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Best Books for Boys: Families with Children Adopted from China

Updated on January 7, 2016
Adele Jeunette profile image

Adele Jeunette has been a youth librarian for 20 years and a mother to a child from China for 18 years.

This site has a list of best books for boys of families with children adopted from China.
This site has a list of best books for boys of families with children adopted from China.

Boys in Adoptive Families

For quite a while, girls and mothers have gotten all the attention in books about adoption and China, but as more and more boys from China are adopted in the United States, a need has arisen to find books that speak to the experience and heritage of the boys as well.

Here is a list of the best books I've found so far, from preschool boys on up to the teenagers. I've started with books that will appeal to the youngest boys and then moved on up the age ranges until we reach books which speak to fathers' experiences.

This site is done in one long column, so just keep scrolling down until you come to the age range you need. Happy reading!

Guide to This Site on Books for Boys from China

Here is a guide to the books covered in this site. They are arranged from youngest to oldest boys.

Books for Young Boys Adopted from China

In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-Chiu

The Empty Pot by Demi

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn

Books for 1st-3rd Grade Boys Adopted from China

Day of the Dragon King by Mary Pope Osborne

A Perfect time for Pandas by Mary Pope Osborne

Pandas and Other Endangered Species by Mary Pope Osborne

Alvin Ho: Allergic to Girls, School, and Other Scary Things by Lenore Look

Books for Older Boys

The Way Home Looks Now by Wendy Wan-Long Shang

The Zodiac Legacy: Convergence by Stan Lee

The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew

Tiger by Jeff Stone

Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent

Oldies But Goodies

In the Snow by Huy Voun Lee

At the Beach by Huy Voun Lee

The Story of Paper by Ying Chang Compestine

Eyewitness Books: China

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

Books for Young Boys Adopted from China

This first section of books, for boys between 2 and 6 years old, feature lots of pictures and lots of action. Here, you will find books about an inventive set of brothers, classic folk tales, and tales of boys in everyday situations.

In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-Chiu

This is a book for the child who loves poring over little details in things like maps, Eyewitness Books, or the “I Spy” books. At first it seems rather spare and austere, but as you start taking a close look at it, you find that it is jam packed with interesting little facts—and humor as well.

The book is a whimsical, minutely detailed work of art with lots of interesting little facts tucked in. The authors came up with the idea of a little cat who takes you from scene to scene within the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. The first layout, which unfold into a 5-page dramatically conveys the enormousness of the place, with hundreds of tiny tourists roaming the grounds. Cartoons of the 16 different emperors of the Ming Dynasty stand behind the wall, each with a speech bubble that gives you a characterization of his reign. One says “I ordered the Forbidden City to be built;” another says “Crickets were my hobby,” and another admits, “I was a fiasco.”

The stories for the text have been chosen for kid appeal: “The Year Ten Thousand Envoys Came to Pay Tribute,” “The Last Grand Wedding Ceremony,” “The Empress Dowager Is Celebrating Her Big Birthday.”

The book even comes with a little magnifying glass so that readers can take an even closer look at the drawings that characterize this ancient landmark of China.

Best Books for Boys:  Families with Children from China
Best Books for Boys: Families with Children from China

The Empty Pot by Demi

For boys ages 4-7; Picture Story Book

Ping is the best gardener in the village, and when the emperor says that his position will be passed on to the child who grows the best plant from a seed given to them, Ping thinks he has a lock on winning. But, his plant doesn’t grow while ever other child manages to coax a large flower from their seeds.

It turns out that the emperor’s contest was not about horticultural ability, but honesty. This classic story is lovingly illustrated by Demi.

Sam and the Lucky Money:  Best Books for Boys:  Families with Children from China
Sam and the Lucky Money: Best Books for Boys: Families with Children from China

Sam and the Lucky Money by Karen Chinn

For boys ages 5-8; Picture Story Book

A boy in Chinatown needs to decide on something special to buy for new year with the four dollars he has been given. When he stumbles across a homeless man, he has a new perspective on “lucky money.” A tale of generosity that brings the Chinatown setting to life.

Book Trailer for Sam and the Lucky Money

Books for 1st-3rd Grade Boys Adopted from China

Boys often start to read chapter books when they are in early elementary school, and the following titles include book series that are popular with this age group.

Magic Tree House Books by Mary Pope Osborne

Osborne’s beginning chapter book series about a time-traveling boy-girl duo is beloved by millions of young readers. Two of her books take the pair to China. She also has a nonfiction book tie-in.

Day of the Dragon King:  Best Books for Boys:  Families with Children from China
Day of the Dragon King: Best Books for Boys: Families with Children from China

Day of the Dragon King by Mary Pope Osborne

For boys in grades 1-4; Beginning Chapter Book

Jack and Annie travel back to ancient China to stop the powerful emperor, the Dragon King, from burning all the books. They are especially interested in saving a particular bamboo book. During their time in the ancient past, they meet up with characters from Chinese legend and they also observe history while it is happening. Though these books don't go into lots of historical detail, they can serve to pique a children's interest and may lead them to take a look at the many good nonfiction books about China. A great choice for children who have just learned to read enough to handle a short chapter book.

A Perfect time for Pandas by Mary Pope Osborne

For boys in grades; 1-4 Beginning Chapter Book

Children's mega-author Mary Pope Osborne continues her fast-paced time-traveling series with this book. It's actually the last of a 4-part series-within-a-series in which the children, Jack and Annie, need to find four things that will help revive Merlin's penguin. (No sure how he got a penguin, but that's a tale for later.) Fortunately, the author puts in plenty of backstory explaining the other items they've found, so children won't be confused by reading this final one. And, since it wraps up the plotline, they find out that the children did indeed find everything that the penguin needs.

This story has the children traveling to more or less contemporary China during the time of the Sichuan earthquake. They travel to the Wolong panda reserve and volunteer to take care of some of the pandas there. When the earthquake strikes, they use a little magic to get to the pandas and help them out. All in all, it's a nice story with a little adventure, and a little learning about pandas and China. My radar went up a little at one point when the children were remarking on unusual Chinese food such as green bean jelly and stinky tofu, but then they realized that some American foods have pretty funny-sounding names such ashot dogs and squash. By and large, the tone of the book is respectful and the Chinese people featured are portrayed as intelligent and compassionate.

If your child likes learning about pandas, the author has also written a non-fiction "fact-tracker" companion book which is an easy reading book of facts about pandas.

Pandas and Other Endangered Species by Mary Pope Osborne

For boys in grades 1-4; Nonfiction Book

Osborne’s nonfiction books are formatted to look much like the beginning chapter books they accompany: relatively large print, and lots of space between lines of text. This book covers things like the panda habitat and diet as well as preservation efforts. It includes other endangered animals, such as the snow leopard.

Alvin Ho books by Lenore Look

Look has created a series of beginning chapter books about a second-grade boy who wants to be brave, but finds a reason to be afraid of just about everything. I have a feeling the series’ success is due to the fact that many boys sympathize with at least some of Alvin’s fears, but they can also feel just a little bit superior, because they’re not that scaredy-cat.

I’ve highlighted the newest one below—about Alvin’s trip to China—but you can search Amazon for the other books in the series as well.

Alvin Ho:  Best Books for Boys:  Families with Children from China
Alvin Ho: Best Books for Boys: Families with Children from China

Alvin Ho: Allergic to the Great Wall, the Forbidden Palace, and Other Tourist Attractions

For boys in grades 1-4; Beginning Chapter Book

In this book, Alvin is a boy who is excited about his family’s trip to China, but he’s also anxious about what could happen on the 16-hour plane trip, not to mention the thought of being squeezed in the humungous crowds of people. This book could be a nice intro to the sights of China (provided your boy doesn’t get caught up in Alvin’s disaster scenarios), especially if your family is planning a trip to China.

Books for Older Boys

The following list of books takes boys from late elementary school up through the teen years. Here you will find a series about young teen boys on a mission from a kung fu monastery, a fiction series which chronicles the stories of Chinese-American men and boys in America, and a novel about finding identity in a family built through adoption.

New! A Story of Baseball and Family

I was enchanted by Shang’s first book, The Great Wall of Lucy Wu, and I picked this one up as soon as I saw in in the library’s new book section. I’m pleased to say, it doesn’t disappoint.

For this story, she turns her attention to a Chinese-American boy, 12-year-old Peter Lee. He’s a kid growing up in the ‘70’s whose family has bonded over baseball. They are Pittsburgh Pirate fans and also love keeping track of Taiwanese teams who come to play in the United States.

Peter’s father, however, doesn’t seem to share the rest of the family’s love of the game. He is all seriousness, and often tells his boys to do their homework rather than join a pick-up game in the neighborhood.

As the story opens, we find out that Peter’s older brother, Nelson, was recently killed in a car accident, leaving his mother so grief-stricken that she can barely get off the couch. Peter is caught in a double-bind, missing his brother and desperately wanting to lift his mother’s spirits. He notices that she perks up now and then when they talk about baseball, and he decides to join a Little League team in hopes of drawing her out to the games.

To his surprise, his father volunteers to coach the team and teaches the boys using the methods he learned when he was a boy in Taiwan—methods that often leave the team scratching their heads in confusion.

Shang has crafted an engaging, poignant story here, one that moves along quickly, has an entertaining baseball story (there’s a twist involving one of the team members), and shows children the values of patience and family bonds.

New! Chinese-American Boy in Book by Marvel's Stan Lee

For boys in Grades 3-7

When I saw this book with the Chinese zodiac on the cover I knew that I had to see what it was all about. When I saw that it was co-written by Stan Lee, driving force behind Marvel Comics and co-creator of such characters as Spider-Man, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four and Iron-Man, I knew that I’d have a real potential kid-pleaser in my hands.

Published by Disney, the book is a rather interesting attempt to add comic book art to a traditional chapter book by placing a full-page black-and red illustration every 5-10 pages.

The story hit every standard of the comic-book genre. A gang of rag-tag kids with newly-discovered superpowers battles a villain intent on gathering all their powers for world domination. Just when things look their bleakest, the kids turn the tables and send him back, licking his wounds, but not yet defeated—hence we wait for the next in the series.

The twist to this book is that the main hero, a 14-year-old Chinese-American boy by the name of Steven Lee, stumbles upon a mystical zodiac power-gathering ceremony in the basement of a Hong Kong museum. Things go awry, and Steven finds himself imbued with the power of the Tiger and in league with a young woman named Jasmine who contains the power of the zodiac Dragon.

Pretty soon they travel around the world to pick up other kids who have inadvertently picked up zodiac power. It’s interesting to see which animals are in league with the good guys, and which are the bad guys. Rat and Snake are not much of a surprise, but we find that Dog and Monkey are in league with the evil mastermind as well.

The 460-page story has lots of action, but eventually an engaging cast of characters emerges (I especially liked the Ram), and they learn to work together to amplify their strengths. Kids reading this won’t find out a whole lot about China—the setting and Zodiac are there mostly for ambiance (and the dragons breathe fire rather than mist, a pet peeve of mine)—but it is nice to see a Chinese-American boy get star billing in a major chapter-book series.

It’s written at about a 5th-grade level and would be appropriate for an advanced 3rd grade reader on up to middle-schoolers who like action and adventure.

Book Trailer for Convergence

New! Comic Book With a Chinese-American Superhero

For boys in grades 4-8

This story of an unassuming young man in 1940’s Chinatown who becomes the superhero “Green Turtle” is sure to be a delight to fans of comic books, adventure or humor.

At the beginning of the story, we meet Hank, a teenager whose ambition in life is to be a shopkeeper, like his father. But his mother wants more for him, and after she has an encounter with the local superhero (after all, they were all over the place in the forties), she decides her son should be a superhero as well. She even makes him the outfit.

Hank points out that he doesn’t have a superpower, but she works on that, exposing him to toxic chemicals and irradiated insects. The young man’s first forays don’t turn out well, but when the local mob boss threatens his family, Hank finds newfound purpose and also a little help from a fighting master and an ancient Chinese spirit.

Printz award-winning author Gene Yang provides interesting historical detail about the first comic book series written by and Asian author and his trouble getting his ideas accepted by publishers and the American public. The Shadow Hero is Yang and co-author Sonny Liew’s tribute to those comics which also provides an origin story for the Green Turtle superhero of long ago.

Note to parents: The original comic book for the first appearance of Green Turtle is reprinted in the back of the book. Parents may want to give their children some historical context of the war, as some of the wording in this 1940’s comic book is not considered appropriate now.

Video Book Trailer for The Shadow Hero

The Five Ancestors series by Jeff Stone

Stone has used his interest in kung fu to develop a fast-paced story of young teens who have to leave their training monastery when a renegade monk attacks. Before grandmaster is killed, he tells his young charges that they must discover who they are, and in so doing, change the heart of the emperor. The books have lots of action, a good amount of humor, and lots of plot twists and turns that delighted the boys in the book club I ran at the local library. It’s still one of the books I recommend most highly to kids who like adventure stories.

As an added bonus, boys will learn a little about the tenets of martial arts along with some of the major themes of the history of 17th-century China. The series was written for grades 5-7, but I’ve found that good readers in third grade enjoy it as well.

I’ve noted the first title, Tiger, below. Just about every kid I know, boy or girl, clamors for the next 6 in the series, Monkey, Snake, Crane, Eagle, Mouse, and Dragon.

Tiger by Jeff Stone

For boys in grades 3-7; Chapter Book

Fu is like his namesake, the tiger: strong, passionate, and impetuous. After the destruction of the monastery, the only home he has ever known, Fu embarks on a journey to find his destiny. When he strikes out at some people that he assumes are hurting a tiger cub, he learns the consequences of acting before thinking, and he embarks (unwillingly at first) on a journey of self-discovery.

Kimchi & Calamari by Rose Kent

For boys in grades 4-8; Chapter Book

I know--kimchi is Korean, not Chinese--and this book is about a boy who was adopted from Korea into an extended Italian family. But, I believe it is the best (and only) book you’ll find about a teenage Asian boy finding his way with his adoptive family. The book is funny and touching and true-to-life.

Oldies But Goodies

The following books were published quite a while ago, but still some of the best books for boys that have been on the market. Many are no longer available new (though some are in Kindle form), but they are well worth getting through the used market.

Books for Boys Adopted from China
Books for Boys Adopted from China

In the Snow

For boys ages 3-7; Picture Story Book

A boy learns about the meaning of Chinese characters from the sketches he makes with his mother in the snow. A terrific way to learn about the pictorial and intuitive nature of Chinese characters.

Books for Boys Adopted from China
Books for Boys Adopted from China

At the Beach

This book also introduces common Chinese characters. This time, the boy and his mother sketch them in the sand.


Books by Ying Chang Compestine

One day Compestine saw a program on television that said the Japanese were the first to invent paper, and being Chinese, she wanted to set the records straight. She conceived of a picture-book series to tell the story of items that the Chinese developed first: noodles, chopsticks, kites, and paper. She used three fictional boys—the Kang brothers—to show how these inventions solved practical everyday problems. Sadly, most of the books are out of print now, but they can still be picked up pretty inexpensively in the used market.

Books for Boys Adopted from China
Books for Boys Adopted from China

The Story of Paper

For boys ages 3-7; Picture Story Book

The lively Kang boys have gotten into a bit of trouble at school, and the teacher prints a note on their hands, which they’d rather hide from prying eyes in the village. They are motivated to find a more secret way to transmit notes, and with the help of the mother, they come up with paper.

All the books in this series have vivid illustrations reminiscent of cut-paper artwork. This book also includes information about the origin of paper and instructions on making homemade paper.

Books for Boys Adopted from China
Books for Boys Adopted from China

Eyewitness Books: China

For boys in grades 2-6; Nonfiction Book

The Eyewitness books are known for their wonderful photography and appealing layout, and this China book doesn’t disappoint. Here you’ll find all kinds of info for fact geeks—flags, kung fu, Buddha, sports, transportation, mooncakes—an overview of China that might prompt your boy to look into some topics in more depth.

Best Books for Boys from China
Best Books for Boys from China

The Great Race by Dawn Casey

For boys ages 3-8; Picture Story Book

Most kids have come across a placemat that tells them the year of the Chinese zodiac, but this book tells the story of the Great Race commissioned by the Jade Emperor—a story which reveals why the years come in a certain order—and also why cats and rats are enemies to this day. A nice fast-moving tale with great artwork.

Books for Boys Adopted from China
Books for Boys Adopted from China

Dragonwings by Laurence Yep

For boys in grades 4-8; Chapter Book

In his “Golden Mountain Chronicles” series, Laurence Yep brings life to the stories of Chinese-Americans in the 20th century. This book, the first in the series, (which won a Newbery Honor award) tells the story of an 8-year-old boy, Moon Shadow Lee, who travels across the Pacific to join his father, uncles and cousins in San Francisco. The title refers to the family’s work on making a flying machine amidst the historical atmosphere that includes references to Teddy Roosevelt, the Wright Brothers, and the San Francisco Earthquake. It’s an inspiring tale of men and boys banding together and establishing themselves in a new country.


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