I don’t write often enough about board books for the youngest of children at Seven Impossible Things or here at Kirkus—I’m usually running my mouth about picture books—but sometimes you see such an outstanding one that you gotta speak up.
Or, in today’s case, outstanding ones.
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Yes, it’s a new pair of board books from Belle Yang, A Nest in Springtime: A Bilingual Book of Numbers and Summertime Rainbow: A Bilingual Book of Colors, both released by Candlewick in April.
And when one hears about bilingual children’s literature in this country, one tends to think along the lines of Spanish, but would you believe me if I said these were Chinese readers, board books in both English and Mandarin Chinese?
It’s true, and I love this about these books. It’s not often you see such a thing.
Yang was born in Taiwan, spent some of her childhood in Japan, moved to the United States with her family as a child, and then studied art at the Beijing Institute of Traditional Chinese Painting (as well as a few other colleges in other countries). According to her website, she returned from China to the United States late in 1989 after the Tiananmen Massacre.
Yang works in gouache and has been in her career thus far a fan of vivid colors, which works for these sturdy board books, meant to catch the eyes of babies and toddlers. Using simple shapes heavily outlined in black, she uses those bright yet warm colors to pull in children. And she effectively communicates the excitement and energy of both spring and summer through baby animals eager to investigate their surroundings.
Summertime Rainbow, which culminates in a rainbow that is a “spray of blossoms in the sky,” features a family of rabbits exploring the green grass and colorful flowers of summer. They play in each spread on a splash of grass laid out as if on a stage before readers. A Nest in Springtime stars a wild geese couple, who nest and bring forth eight baby goslings. (This is a counting book, so “[a]dding Papa and Mama makes nine and ten.”) “Happy spring!” the final spread declares, as all the wee geese, Mama and Papa head out into the open air to meet deer, rabbits, squirrels and birds.
Each spread lays out the text in Chinese on the left and English on the right—all in a clear, no-nonsense font. Best of all, each book concludes with a spread that allows readers to read the story again but by following the pinyin pronunciations (even if there isn’t a brief explanation as to what pinyin means). Also included is an abbreviated chart explaining the four pitched tones of Mandarin Chinese.
I’ve seen American children, not fluent in Mandarin, pore over the Chinese characters in these books in fascination. But they’re not just an engaging linguistics lesson—Yang’s bright and cheerful art make this pair of books a keeper, not to mention perfect reads for this time of year.
A NEST IN SPRINGTIME. Copyright © 2012 by Belle Yang. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Somerville, MA.
Julie Danielson (Jules) has, in her own words, conducted approximately eleventy billion interviews and features of authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children's literature blog focused primarily on illustration and picture books.