In the Forbidden City (We All Live in the Forbidden City) by Chiu Kwong-chiu and Translated by Ben Wang

[I received a review copy of this book from the publisher.  No other compensation was received.]

In the Forbidden City is an incredible book combining beautiful spreads of architecture, fun cartoons, history, and culture.

I’m impressed with how well it balances a depth of factual information that rivals a college course and yet delights my four-year-old son with the playful cartoon cats, tourists, emperors, and more.

At first it may seem to be an intimidating or dense read because the text is small and packed together, but never fear!  The writing is engaging and excellently executed.  There are many fun and lesser-known facts, interesting blurbs, and time lines that give a new depth of understanding about the Forbidden City.

In the Forbidden City also does a superb job of tying in relevant information about the world at large to simultaneous events in the Forbidden City.  It gives both the world and the Forbidden City a greater sense of context.

There are six pages that fold out with two of the foldouts opening as many as three times and another four of the foldouts that open once. Unfolding the pages so many times delivers a grand effect and pays tribute to the size and magnitude of the Forbidden City itself.  Readers will walk away from this book with a greater understanding of the Forbidden City’s vastness in size and influence.

Please be careful with the pages!  While the act of unfolding the pages is an excellent way to convey the magnitude of the Forbidden City, please take care as you fold the pages back and then turn to the next page.  It is easy for the pages to get bent, wrinkled, and damaged.

I lived in Beijing for a semester and I had the good fortune to visit the Forbidden City.  I desperately wish this book had existed before I visited the Forbidden City in 2001.  (Actually, all I thought the first time I read through this book was, “I wish I had this book 13 years ago!”)  I rarely say that a book is a must have, but if you are planning on visiting the Forbidden City, this is a must-have book to read and experience before you visit.

This book does remind me a lot of David Macaulay’s Castle (which won a Caldecott Honor award in 1978).  The illustrations in both are of buildings, both done in black and white, and both are clear and very detailed line drawings.  The one major difference between Macaulay’s books and In the Forbidden City is that the content of Macaulay’s books are more about how a building or a particular structure is built whereas In the Forbidden City focuses more about the life and culture of those who lived in the Forbidden City. There is a significant amount of detailed information about the architecture, placement, and layout of buildings, gardens, and walls, but it is not a book about how the Forbidden City was built.  (I’m sure that subject would require a book of its own!) The strength of In the Forbidden City is in its presentation of who lived here, what they did, how they affected China and the world, and how the layout and the physical residence of the Forbidden City influenced these outcomes.

While this book is recommended for nine-year olds and older, younger children can easily and happily peruse through it.  Each page has hundreds (if not more) details for a person to pour over.  The more closely you look at the book, the more you will be rewarded.  There are many wonderful and intricate details that are worth hours of your time and attention.

My four-year-old son and I have spent a lot of time reading through and talking about this book.  I am so impressed with all that he has learned just from our casual tour of it.  Simply by having this book in our house, my four-year-old son can now identify the Forbidden City, knows that it is huge, that it is located in Beijing, that cats were allowed to roam free inside the Forbidden City, that there were many emperors, and that the last emperor was named Puyi.  He also loves the magnifying glass that comes with the book and will often just grab the book on his own and look at the illustrations with the magnifying glass.  The cartoon characters and dialogue bubbles are accessible and intriguing for him.

As he gets older, we’ll read through this book again and again.  If we get an opportunity to go visit China, he’ll be significantly more prepared to visit the Forbidden City than I was. He’ll also have a much greater appreciate and understanding of just what the Forbidden City is and why it is such a treasure.

At the end of this book is a letter from the author, Chiu Kwong-chiu for you that will leave you feeling thoughtful and inspired.  This book is absolutely amazing and truly a labor of love by all that worked so hard on it.

Ages 9+.  China Institute in America.  October 2014. 52 pages. ISBN:  978-0989377607. Nonfiction.

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© 2014 China Institute in America. Used with Permission.


© 2014 China Institute in America. Used with Permission.

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Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from the publisher. No other compensation was received.  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.”

FTC Disclosures:  Some of the links in the post above are Amazon affiliate links and others are IndieBound affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase something, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Which goes to fund my family’s picture book habit.  It’s a vicious cycle, but we manage.  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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