#813-14 What was it Like, Mr. Emperor & Bowls of Happiness from The China Institute in America

Today is Multicultural Children’s Book Day. In celebration of differences, Kid Lit Reviews has two books on Chinese culture, life, and its emperors from the China Institute in America. These books (currently a set of 4), are written to share the Chinese way of life, and its history, with children around the world.

what was it like mr emperor cover
What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor?: Life in China’s Forbidden City
Written by Chiu Kwong-chiu & Eileen Ng / Translated by Ben Wang
Illustrated by Design and Cultural Studies Workshop
China Institute in America     1/05/2016
978-0-9893776-6-9    104 pages    Ages 8+

“Have you ever wondered what it was like to be the Emperor of China? In this book, readers will get the chance to ask the emperor all the questions they might have about life in the Forbidden City.

“How was the emperor chosen? ~~ What was school like? ~~ How did he celebrate his birthday? ~~ Who were his friends? ~~ What were his favorite foods? ~~ How hard did he have to work? ~~ Could he be punished?

“Through fun and engaging stories reader (sic) will journey through the average life of an emperor and learn about the real people who lived in the palace, including the prince who fought off a rebel invasion, the palace maids who lived in the Inner Court, the emperor who ruled twice, and the emperor who loved rickets.” [back cover]

What Was it Like, Mr. Emperor gives the reader a fast history lesson in Chinese customs and life with an Emperor. Teachers looking for a fun way to celebrate Multicultural Day will find this book perfect for a lesson on life in the Chinese Forbidden City. What Was it Like, Mr. Emperor is one of the most fascinating children’s books I’ve read about China. Nothing seems left out. The importance of the birth order is explained, along with the training and tutoring of the first born son—heir to the Emperor’s throne.


The illustrations enhance the feel of the book with cultural references, using distinctive Chinese characters and symbols What Was it Like, Mr. Emperor gives kids interested in imperial China loads of information about life in the Forbidden City, (though not the whole of China).

mr emperor

Living in the Forbidden City are thousands of Chinese people whose lives are devoted to the Emperor and his family, starting with the Qin dynasty and 209 others (including one female emperor). While you cannot actual ask a question, every question you could think of is most likely answered somewhere in these pages.

Earlier volumes in this series include: This is the Greatest Place!: The Forbidden City and the World of Small Animals (2014), In the Forbidden City (2014), and Bowls of Happiness (2015), reviewed next.

bowls of happiness cover
Bowls of Happiness: Treasures from China and the Forbidden City
Written by Brian Tse / Translated by Ben Wang
Illustrated by Alice Mak
China Institute in America     11/17/2015
978-0-9893776-4-5     84 pages     Ages 6—10

“Piggy’s mom loves her so much that she has decided to make a special porcelain bowl just for her. As mom makes the bowl, Piggy enters the world being painted on its surface. There she meets and learns about the plants, animals, and other natural elements used on Chinese artworks and the messages of happiness and good-fortune that they convey.” [back cover]

Bowls of Happiness begins with the birth of a new child, naming her Piggy (pink body, wide nostrils, and her “oink-oink” cry). Mom is good at crafting pottery and makes her Piggy a bowl with various items displayed on it (clouds, butterflies, birds, flowers, and fruit), to watch over Piggy and make her happy. As a whole, the bowl is a “gift of happiness from Mommy to Piggy.” After this children’s story, Bowls of Happiness switches into the crafting of Chinese porcelain bowls and the meanings of each flower, fruit, or animal used as decoration.


Kids will find Bowls of Happiness interesting, especially if they are interested in Chinese culture. Adults will most likely get the most out of the second half, which teachers could easily use as an introduction to China and its culture. Bowls of Happiness is a beautiful book about happiness and joy on Earth ,as visualized through these exquisite Chinese porcelain bowls.


Kids in grade kindergarten to grade three are the targeted age group for Bowls of Happiness. I think, given the volume of text and the detailed information, Bowls of Happiness is best for older kids ages 8 and up.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE, MR. EMPEROR? & BOWLS OF HAPPINESS copyright © 2015-2016 by the China Institute in America, New York, NY.

Purchase What Was it Like, Mr. Emperor? at AmazonBook DepositoryIndieBound BooksChina Institute.

Purchase Bowls of Happiness at AmazonBook DepositoryIndieBound BooksChina Institute.

Find What Was it Like, Mr. Emperor? on Goodreads HERE.
Find Bowls of Happiness on Goodreads HERE.

Check out the China Institute in America at the website:  http://www.chinainstitute.org/
Follow them on Twitter         @ChinaInstitute_

WHAT WAS IT LIKE, MR. EMPEROR? Illustrations © 2016 by China Institute in America Used by permission.
BOWLS OF HAPPINESS. Illustrations © 2015 by China Institute in America Used by permission.

Copyright © 2016 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved

Full Disclosure: What Was it Like, Mr. Emperor? & Bowls of Happiness by Chiu Kwong-chiu, Eileen Ng, & Brian Tse (translated by Ben Wang) & Design and Cultural Studies Workshop & Alice Mak, and received from China Institute in America, is in exchange NOT for a positive review, but for an HONEST review. The opinions expressed are my own and no one else’s. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


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