Bilingual Chinese and English Storybooks

** Today’s post is sponsored by Travel, Learn and See Your Friends: Adventures in Mandarin Immersion by Edna Ma. I also received a review copy of the hardcover. As usual, all opinions and thoughts are my own. This post includes Amazon affiliate links (the price you pay is the same; Amazon shares a tiny bit of that with me). Also, leave a comment about your favorite Chinese story on this post by Monday, 1/15/18 at 11:59pm PST for a chance to win this book!

People often tell me that I’m a little bit too hard core for them about teaching my kids Chinese.

I get it. I really do.

I know that most of you who want to teach your kids Chinese are not going to homeschool, spend thousands of dollars on Chinese books, or head back to Taiwan for weeks at a time.

Sometimes, I think I’m just a smidge overboard about it all, too.

I know that many of the books I discuss are hard for folks to access – either because you have to navigate online bookstores in Chinese and figure out international shipping or because you have no way of reading the book to your kids even if you bought it.

This is when bilingual books with both Chinese and English on the same page can come in handy. Today’s book, Travel, Learn and See Your Friends: Adventures in Mandarin Immersion by Dr. Edna Ma, can solve several of those problems for you.

First, you can buy it on Amazon.

Second, it’s a bilingual book! That means the story is written in English, Simplified Chinese, and also has pinyin so even non-speaking parents can “read” the book. Plus, there will be a YouTube video by Linda Yi of Panda Cub Stories narrating the whole book so you can follow along!

As someone who is not functionally literate in Chinese, I cannot tell you how annoying it is to have all these awesome Chinese picture books that are made for parents to read to their children except, womp womp, I’m illiterate.

I see a wall of Chinese text and I want to cry. Or scream.

But now, here’s a book with Simplified Chinese (for my kid to practice), pinyin (to support me or your children as they read the Chinese), and English (so I can understand what I just read!).

Alright, alright. So it helps you overcome these hurdles. What is this book about?

Travel, Learn and See Your Friends is based on the real friendship of Dr. Ma’s son, Dean, and his friend, Ethan, when they were first-graders attending a Mandarin Immersion school. Through their friendship, the boys learn about different reasons to learn Mandarin, their own families, and the world. They even come up with a clever idea to keep in touch when Dean finds out he is moving.

Here’s what I love most about this book. It is a bilingual book featuring children who live in the US, doing normal every day things. That’s practically a unicorn!

It’s refreshing to see a Chinese/English bilingual book that has nothing to do with living in a Chinese speaking country, doesn’t feature animal characters, and is not a re-telling of a Chinese Myth.

Travel, Learn and See Your Friends features elementary school kids at a US based Mandarin Immersion school and is a completely original story.

Furthermore, this book features main characters who are people of color. Dean is Chinese American and Ethan is African American and guess what? The book doesn’t make a big deal out of it at all.

It is so rare for children’s books with main characters of color that are NOT about something “ethnic” or “after school special” or “foreign holidays.”

I cannot tell you how exciting it is to have a book with a Chinese American kid that is not about Chinese New Year or the Autumn Moon Festival or an African American kid that is not about Martin Luther King Jr. or slavery or Civil Rights.

Seriously. This book is a unicorn.

On top of that, the illustrations are engaging and show families of color in loving, normal, every day situations. That is a powerful thing.

Despite there being essentially 3x the amount of text in a normal story book in order to accommodate all the translations, the layout never feels too crowded or claustrophobic. Again, that is a hard thing to accomplish and still have a longer and coherent story.

Third, I love supporting women of color authors. Yes, white people can definitely (and should, if we’re being honest) write characters of color in a fully developed and appropriate manner. But there is just something beautiful to me about books with kids of color in it written by a person of color.

Representation matters – in all aspects – and in our current clime, more important than ever.

Here’s my main concern about this book. It is very obvious that the Chinese version does not flow the way a story authored by a native speaker would. Though the Chinese version is literally accurate and grammatically correct, it lacks spirit – that spark in the language the English version has.

The Chinese stumbles most while describing events or explaining a situation. Sometimes, it is because of a regional preference like using 襯衫 (chen4 shan) vs 上衣 (shang4 yi) for the term, “shirt.” Other times, it is because though the sentence is technically correct, it is not the words you would use when telling a story to children.

Don’t worry too much, though. Your children (and myself included) will learn different ways to express an idea and have a richer, more adult vocabulary as a benefit.

The Chinese is much more natural sounding when it is a conversation between the two boys and between the parents and children.

Keep in mind, Dr. Ma grew up speaking Cantonese and English so she wrote the story in English and hired several Chinese translators to do the Chinese version. You can see the care and attentiveness to accuracy reflected in the text. I only wish that the translators were a bit more creative in their expressions!

That said, this book is good for people who have found it difficult to find quality Chinese and English bilingual storybooks for their children. The pain of reading a book to your kid in Chinese has now been removed. (Again, there will even be a YouTube video narrated by Linda Yi of Panda Cub Stories.)

Plus, you can find it on Amazon instead of hoping you didn’t just buy a llama on a yacht and promise your firstborn to pay for shipping on an all-Chinese online website.

Also, this Travel, Learn and See Your Friends makes a good gift for kids in or considering Mandarin Immersion programs, kids who want to learn about other languages, and quite frankly, kids in general.

Cookie Monster (8) and Gamera (6) read most of the passages with ease (Cookie Monster knows ~1300 characters and Gamera knows ~1100). They cannot read English or pinyin so they really were reading! (I was frankly, quite surprised.)

I left the book out on the kitchen table to see what would happen and over the course of two weeks, I saw Cookie Monster pick up the book several times (without me ever asking), flip through and peruse the story. He said he liked the illustrations and clearly understood the story and the characters (remember – he can’t read English or pinyin).

Gamera saw the book and asked about it, but she did not want to read it. She has been anti-reading lately so it was most likely that.

Even Glow Worm (4) would pick up Travel, Learn and See Your Friends and look through the pictures for a few minutes. He DEFINITELY cannot read any of the languages!

I’ve included some pertinent details, pictures, and video below.

Title: Travel, Learn and See Your Friends: Adventures in Mandarin Immersion

Where to Buy: Amazon

How to Enter the Book Giveaway: Leave a comment about your favorite Chinese story by Monday, 1/15/18 at 11:59pm PST in the comment section of THIS POST. (Do NOT comment on Facebook, IG, Tw, postcard, or snail mail.)

Sample Pages: 

Here’s a snippet of Gamera (6) reading two pages from Travel, Learn and See Your Friends. Keep in mind, Gamera also does not know how to read English or pinyin so she is only reading the Chinese characters.

Here’s a snippet of Cookie Monster (8) reading an excerpt. Keep in mind, Cookie Monster also does not know how to read English or pinyin so he isn’t “cheating,” either.

Thanks again for reading! Please be sure to check out Travel, Learn and See Your Friends on Amazon (I believe there is also an audio clip you can hear.)

Don’t forget to leave a comment about your favorite Chinese story on this blog post by Monday, 1/15/18 at 11:59pm PST for a chance to win this book!

28 thoughts on “Bilingual Chinese and English Storybooks

  1. I’ve heard that this is the first in a series of books about the two main characters in their families, who travel to China in the next ones! Exciting!

  2. Love your detailed posts as always, and lol about the llama and the yacht sacrifices we make for online Chinese shopping! Anyway, I’m really excited to to see a new bilingual Chinese-English book out there! I like the illustrations! And I completely agree with you that it is a relief that the book is not about one of the Chinese Holidays – that’s exactly how I felt when I was searching for Chinese activities and they were mostly limited to zodiac crafts, therefore prompting me to share my website. The irony of me typing this is that my daughter who normally loves reading about health and science-related books is currently obsessed with reading and listening to the Chinese 12 生肖 stories. So that’s my long-winded answer to the entry for the giveaway 🙂

  3. My 2yo really likes the stories in the Treasure Box from Sagebooks. There are also lots of Chinese books in our public library but I think the ones translated from award winners (caldecott, Newbury, etc) are the best.

    • Congratulations, Rachelle! You’re the winner of this book! Please email me at virginia @ mandarinmama.com so I can get your address and send you a copy from the publisher! Please let me know by Friday, 1/19/18 at 11:59pm or I will have to move on to the next person.

  4. For Chinese language books that are not just dragons and holidays (though those can be great), you can search by language under books (it is pretty far down the left column) and then select only Prime eligible books to weed out possibly sketch marketplace sellers. I love the No David! books in Chinese. They are so relatable for kids, they usually already know the story and the stories can be used in different ways in the classroom/home.

  5. My favorite Chinese stories are the ones that my kids can actually read. My daughter has finally figured out the hungry 🐛 translation so that is my current favorite! Plus, includes a bunch of food words that we use in daily life like cake and pickle.

  6. i had a childhood friend that could speak many languages. it always amazes me how someone can do that so quickly. true talent it takes to be able to juggle more than one language.

  7. I always love your posts and tips, mandarin Mama (thanks!). I try to drop by Walmart every time I’m in China for business and pick up random Chinese books for my kids that also have pinyin for me. We don’t usually make it through the stories in the anthologies because there’s too many words with not enough illustrations. But the one we did make it through recently was the one about the mom who has to cut the wolf’s stomach open to rescue her kids. I liked the story as a kid but man it seems pretty morbid now!

  8. My kids really like the Elmer the Elephant series picture board books that are translated into Chinese from the English. We have Elmer’s weather, Elmer’s Colors, and Elmer’s Day.

  9. We’ve been loving the Xiao Ji books, about the family of chicks and their mommy and daddy. Going camping, celebrating their birthday, celebrating Christmas . . . etc.

    I love your blog. Thanks for the year-end round up of favorite posts the other day! And thanks for letting us know about THIS book!

    • I did! There’s a preview on Amazon (or at least there was) and it’s very clearly enunciated and easy to follow along. I think there will be additional sound effects later.

  10. What a great review! Your description of what it’s like to buy books from a Chinese website is spot on. I don’t have a favorite book because my exposure has been so limited. I love your review, and I love your blog! Thank you!

  11. Ahhhh you know how I feel about “Chinese New Year after school specials.” 😂 Tough call on my favorite story since most of what I read as a kid was Chinese translations of western stories (3 Little Pigs, Thumbelina, Wizard of Oz etc.) Do my parents stories of childhood in Taiwan count??

  12. Thanks for posting images of the book so that we can get an idea of the content and level of difficulty! My kids would love this book. Currently their favorite stories are of the adventures of Winnie the Pooh in Chinese. We got them on a trip a couple of years ago and now they’ve seen the movies in Mandarin too.

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