This Saturday, January 25th, is Chinese New Year! Woo Hoo! To celebrate, I thought I would share some of my favorite Chinese/bilingual children’s books with you all! The first book I’ll tell you all about is Travel, Learn and See Your Friends, written by Dr. Edna Ma, translated by Eddie Liu and illustrated by Irfan Budhiharjo. By the way, if the author’s name sounds familiar, you may have seen her on SURVIVOR or Shark Tank, or most recently, on The Doctors! How cool is that! OK, now on to my review!
This is the first book of the Mandarin Immersion Adventure series, and I LOVED it! It is a beautiful story about friendship, learning and diversity – told in English, Chinese and Pinyin (pronunciation) – set in a Mandarin immersion school. My son is in a Mandarin immersion Saturday school and it was so nice to finally find a story in this setting. My only wish is that this book was around when he first started in first grade!
In this story, 2 little boys, one excited (Ethan) and one nervous (Dean), were just beginning first grade at the immersion school in LA. They become fast and best friends and discover that they have lots in common and that even their moms talk the same way – they both say things like “study hard” – just like I do! Haha! I appreciate how the boys and their parents discuss why it’s good for them to learn Mandarin – it reinforces what I try to tell my son all the time! It was great having him read this book!
Midway through the story, Dean learns that they are moving! Oh no! Dean does not want to leave Ethan, so he researches and comes up with an ingenious proposal for him and Ethan to be able to spend the summer together. They called their plan T.L. See for Travel, Learn and See Ethan! I don’t want to give away the ending so you will have to read the book to find out their plan!
This story reminds me of when my son first started Chinese school. I was more nervous that he was! But he made a friend the very first day (they are still friends and are still in Saturday immersion school together) just like Ethan and Dean! Having a friend makes school so much more enjoyable!
Another thing that’s great about this book is the underlying diversity and multicultural aspect of it. Even though Ethan and Dean come from different race/ethnic backgrounds (Ethan is African American, and Dean is Chinese American), this is something they never even notice as they immediately become best buds. This is the way it should be and this story, assisted by the wonderful illustrations, reinforces that all kids, even if they look different, are basically the same – they all love to play, have fun and hang with their friends!
Finally, this book is special because very few books have English, Chinese and Pinyin so people like me, who can’t read Chinese (although I can speak some), can still pronounce the Chinese by reading the Pinyin. Being able to read the Pinyin helps build your Chinese vocabulary, and seeing the characters with the Pinyin helps you learn to read those Chinese characters. Furthermore, of the few books which do have both Chinese and Pinyin that I have seen, most are more instructional and don’t tell an interesting and relatable story, like this one. I liked this book so much that I am off to read the next one in this series!
Happy reading and Happy Chinese New Year – Xīnnián kuàilè (新年快乐)!