I have created a new Board on my Pinterest called “Chinese Children Book” where I pinned some Chinese children books to share with everyone. While we are on the subject of cultivating the habit of reading Chinese books, some of you may wonder what books are good or you may feel that you are running out of ideas for books to fill up the 100-days challenge. I hope the board will be of use to you.
Choosing Chinese books is quite easy. For young readers, a huge number of picture books are direct translation from popular English children books, which we are familiar with, such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar (好饿的毛毛虫), Blueberries for Sal (小赛尔采蓝莓) and If You Give A Mouse A Cookie (要是你给老鼠吃饼干). So if you pick these translations, you are pretty much assured of the quality of the story content. Even for the not-so-young readers, there are a huge number of translated classics.
The chinese children books industry is not as developed as in the west, so for the longest time, there are very few indigenous Chinese children books. The illustration aspect was also not as developed. If you think of, say, Eric Carle’s books, immediately, the illustrations comes to mind . Everybody who knows Eric Carle knows the illustrations that go with his book. This is not so for Chinese books. For the same classic Chinese story, there are as many different versions as there are different illustrations.
I guess Chinese traditionally do not value reading for pleasure like in the West, so reading is always associated with learning and instructions. Not to mention the fact that until very recently, literacy is restricted to the privilege class and mainly men. Hence, we grew up with that same few kinds of story books and they are still around these days. They are the ‘classics’ such as the 4 famous classics literature – 西游记，三国演义，红楼梦，水浒传 – abridged and simplified for children, historical stories from 资治通鉴 and other historical books, legends and generally stories with morals. The problem with these stories is that there are so many different versions, as different publishers attempt to simplify them in their own style. It can range from pretty good to very bad.
There are always some children books that do not fall within these categories but until recently, the quality of writing left much to be desired. Hence, these books come and go with no lasting popularity, if there were any to begin with in the first place.
These days, there are more and more Chinese authors who specialise in writing for children, so we are seeing more indigenous Chinese children books of better quality. It is a very good development because to read something written originally in Chinese is better than to read something that has been translated from another language. There is always something lost in the translation, whether the style, the nuance or the content. I also really hate reading translated names, which often throws our kids off understanding the storyline because the names are so odd when translated. E.g 迟到大王 is a funny story but the name of the main character was translated as 约翰派克罗门麦肯席 and the name begins almost every sentence in the story, so it makes it really hard to read in Chinese. Reading “John Patrick Norman McHennessy walks to school” is so different from reading “约翰派克罗门麦肯席走路去上学”.
Right now, if you are not buying something that is translated from familiar English classic children’s books, you really need to read the book to assess the content, the language and overall quality of the book. Even for the classic historical stories, you need to check because, as I said, the quality can range from pretty good to really bad. It is also not unusual to find contemporary stories written with values that are very questionable. I have wasted good money on books that did not turn out to be what I expected. The stories are quite twisted, with characters cheating and killing each other and the moral rather disturbing. E.g. you get eaten up by big bad wolf if you are not good, or a story detailing how greedy people cheat and kill each other.
Where do you buy good Chinese children books?
I like to buy from Maha Yuyi at Bras Basah Complex. They have a separate unit just focusing on children books and have quite a good range. I also find the staff very knowledgeable and helpful in recommending good books, so I always consult them when I do not know what to buy. (I earn no commission from them for making this recommendation.)
I generally do not buy from Popular because I am usually not impressed by their range of children’s books. That being said, I did notice that lately, they have been improving in this area.
I was delighted to discover that the library now stock a lot of the good books that I can get from Maha Yuyi. So the library is really a good place to get books.
Lastly, if you noticed, my Pinterest board pins mainly link to China online bookstore on Tmall or Taobao. There are two reasons for this : firstly, it is the easiest to find pictures of the books there, so that I can pin the book covers for easy reference. Secondly, these days, I do buy a lot of my books online from China web stores and I know that more and more people are getting very savvy at buying from Taobao or Tmall. If you are one of them, you may find these links useful.
*Note : The widget at the sidebar is the actual working widget, not the one above (even though it does link to the pinterest board).