The Empty Pot

Grade 1-3— When the Chinese emperor proclaims that his successor will be the child who grows the most beautiful flowers from the seeds the emperor distributes, Ping is overjoyed. Like the emperor, he loves flowers and anything he plants bursts into bloom. But the emperor’s seed will not grow, despite months of loving care, and Ping goes before the emperor carrying only his empty pot. The emperor ignores the beautiful blossoms brought by the other children and chooses Ping, revealing that the seeds he handed out had been cooked and could not grow. This simple story with its clear moral is illustrated with beautiful paintings. Each page contains a single picture, shaped like a stiff, rounded, paper fan and framed in celadon brocade that subtly changes pattern from one spread to the next. Isometric perspective, traditional Chinese architecture, and landscape motifs are combined with Demi’s fine line and lively children and animals. While all the landscapes featuring the emperor and the other children are in brilliant red, gold, and purple, the scenes involving Ping alone are predominantly beige and delicate green. Ping is almost always shown as a solitary figure in contrast to the busy groups of running, smiling children, reinforcing theportrait of him as a quieter, more contemplative person whose values make him a worthy heir to the emperor. A beautifully crafted book that will be enjoyed as much for the richness of its illustrations as for the simplicity of its story. —Eleanor K. MacDonald, Beverly Hills Public Library
Year of Publication
Number of Pages
Henry Holt and Co.
ISSN Number
Average: 4.7 (3 votes)


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The Empty Pot Review

Field of Interest/Specialty: Work Projects
Posted On: 06/19/2019

Oliver Jia, NCTA Student Worker
The Empty Pot by Demi is a classic children’s story set in China that teachers the value of honesty and integrity over taking shortcuts. The Emperor, in search of an heir, distributes seeds to children. Whoever can grow the most beautiful flower in one year’s time will be declared his successor. Protagonist Ping does his best to grow his own flower, but to no avail. By the end, he has no choice but to present the Emperor his empty pot. Although a simple tale aimed at young children, the beautiful artwork is wonderful to look at and I think that the story’s frank message will be easily grasped.
This being a children’s story, I can only see it having use at the elementary school level. I distinctly remember even my own elementary school teacher telling this story to my class. Although that was well over 15 years ago, the message of The Empty Pot has still stuck with me and I could instantly recall the entire story. Hopefully the same message can be imparted onto other children.

Beautifully Illustrated; Wonderful example example of Asian tale

Field of Interest/Specialty: Elementary Education
Posted On: 01/19/2017

Age appropriate 7-10 years old.
The Empty Pot is a beautifully illustrated picture book. It is a wonderful example of a story that touches on Asian tales. I would use this text when teaching about Asian tales.
This story takes place in China where the main character, a young boy named Ping, loves flowers and whatever he grew would always blossom into the most beautiful flower. In the kingdom where Ping lives, the Emperor is realizing that he is getting old and will need a successor. One day the Emperor sent a proclamation to the children of his kingdom stating that whoever grows the most beautiful flowers from his seeds becomes his successor. Ping was very confident that he could grow the most beautiful flowers out of any seed! Ping had a problem. His seeds were not growing no matter what he tried. When the year past and spring arose again, it was time to show the Emperor their growing plants from the seeds he gave them. All were excited to go except for Ping for he had an empty pot. His father reminded him that he did his best and that is good enough to present to the Emperor. All the other children showed up to the palace with pots of fully bloomed flowers except Ping. Ping’s empty pot caught the Emperor’s eye amongst them all. When the Emperor asked why he presented him with an empty pot, he told the truth. He tried his best, but no plant would grow. The Emperor told him that he gave everyone cooked seeds, so no one would have grown a plant from them. Ping’s courage and honestly before the Emperor rewarded him the kingdom.

The Empty Pot (Picture Book K-3)

Field of Interest/Specialty: Kindergarten
Posted On: 04/02/2011

As I recently explored the themes of Spring planting, Honesty, and China with my Kindergarten students I was thrilled to happen upon The Empty Pot by Demi. A simple tale with delightful, intricate illustrations, I found that this book is better to read to children on an individual basis or in very small groups so they are able to see the details and ask questions. The message of honesty is rather subtle and can be missed by easily distracted children in a large group setting. A few of my students had to have it read twice before they "got it."
The Emperor is seeking his successor and gives all of the children in the land a seed to grow. The child with the best flower at the end of the year will win the competition and become his heir. Little do they know that the seeds have been cooked and it's impossible for them to grow. The protagonist, a little boy named Ping, has a green thumb and loves to garden. He tries and tries to get his seed to grow, but to no avail, so he arrives at the palace distraught with an empty pot. All of the other children have apparently grown other seeds and present beautiful flowers to the emporor. But once the secret is revealed it is Ping who is the chosen one, because he is the only honest one. If only we could choose our politicians in this manner!
Five and six-year-olds still believe in Santa Clause, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. They are still trying to determine fact from fiction and they are constantly wrestling with the concept of truth. I spend a good bit of time throughout the year reading books and discussing honesty. What I love about this story, besides the artwork and Chinese scenery, is the way in which Ping is rewarded for being honest, even though it was painful and embarrassing for him. After reading this to my students, we discussed similar situations that had happened to them, how they felt, and what the outcome was. Ping is a small, courageous hero, which is something I hope for all of the children in our society to be. We also discussed the plants, trees, pottery, architecture and clothing in the story. I find it to be a nice addition to a K-3 unit on China, because it has so much to offer beyond facts. I love this story and feel confident that you will too.