PPBF: Bowls Of Happiness

Today I'm delighted to add a cultural gem to our ever-growing PPBF list.

Title: Bowls of Happiness: Treasures from China and the Forbidden City
Author: Brian Tse
Illustrator: Alice Mak
Translation: Ben Wang
Publisher: China Institute in America
Date: November 17, 2015
Suitable for ages: 4-8
Genre: Cultural Studies
Themes: Chinese culture, happiness, prosperity
Brief synopsis from Simon & SchusterPiggy'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 outside. There she meets and learns about the animals used on these Chinese artworks and the messages of happiness and good-fortune that they convey.

Opening page

Mommy says, "At the sight of Piggy, my heart leaps with joy!" That's because my nickname is Piggy.

Mommy remembers when she picked me up, right after I was born, with my pink body, my wide cheeks, and my large nostrils. "Oink, oink, oink!" I cried and cried, just like a piggy. So Dad said, "Might as well call her Piggy!"

*Check out the five reviews from Good Reads {here}. 
*Read a thoughtful endorsement from Unleashing Readers {here}.
*Compare and contrast Bowls of Happiness with a blog post I wrote a few years back called The Bowl.
*Let Piggy's story spark a discussion about nicknames.
Do you have a nickname?
What is it?
How did you get it?
Who gets to call you by that name?
Is there anyone who does not get to call you that?
What do you think of Piggy's nickname?
If you could pick your own nickname, what would it be?

Why I like this book:  As a character educator, I am always looking for enrichment resources that support cultural traditions and awareness, especially when it's time for a special celebration like Chinese New Year. Though the publisher recommends it for children ages 4-8, I actually read it with a fourth-grade boy and I think he may have even connected with it more than I did.

This book holds so many possible directions to springboard. In the second part of the book after Piggy's creative fantasy through the pictures on Mom's bowl, the reader gets a peek into the cultural beliefs about happiness in the Chinese world. Then, some challenging imagery and insight about the symbolism behind the bowls among the Chinese Emperors, more historic engagement, and a challenge: Make your own bowl. 

And while it'd be really cool to have students color the template in the book or make a papier-mâché bowl, imagine the extension possibilities 
if your child(ren) could paint images on a porcelain bowl 
or, better yet, sculpt and fire a clay bowl.

If you're looking for a service component to enrich the reading of this book, plan a soup supper and decide whom you want to feed. My friend Tina in Missouri does this very thing in her Art classes with a project called Bowls For Hunger. Ask your students how they might mimic that project or use that service-learning idea for something they could do as a class, like host an International Epicurean day. Whom would they invite and what would they serve?

Finally, open up a discussion about the differences between happiness and joy.

For a list of today's PPBF picks, visit Susana's blog next. 


  1. This looks delightful! I will definitely be checking this one out at the library.

    1. Hope your library has it, Heather. It's definitely worth checking out!

  2. What a beautiful story about cultural beliefs and traditions to share with kids at school. Sounds like a treasure. I can't imagine how the character got the nickname "Piggy," unless it is related to her Chinese birth year.

    1. I don't know if it connects to her birth year, Pat, so much as it has to do with her looking like a piglet at birth. I think you'll find it intriguing, for sure; quite different from most on my shelf.

  3. Definitely a picture book I am interested in reading. Your ideas on furthering the discussion of this book are wonderful.

    1. I hope you enjoy it, Leslie ~ I like it as much for its extension potential as I do for the actual text. The second part of the book really is rich with cultural background!

  4. What a wonderful concept for a blog! And I'm excited to read about this PB highlighting China's culture. My daughter (19) just returned from a trip there, including the Forbidden City! I learned so much from her travels.

    1. Thank you, Lindsey, for coming by and for sharing your story. My son is headed to China next May and I can't wait to learn from his experiences!

  5. So much heart in this story. I loved this review and suggestions as the story can clearly be read on several levels.

    1. Happy New Year, Joanna ~ and thanks for your kind affirmations. I, too, love stories that allow us to peel back layers beneath the actual text.

  6. WOW...Barbara...this looks like a most wonderful book...I will try to get this one, for sure. And your activities are amazing!

    1. Hi Vivian, and thanks for stopping by. It is definitely an interesting and intriguing read.

  7. This should be an interesting read. In Germany, the pig is a symbol for good luck, but it's not nice at all to call someone a pig.

    1. Thanks for your reflection, Julie; that'd be an interesting discussion, wouldn't it? They called her Piggy because she was all pink and wrinkly when she was born. I'd love to hear what kids say about her nickname.

  8. Such wonderful extension activities to go with such a touching book. Added to my list.

  9. This looks like a wonderful story to share.


I really enjoy hearing from my readers; thanks for sharing your reflections with us!

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