So, I finally got around to reading Ayo the Chinese children’s book entitled 你会想到什么？with the awkward English translation: “What would you imagine?”. We borrowed it from the library the other day and it was time to return it. It is for five year olds or around that age range, but it had BIG PICTURES, so I borrowed it anyway. It’s good for me to be reading Chinese out loud, so this one was definitely more for me than for Ayo. (You may remember, we’re not pushing other languages at this stage). Instead of fun drawings of people or animals, each page has an amateur photo (complete with drop shadows) of abstract dragons and peacocks, birds and frogs made out of origami. The photos are accompanied by text in English, Mandarin and Pinyin (the system used to transcribe Chinese characters into a Latin alphabet). The first page starts out with “If you had 3 peacocks, what would you imagine?”. I’ll be honest, the question makes way more sense in Mandarin: 如果你有三只孔雀， 你会想到什么？ … one might translate this by “what would three peacocks make you think of?”..but it’s still pretty abstract. In good Chinese form, the book tells you what you should imagine: “I would imagine three fancy feather fans.” By the end of the book, Ayo was squawking and flapping his hands. I interpreted that as appreciation. And I got laughing so hard. Not at the book. More in fondness of the Chinese culture and how different it is to Western culture.
We reached the punchline on page 25: “如果你有 三只孔雀， 六条小毛毛虫， 九条龙， 十二只螃蟹， 十五只企鹅， 十八只蝙蝠， 二十一只海豹， 二十四只小瓢虫， 二十七只鸟， 三十只青蛙和九十九只母鸡， 你会想到什么？“
“If you had 3 peacocks, 6 caterpillars, 9 dragons, 12 crabs, 15 penguins, 18 bats, 21 seals, 24 ladybugs, 27 birds, 30 frogs and 99 chickens, what would YOU imagine?”
Of course, the punchline had to be mathematical (my second weakness after chocolate). Then, after the ‘story’ comes to an end, there were pages and pages and pages of “Ideas for Teachers and Parents” such as reviewing counting by 3s, identifying odd and even numbers or using actual paper to teach symmetry. Supposedly, the book should be used to review math, art, literary skills, Chinese language skills, Chinese culture, critical thinking and so on. Awwww..those pages totally burst my “I was having fun” bubble. I think I stopped laughing at that point.
“Explain that the author of this book had a talent (paper folding & creative writing), a specific interest (learning Mandarin), and a dream (getting a book published) and he put those three things together in a project that eventually became his book. Invite children to think of their particular talents, interests and dreams and to come up with a project they could engage in to accomplish their goals (…) Children are never too young to accomplish big goals.”
The children’s book was so Chinese on every level: from the mathematical bent to the need to push your five year old to achieve big goals like publishing their own book, to making a fun activity like reading look a lot more like homework. I’m not sure what I think about this. I kind of like that Chinese parents believe their children are capable of more than Westerners typically think; yet I really dislike the idea of robbing youngsters of a magical, fantastical, carefree childhood. Isn’t adulthood long enough?
Since reading The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, I have a lot of conflicting thoughts on the subject of Chinese parenting. I haven’t processed them enough to come to any interesting opinions or conclusions. But so many thoughts are swarming around in my head…