Book review: The Chinese Emperor’s New Clothes by Ying Chang Compestine and illustrated by David Roberts.

Ying Chang Compestine has written a story that was inspired by her secret reading of The Emperor’s New Clothes when she was a child. Growing up in Communist China, Ying Chang Compestine was an avid reader but books from the West had to be read in secret. This did not deter her and her family and today we have this delight of a book which truly is so precious.

The Chinese Emperor's New Clothes

It is not often, infact never have I photographed the picture book I am reviewing alongside its book jacket but let’s just take a moment to appreciate the exquisite illustrations. Everything about David Roberts work here is a celebration of  the many different cultures that we stand alongside. I couldn’t contain my excitement but to read this picture book straight away.


Meet Ming Da, an honest, loyal, young emperor of China. David Roberts has created a character with such a gentle face and one that looks so young. At only 9 years old Ming Da thrives to do the best for his kingdom and its people but sadly his young age is taken advantage of by his corrupt ministers. They are greedy and criminal, stealing money, jewels and all things nice but Ming Da is aware of their ways and just needs to find a way of teaching them a lesson.

With Chinese New Year approaching tailors prepare to meet Ming Da, as traditionally new clothes are expected to be worn on the day of the festival. Ming Da longs for the street children to also be dressed in finer items and with the help of the friendly, gently looking tailors he creates a plan to fool the ministers.


Ming Da decides that all the outfits for Chinese New Year should be made out of sacks. He explains that those who are honest will see how beautiful they can become and those who are dishonest will see them simply as sacks. The ministers of course play along with what Ming Da has stated but their  dishonest sides comes to light. Each minister wants their outfit to stand out so they are willing to pay the tailors secretly for more material and elaborate detailing. However, Ming Da’s very clever plan is working, as with the money the tailors are receiving Ming Da is using to do as he aspires to, help others.


Ming Da shows how great a leader he can be. His plan to trick his ministers works and on the day of New Year celebrations they are all ridiculed for their choice of sack outfits.

Young readers will witness that Ming Da was determined to help those who were not as fortunate as himself. Ying Chang Compestine’s choice of a young emperor makes the story more relatable to young ones and I am sure it will be a story that will encourage much discussion about empathy, charity and remaining determined making it great story to share with 5 year olds and up.

Complete with David Roberts illustrations this book is a delight to the eyes. David Roberts, also illustrator of Ada Twist, Scientist has used a gorgeous palette of colours with the use of water colours and ink. The expressive faces of each of the characters and Ming Da’s little pet mouse did not go unnoticed.

This a clever retelling of a classic story and quite honestly one I much prefer. Share this book with your young ones and absorb the Chinese culture adorning each page.

Thank you so much to publishers Abrams and Chronicles for sending us this book.


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