- Vivian Teo
How my kids started writing Chinese stories
Updated: Dec 26, 2020
Like many parents I had spoken to, getting our children interested in reading Chinese books feels like an uphill climb. But here's how my kids got started writing Chinese stories on their own initiatives.
Recently I posted in my IG stories that my kids are writing Chinese stories in their spare time. Sounds like a dream come true for parents, right? Like many parents I'd spoken to, getting our children interested in reading Chinese books is already an uphill climb, let alone writing Chinese compositions...and on their own initiatives! My kids (age eight and ten) were even laughing as they wrote their funny stories and couldn't wait to read to me when they had finished. I've seriously struck gold!
After seeing my IG stories, some parents asked if I have tips on how to get children interested in Chinese books or if there are Chinese books I could recommend for their kids. Actually, I'm not sure if I'm the most qualified person to give advice on this because 1) my kids are still more interested in English books and shows, 2) the number of Chinese books we read are abysmal compared to the English ones we read and 3), my kids can speak and understand Mandarin but they are still lacking when it comes to writing proper Chinese sentences.
What really sparked my kids' interest in writing Chinese stores is because we are currently reading the 米小圈 book series. Written in diary-style by Chinese author 北猫, the stories are centred on a boy called 米小圈 where he tells about his school and family life with much humour and funny drawings.
I've never had the chance to browse this series so I was a bit hesitant to order it as it's written and published in China for local readers. I had found some of these books from China a bit too 'cheem' for my kids and some just don't interest my kids because the writing is not colloquial for kids in Singapore, which is why I tend to go for Chinese books which are written for the Singapore market like the 闹闹 series which my kids love.
Anyhow I took a chance on it and ordered the primary one series (there are four series up till primary four, each series with four books) and boy did we all enjoyed the books. We actually found 米小圈's writing and experience with school and friends very relatable and funny, and we had so many laugh out loud moments. The writing is also easy to understand (though my kids are in primary 2 and 4, they are probably at 米小圈‘s primary one level). They do get slightly wordier as you move up the series but so far (we are at the primary three series now) my kids are still very engaged by the books. The first two series also come with hanyu pinyin, so it's less daunting for kids (and some parents I'm sure).
So my kids were really inspired by these books to write their own diary-style Chinese stories. Most importantly, they found it enjoyable to do so and enjoyable to read the books in the first place.
I've read to my kids ever since they were babies. While my kids are now fully capable of reading on their own (and they do do that in their own time) and have moved on from picture books to middle grade books, we still make it a point to snuggle up in bed every half hour before bedtime to read. We would discuss plots, characters and have really good laughs at some of the the stories and my (terrible) fake accents. So since young, my kids have associated reading with joy.
I've always felt that reading should never be a chore but a treat for kids. So I don't set reading targets for them to hit or reward them for reading. Reading itself should be the reward.
I think letting our children find joy in reading Chinese books and watching Chinese shows is especially important in helping them speak better Mandarin and write better Chinese because they are growing up in times where they have an abundance of interesting English books and English shows to watch on Netflix. It is a whole new era compared to when I was a kid. If you're as old as me, you'll know in the olden days we had limited entertainment and TV was basically just the national TV channels (remember SBC?). I credit my fluency in spoken Mandarin and written Chinese not just to growing up in a Chinese-speaking environment but growing up in an environment surrounded by Chinese TV shows and radio programs which I found joy in watching and listening to.
In contrast kids these days have too many options where they can get more fun from, compared to say reading Chinese books and watching Chinese shows. So I don't thrust a Chinese book into their hands and tell them to read it. Yes I can do so but they will see reading Chinese books as a chore if they are not even open to it in the first place. I ease my kids into the books. I tell them, "I heard this book is really funny. Let's read it together and see if it's good." Then we'd explore together. Most of the time, they'll find that Mama was right about the books. Many times after we had finished the books, they'd go back to the books on their own.
Before my kids started writing Chinese stories, they were writing English stories, also on their own initiatives because they found it fun to do so.
I probably can't tell you exactly what Chinese books to introduce to your kids as my kids have their own unique interests but as parents, we know what our kids are interested in and what makes them tick. For my kids, it's humour that keeps them returning to certain books. Before this we were reading the Chinese Plants vs Zombies comic books. My kids love the video game so they find joy reading about the characters they like and bonus is their joke books are really funny. But if your kids are not familiar with the game, I doubt they'd be interested in reading about talking plants fighting zombies. So I'll be looking out for more funny stories when we're done with the 米小圈 books. (Some of the places you can explore for Chinese books are Lingzi Media, Maha Yu Yi and My Story Treasury.)
All I can tell you here is how I got my kids interested in the Chinese language. I can't tell you how to help your kid score in Chinese compositions. My kids' compos are really quite average and they don't go for Chinese tuition though I've heard that there are good tuition centres that teach children how to score in compositions. I have my own reasons why I don't send my kids for tuition which I won't go into here. But the bottom line is, I want my kids to start by having a love for the language - I believe everything will come naturally thereafter.
Disclaimer: We paid for our books, and my opinions and reviews here are strictly my and my family’s own.
©Vivian Teo. All content and photos are copyrighted to Vivian Teo unless otherwise specified.