Teaching History with Children’s Literature: Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures Imperial China

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Have you ever thought about how much students would learn if they could go back in time to visit the countries and civilizations that they are studying in history? The book, Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Imperial China, written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen, takes readers on an adventure to ancient China during a Chinese New Year celebration over 1,000 years ago and explains lots of information about ancient China and Chinese culture along the way.

When the story begins, Ms. Frizzle and two of her students, Wanda and Arnold, are celebrating the Chinese New Year at a local Chinatown festival. As a parade passes by, Wanda, Arnold, and Ms. Frizzle duck under the dancing dragon. When they peek out from under the dragon, they discover that they are no longer in Chinatown and have traveled back in time to visit a farmers’ village in China. The villagers there are also celebrating the Chinese New Year.

We were under the dragon for a long time. When the dragon came to a stop, we peeked out. Chinatown was gone! We were in a farmers’ village in China, and it was one thousand years ago! 

While in ancient China, Ms. Frizzle and her students dine with the farmers and help work in their rice fields. They learn all about growing rice and also discover that this year’s rice crop has been very small and as a result, the farmers cannot afford to pay all their taxes. Ms. Frizzle’s group decides to travel to the capital city to talk to the Emperor and tell him to lower the taxes. On their way to the Emperor’s palace, Ms. Frizzle and her students meet the Chinese poet Su Shi who teaches them about Chinese writing, visit a town market and learn how silk is made, and watch a battle between Chinese soldiers and an invading army at the Great Wall of China. Finally, they arrive at the capital city and find the Emperor’s palace. They then return home by walking through an “amazing door” that takes them directly into Wanda’s living room, just in time for her family’s New Year’s banquet.

Curriculum Connections
Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Imperial China would be an excellent book to use as part of a history lesson on ancient China. This book provides lots of information about ancient China and Chinese culture and brings the history of China to life in a memorable and educational way.

In addition to describing Ms. Frizzle’s journey through China, sections at the bottom of each page tell about many ancient Chinese inventions that are still used today, including kites, umbrellas, the compass, paper, gunpowder, and fireworks. They also show how rice is grown and how silk is made, describe the meaning of several Chinese symbols, and provide additional information about the 15-day Chinese New Year celebration.

In Virginia, this book relates to social studies SOLs 2.1 and 2.4, which state that students will explain how the contributions of ancient China have influenced the present world in terms of inventions and written language and will understand the relationship between the environment and the culture of ancient China.

Additional Resources

  • Here is a link to a Chinese New Year lesson plan. This lesson includes 4 hands-on activities that allow students to experience traditional Chinese activities, including the dragon dance and making red envelopes as a symbol of good fortune. There is also a section with background information regarding these traditions and their symbolism in Chinese culture.
  • This China webquest was designed for second graders and includes links to information about names in Chinese, Chinese writing, the Great Wall of China, and the Chinese calendar, as well as a student activity sheet for students to complete while doing the webquest.
  • This ABCs of China unit contains seventeen different lessons related to China’s geography, holidays, inventions, daily life, language, and customs.

Book: Ms. Frizzle’s Adventures: Imperial China
Author: Joanna Cole
Illustrator: Bruce Degen
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 40 pages
Grades: 1-3
ISBN: 0-590-10822-0