Posted in History, Middle Grade, Non-fiction

What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? A Brief History of Chinese Emperors

Mr_-Emperor-Front-300x300What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? Life in China’s Forbidden City, by Chiu Kwong-chiu and Eileen Ng (translated by Ben Wang)/Illustrated by Design & Cultural Studies Workshop, (Oct. 2015, China Institute in America), $12.95, ISBN 978-0-9893776-6-9

Recommended for ages 8-13

Kids learn about the U.S. Presidents, some European royalty (usually Ferdinand and Isabella in Spain, Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and King George III in England), and current heads of state, but Chinese emperors and ruling dynasties isn’t something that’s normally found on the curriculum. The China Institute in America is taking this dilemma on with the book, What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? Life in China’s Forbidden City. One of four We All Live in the Forbidden City books, Mr. Emperor introduces kids to China’s emperors, with brief biographies and answers to questions like, “How was the emperor chosen? What was school like? Who were his friends?” We learn a little bit about each emperor – princes who fought off rebel invasions, princes who didn’t do a whole lot during their reign, one emperor who ruled twice, and the roles of other members of court life, including the palace maids, the dowager empresses, and the many advisors to the rulers.

There’s a lot of information packed into these beautifully illustrated pages, and it’s a great companion for an elementary unit on China. It brings the history to kids with questions that they’ll be interested in, and easily digestible facts illustrated by artist Chiu Kwong-chiu.  The We All Live in the Forbidden City website is loaded with activities and resources to expand the discussion.

The original book and content have been developed in Hong Kong in consultation with the Forbidden City’s Palace Museum in Beijing, ensuring authentic content and resources.


I'm a mom, a children's librarian, bibliophile, and obsessive knitter. I'm a pop culture junkie and a proud nerd, and favorite reads usually fall into Sci-Fi/Fantasy. I review comics and graphic novels at WhatchaReading ( I'm also the co-founder of On Wednesdays We Wear Capes (, where I discuss pop culture and geek fandom from a female point of view.

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