella

Cheli has been involved with creative arts and education for most of her life and has taught many subjects from art and books to yoga and zoology. But she has a special fondness for kid’s books and has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She writes from Colrain, where she lives with her musician-husband, three children, and shelves full of kid’s books.

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