There are surprisingly few bilingual Chinese-English children’s books for sale on Amazon, and even fewer that are appropriate for a family whose command of Chinese is, shall we say, uneven. The Gordon & Li Li series by Michele Wong McSween are among the very few that I would unreservedly recommend to parents who want to raise their children bilingual from the get-go. They’re great for toddlers because:
- They’re board books
- Each page focuses on just one word or concept
- They’re super-colorful and have a very strong, consistent style.
They’re also ideal for situations (like ours) where only one parent has familiarity with Chinese: each word is presented in English, pinyin, simplified Chinese, and best-guess American phonetic spelling. (The phonetic spelling is of limited value – if you can’t read pinyin, you’re unlikely to get the Chinese pronunciation right).
Gordon & Li Li Words for Everyday is the first book in this series, and we bought it for Jacob almost right away. These are words that are super-useful for American babies: “boy,” “girl,” “ball,” “book,” “cup,” “milk,” and, yes, “cell phone” are all in there. Our edition only includes English and pinyin on each page, which for us was enough as we were focusing on just getting Jacob to hear the sounds of the words. (For overachievers, the simplified Chinese are all listed in the back in a glossary of sorts). I’m happy to say that Jacob can understand at least two-thirds of the words in this book. He doesn’t always prefer them over the English when he speaks, but he certainly responds to the Chinese. (One of his favorite words in the world is “ba bu ball,” or basketball, and all variants on the word “ball,” but today when I asked him for the 球 (qiú), he went and got the ball without hesitation).
Jacob’s Jewish grandmother got him Gordon & Li Li Learn Animals in Mandarin as a gift, and it is great! As someone who had an incomplete education in Chinese, learning to say 企鹅 (qì’é) is a lifesaver in the post-March of the Penguins era. It’s also nice that there’s no overlap with Words for Everyday — “dog” and “cat” are excluded. My only criticism of this book is that some of the animals are just a tad too stylized – the alligator in sunglasses, for example, or Gordon and Li Li themselves (blue and pink pandas). On the other hand, the ducks, chicken, and frog all have a certain, endearingly Chinese-cartoon quality to them.
There’s a third book, Gordon & Li Li Count in Mandarin, which haven’t gotten because we haven’t needed help with counting in Mandarin.
We, the Anderkoos, also appreciate that the books are copyrighted by “McWong Ink.”
And we’re totally excited that a Gordon & Li Li Learn Animals in Mandarin iPad app is coming out soon! Now we just need to get ourselves an iPad.