—“If You Hold a Seed” by Elly MacKay; Running Press, PA (33 pages, $16.95, ages 3 and up)
—“My First Book of Chinese Words: An ABC Rhyming book” by Faye-Lynn Wu, illustrated by Aya Padron; Tuttle Publishing, VT (32 pages, $12.95)
—“Chinese Fables: The Dragon Slayers and Other Timeless Tales of Wisdom” by Shiho S. Nunes, illustrated by Lak-Khee Tay-Audouard; Tuttle Publishing, VT (64 pages, $16.95)
Why do children get all the pretty books?
While beautiful to look at, most kids’ books usually import some kind of knowledge, whether it be a gentle lesson of a sapling growing into full-grown tree, or teaching the meaning of a Chinese word.
For younger readers enchanted by colors and shapes, check out “If You Hold a Seed” by the Canadian artist Elly MacKay. It’s a simple story of a boy who plants a seed. Over the years as it grows, is visited by birds and beasts, until it becomes a tree. By the end, the boy who planted the seed sits in the branches of the tree — with his own child. The simple drawings and cut paper outlines project serenity and enchantment.
On a more instructional, but equally enjoyable level, “My First Book of Chinese Words” introduces children to the Chinese character system as well as language. Chinese has evolved from a pictograph system. This translation uses Pinyin, the phonetic system that translates Chinese into English. The preface tells you how to pronounce the words. For example, anyone who has seen Chinese terracotta warriors know they come from Xian. Here it is explained that “x is pronounced as she in ‘she.’”
So, Faye-Lynn Wu starts with “A is for ai, a word that means love, like the gentle hugs that wrap us like the soft wings of a dove.” In one corner is the Chinese character for “ai,” both in simplified and traditional forms. Not every entry has both characters. The drawing is of a loving mother and child.
For slightly older kids, comes “Chinese Fables” by Shiho Nunes. The preface explains that German, later American, scholar Wolfram Eberhard collected folktales on a 1930s visit to China. Nunes selected 19 of the entries in his “Chinese Fables and Parables” to expand into her original stories. The nugget of some stories dates back to between 500-250 B.C. while others are as late as 1643 A.D. Using bamboo rag paper, they have a tactile feeling of nubby paper. The illustrations are very attractive.