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Discovering China: 9 Children's Books in French

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Are your little ones learning French? Here are nine beautiful books that will help their language skills while introducing a rich culture.

Depending on their age, children interested in China will be enchanted by its calligraphy, landscapes, spirituality, legends, traditions, history, or everyday life. These books will give them their first glimpse of the cultural richness of what was once known as the Middle Empire.


Le Jardin de madame Li

Every day, Mrs. Li goes to the Pont-qui-chante River to draw water from it. The old lady, who doesn’t own much, uses two earthenware pots. Little Yun warns her that one of her pots is cracked: it is dripping along the way and it’s such a waste. Not at all, replies the old lady, because flowers grow there. It’s a lovely moral: Just because we’re old and slightly potty, we’re still useful! The illustrations explore China via its calligraphy, and its fauna and flora. 

Ages 4 and up.

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Le Pêcheur et le Cormoran

Driven away by seagulls, a young cormorant goes up the Li River. Fish abound and he only has to dive his beak into the water for easy food. But, in trying to swallow a particularly big fish, he nearly chokes. A fisherman intervenes and saves his life. The cormorant notices that the fisherman's line is desperately empty, so he dives away to bring him beautiful fish. A new fishing technique emerges, which is still in use in China today. To prevent the cormorant from choking again, the fisherman slips a ring around his neck. Together, the two friends fish, day and night. The dialogue is illustrated with perspectives of evanescent mountains and silhouettes, like shadow puppetry. 

Ages 5 and up.

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Le Souhait de Hu Jie

Here’s something unusual: a bilingual French/Chinese book! In southern China, a young wife, Hu Jie, is impatient to have a child. At the summit of a mountain, she questions the gods who call on her to her to give birth to a child prodigy. How to go about this? A friend teaches Hu Jie the art of cutting paper. She returns to the mountain and takes squares of silk from her dress that come alive, and turn into fairies. The winged creatures plead in her favor, and the gods grant her wish. 

The illustrations are delicate and sensitive. 

Ages 5 and up.

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Feng

A boy called Feng (which means "wind" in Chinese) dreams of flying his kite beyond the clouds. He goes to a monastery to consult with the master of wind. The master advises him not to imitate him, but rather, to study nature. Feng takes inspiration from a dragonfly and by sheer force of will, gets his kites as high up as the clouds. The day the master of wind dies, it is Feng’s kite that carries his soul into the sky. 

In this beautiful book, with its unusual format, Thierry Dedieu’s mysterious universe perfectly suits the spirituality of the story. 

Ages five and up.

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La Naissance du dragon

Once upon a time in China, each clan lived under the protection of a spirit. Mountain people had a spirit in the form of a bird, horsemen had a horse, rice cultivators had a buffalo. 

Children became weary of all the wars being waged in the country and decided to create a hybrid animal, a symbol of peace, which united a serpent's body, the legs of a bird, and the horns of a buffalo. The dragon was born and henceforth has been celebrated during every Chinese New Year. 

The book’s illustrations are sublime, done with calligraphy-like black lines. 

Ages 7 and up.

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Nian le terrible ; La Légende du nouvel an chinois

According to an ancestral legend, a dragon called Nian lived in China's seas, and devoured anyone who dared to approach. An old man concocted a plan to defend the villagers: noise and fire frightened the monster who took refuge in the depths of the ocean. From then on, the New Year has been celebrated with firecrackers and fireworks. 

The illustrations on rice paper elegantly depict the power of the elements. 

Ages 7 and up.

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Mao et moi

It is the spring of 1966 in northern China. The narrator, then a small boy, is living on the ground floor of a building with his parents, his grandparents and his two sisters. They are poor but have a loving home. The grandmother makes the children’s clothes and the boy, whose sole toy is an old construction game made of wood, goes to the park with his grandfather. 

One morning, on the radio, President Mao announces the Cultural Revolution. Propaganda, arrests, and violence ensue. The Red Book becomes the only reading material. The father is sent to a re-education camp near the Russian border. The boy begins school and joins the Young Red Guards the following year. 

In 1976, upon Mao’s death, the boy's father returns, tired and changed. The son goes on to attend art school in Beijing. 

With realistic illustrations, Chen's book recounts the period when Mao was in power, through the eyes of a child. 

Ages 8 and up.

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Chine, scènes de la vie quotidienne

The artist, who is French, traveled to China several times. The results is a very personal book that leaves aside the mythical places in order to dig into the everyday life of the Chinese. We are spared any complacency or exoticism, and Jolivot recounts his journey in a thoughtful manner. 

He describes a number of subjects, such as landscapes with smokestacks, crowded public transport, joyful meals eaten at all hours of the day, the effervescence of the streets, mah-jongg games and Tai Chi sessions in parks and gardens, evening dances, temple offerings and the variety of China’s geography.

 Ages 11 and up.

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Le Tigre de Baiming

In the heart of the jungle, Baiming and Xao are hunting butterflies when they come upon a den where two tiger cubs are playing. When the mother appears face-to-face before the two boys, Baiming looks deep into the female tiger’s eyes, and miraculous, she leaves them alive. 

Xao, however, alerts poachers. To save the tigers, Baiming appeals to his veterinarian friend, Dr. Song. This adventure novel alerts children to the fate of tigers living in southern China, who are threatened with extinction. 

Ages 12 and up.

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If you are curious about Asia, and especially China, there is a publishing house you should absolutely look up: Philippe Picquier. The company has a wonderful children's literature section.


This article was adapted from Perrine Parageau's original in French, which you can read here.

Isabelle translates and edits articles into English from other languages on the Bookwitty site. She always adds a hyperlink to the original article in her post.

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