The Secret to Picking Good Chinese Books!
By Chou Sing Chu Foundation
The school holidays are the best time for children to cultivate the habit of reading. With the examinations being the last thing on the children’s mind, they can explore the fascinating worlds in the books at their own pace. Our previous column (How Hard is Reading Chinese?) started off this series with an introduction on how to encourage your child to start reading Chinese books. This time round, let us go through the basic steps in choosing good Chinese books.
All About the Writer and Content
The main difference between choosing Chinese and English children’s books is that the publisher of the former alone is no guarantee of quality. Major English book publishers typically run a separate department to oversee the publication of children’s books, making it easier for parents to find quality English children’s books. It is a different story for Chinese children’s books. As a result of the adoption of simplified Chinese in Singapore’s education policy, many Chinese children’s books are imported from Mainland China. The sheer number of publishers in the market is enough to make any parent confused. Therefore, choosing a good Chinese children’s book should start with the writer and content instead.
Not every children’s book can be categorised as children’s literature, which can generally be divided into stories and fables. With content targeted at young children, most stories often begin with the familiar “Once upon a time…”. The storyline usually revolves around the tussle between the good guys and the bad guys but the good guys will always emerge as the victor. The story of Nezha is the classic example. Furthermore, the animals in a typical children’s story would take on human characteristics, talking and possessing human emotions, thus endearing them to the children readers. Even if there is an occasional brutality and horror in the storyline, the main consideration will always be the pure, innocent perspective of children.
Given the emphasis on English, our children’s command of the Chinese language is a pale shadow of the past generations. Therefore, a page full of Chinese text would likely scare your child off reading it but the opposite – too much simplification, too much hanyu pinyin, or streamlining the story by editing out parts of the story – may end up hindering the learning process when the beauty of the language is lost. One workaround is to choose the illustrated version of the Chinese literature classics. When your child has made enough progress and is ready for the next step, choose short Chinese stories with richer content.
Graded Chinese Books
Just focussing on reading alone might make many parents wonder when they can see the results of their children’s hard work. It is understandable that parents are hoping their children’s improved reading ability can build a better foundation for their children to handle the examinations in the mainstream education system. But there is a win-win solution! Parents with such concerns can try out the graded and illustrated reading materials as there are many such offerings on the market right now that include a combination of short stories with annotations to further aid the children’s learning. The Singapore Ministry of Education and China’s largest publisher of teaching materials, People’s Education Press, have collaborated in developing supplementary reading materials that are suitable for students at every primary level in Singapore. These graded books are available in local bookstores, as well as the libraries.
Every story is the product of the hard work of the writers. Who are they writing the stories for then? Our children, of course! It is natural that the children readers will not think about these writers when they are immersed in the captivating stories, but as parents, it is our responsibilities to research and understand these writers. In our next column, we will help you to do exactly that. Stay tuned!