Our family has embarked on virtual travels to various countries and regions. To explore these countries and their cultures, we have followed along with the festivals, cooked and eaten traditional foods, learned of traditional handicrafts with hands on exploration, along with many activities to immerse ourselves. Chronicled here are some of these activities.

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Friday, November 15, 2013

Chinese Dragons: Legends & Folktales with books and crafts

Dragons are important creatures in Chinese mythology and culture. They are symbols of power, strength and good luck.

In China, dragons were believed to be water gods, flying up to the skies each spring to ensure plenty of rain fell on the farmlands. Dragons were believed to live in water such as lakes, rivers, seas and pools, and their magic was well tied to it, causing thunderstorms, controlling tides and ensuring rain. Since a good harvest made the difference between a life of hunger or well being, dragons were honored and worshiped. They reward those who please them, and punish those who anger them. Unlike western dragons that breathe fire, Chinese dragons breather clouds.

Photo Credit: Lee Hsu-Hong
Chinese dragons have the head of a camel or horse, the horns of a deer, eyes of a rabbit, ears of a cow, body and tail of a serpent, scales of a fish, claws of a hawk, and paws of a tiger. They can move, breathe and live in water, on land and in the skies. They also have the power to transform into human or animal forms. They have a magic pearl that enables them to fly, which is carefully guarded, either in their mouth or under their chin. The pearl is associated with wealth and prosperity.

Photo Credit: Peiyu Liu
The dragon was considered the symbol of emperors, and it was forbidden for anyone but the Emperor and his sons to use the five clawed dragon as an emblem of any sort. There are legends of emperors who are descended from dragons, and the imperial throne is called the Dragon Throne. 

Dragon sculpture in the Forbidden City
Photo Credit: Adrian Tritschler
Dragons continue to be featured during festivals, especially the Lunar New Year, with dragon dances, and the Dragon boat festival.

Dragon Dance
Photo Credit: Chris
If you were to draw a creature derived from so many different animals, what would it look like? Here's a printable with a prompt to see what your "dragon" would look like with the same parts as a Chinese dragon.

Printable Prompt

You can find a small round up of Chinese dragon crafts here, and our process making our dragon puppets (see above right) here

My Poppet offers a great tutorial to make a dragon puppet (left) and Spoonful offers a printable Chinese dragon mask (right)

Here are a few picture books we have read relating to Chinese dragons that the girls particularly appreciated:

Legend of the Chinese Dragon (English and Mandarin Chinese Edition)by Marie Sellier. This book is gorgeous, with colorful woodcut illustrations, Chinese chops and Chinese calligraphy alongside the English words. It is a simple story, that tells of various tribes at war with each other, in the name of their protective animal spirits. In order to put an end to the conflict, the children of the tribes create a new protective spirit to guide them, using parts of each tribe's animal: creating The Dragon, a symbol of peace. This is a great book to introduce the creatures from which the dragon was imagined.
The Sons of the Dragon King: A Chinese Legend by Ed Young is based on Ming dynasty texts that describe the nine sons of the dragon and how they play a part in Chinese culture. With simple black and white brush and ink paintings, and intricate, colorful cut paper images, Ed Young retells the legend of the dragon king's nine sons. Each son appears unfit to lead as befitting a king's son, but when their individual talents and interests are considered, the dragon king finds a role for each of them. This book also describes where we can find the nine dragon sons in Chinese architecture and decorations even today.

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. 

I've linked up this post to this great blog hops of children's book reviews at
 the Kid Lit Blog Hop and activities to do with folktales at the Poppins Book Nook

Kid Lit Blog Hop

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.   


  1. What a great informational post. Love the projects! Thanks for taking part in the Kid Lit Blog Hop. The books look fantastic!

  2. What an amazing and complete resources about Chinese dragon!! Your site is for sure one of the best to introduce Chinese culture to English-speaking readers. Thank you so much for sharing with us at Kid Lit Blog Hop!

  3. Having lived, studied and worked in Mainland China, I think it's wonderful you're highlighting aspects of Chinese culture such as the dragon. I'll definitely need to have a look at some of these dragon books.
    I've found you through the KidLitBlogHop

  4. Thank you for the excellent dragon resources. I foresee another dragon study in our future complete with masks.

    Thank you for helping to bring a spoonful of reading fun to the Poppins Book Nook this month!

    1. Dragons are always a fun study - thanks for stopping by!


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