Bookmark Monday: Love, Family and Chinese Characters

Learning Chinese is an academic rite of passage almost every child in Singapore must go through sometime in their preschool life.

As parents, admittedly, DH and I aren’t incredibly disciplined (or rather, that should readare incredibly ill-disciplined‘) in our efforts to develop an appreciation for Mandarin with as much fortitude as we do for English. And so it is that we keep reminding each other that we “really must do something”, “really must read to them”.

Adding to this is the challenge of my having never studied Chinese, and so at my present age in life, it’s a tremendous mental obstacle.  I don’t want, don’t feel like doing it, but I must.  The inadequacy burns me most fiercely especially when they come home from school, singing Chinese songs and repeating random phrases they’ve learnt, to me, which I can’t decipher, and can’t repeat accurately to DH, when he returns from work, so that he can actually do something with them. 😦

So anyway.  Start somewhere I must.

So DH has been looking for some story books on Chinese characters, where the artwork is based on the shape of the Chinese character itself, (sort of like a Chinese version of Word Art 🙂  ) demonstrating the etymology of the word, i.e. how it evolved from the original pictogram representation to the regular traditional or simplified script that is commonly taught in schools today.

Personally, I like these, because by understanding the etymology, it helps me remember the character a little better. Some books are more artwork than story though, so we were glad when we found The Magic Brush, written by Kat Yeh and illustrated by Huy Voun Lee; as it is rich, both in storyline and illustrations.

The artwork for this book was created with cut-paper collages, known as jian zhi.  A Chinese folk art, passed down from generation to generation, jian zhi uses paper cutouts to create symbolic representations of words, showing the inspiration from where the character design originated.

A heartwarming story steeped in key tenets of Chinese culture – love, traditions, filial piety, and respect; and an effectively constructed introductory primer to first level Chinese characters, The Magic Brush is about a little girl named Jasmine, and her baby brother, Tai Tai, and of how their grandfather, A-gong comes to stay with them in spring and introduces Jasmine to a beautiful world of imagination and wonder through Chinese calligraphy.

All through spring and summer, they paint and write and dream wonderful worlds, created through the pictorial representations of the Chinese characters A-gong teaches Jasmine to write, bounded only by the limits of Jasmine’s imagination.

However, A-gong falls ill in the autumn and eventually passes away. Day after day, Jasmine mourns his passing.  But when one afternoon Tai-Tai abandons his nap and finds his sister sitting in the chair where their grandfather always sat, holding A-gong’s paintbrush, Jasmine decides to introduce Tai-Tai to the calligraphy that A-gong taught her, and together, with A-gong’s paintbrush, they recreate magic…just as their grandfather had said.

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