As an immersion parent, finding high-quality bilingual books and resources can be a major challenge. My son studies Mandarin, so we’re always on the hunt for materials that include English, Chinese and Pinyin. Naturally, our family was super excited to discover the book Mina’s First Day of School, which follows Mina through her first day of school and covers the many ways of expressing “Yes” and “No” in Mandarin Chinese.
I recently connected with the book’s author, Katrina Liu. A bilingual author and mother living in San Francisco, Katrina’s own story is as inspirational as the books she writes. Read on to learn more about what moved her to write a bilingual children’s book and how she defines “success.”
No regrets: making the most of the bilingual experience
Katrina is an American-Born-Chinese (sometimes referred to as ABC) mother of a three-year old daughter Mina! Like her daughter, Katrina was born in the United States – with relatives from Taiwan and China. She was inspired to write her novel, because she regretted never learning her family's native language: Mandarin Chinese.
Katrina wanted Mina to have the opportunity to become bilingual. Yet, when looking for bilingual resources, Katrina realized her options were extremely limited. Since she didn’t speak much Chinese herself, it was important to find books with not only the English and Chinese characters but the Pinyin also. The book also offers a Chinese audio reading of the story!
A leap of faith
When Katrina was a little girl, she aspired to start her own magazine. Growing up, she was passionate about the arts and drawing. After college, she worked for a publisher and now she works in tech. Katrina decided she would write her own bilingual books for Mina. “My first book was really an experiment … can I actually do this?” She wondered if there was a market for bilingual books: “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew I didn’t want a complicated book.”
The many ways of expressing yes and no
Katrina decided to focus her first book on the lack of a direct equivalent for the words “yes” and “no” in Mandarin. There are so many ways to say “yes” and “no” in Chinese – depending on the context of the sentence or situation. She uses about ten different ways to say yes/okay in her first books. Throughout the story, you meet all kinds of friends: mom, dad, teacher, panda, elephant, and kitty. The book is available in Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Traditional Chinese refers to an old mainland China style of writing – the characters are more complex, elegant and detailed.
Katrina soon realized there is a market for these types of bilingual stories. To her surprise, most of her initial customers were American Born Chinese (ABC) moms, just like her, wanting to introduce the historic Traditional version of Mandarin Chinese to their kids. My son is learning Mandarin via an Elementary Immersion program, so we purchased the Simplified version of Katrina’s books. I truly believe this is more than just a book for my kiddos, it’s a reading lesson!
The gift of language
Like most great philanthropic tales, Katrina’s goals were never monetary. Writing stories for Mina is a gift she hopes to keep giving her daughter and anyone else hoping to learn Chinese. You can find Katrina’s books currently at Barnes & Noble and on Amazon. Visit her website to learn more about her story and her other writing projects!