Inspired by Her Child, An Author Writes Chinese Books with Pinyin and English

Mina Learns Chinese - 3 bilingual picture books for children

Many parents agree that there is a big need for affordable Chinese children’s books with Pinyin and English, which can help non-native families read Chinese.

Furthermore, we need more Asian representation in our children’s libraries!

I’m honored to host an interview with the author, Katrina Liu, who writes children’s books that are relatable to kids and helpful for families learning Chinese.

My kids enjoy the “Mina Learns Chinese” series, so I was eager to learn about the author’s motivation for writing these books!

Author Katrina Liu - Mina Learns Chinese
Author Katrina Liu

Katrina opens her heart about bilingual parenting and experience with writing “Mina Learns Chinese”, a Chinese picture book series based on her daughter’s life.

Frustrated with the lack of engaging Chinese books with Pinyin and English, she created her own book series to help parents learn Chinese with their children.

Each book comes with fluent Mandarin narration on her website, and you can listen to Cantonese recordings of each book on YouTube (links provided at the end of post).

Here are the details of Katrina’s journey of raising bilingual kids and becoming a children’s book author!

Mina Learns Chinese Picture books in simplified or traditional Chinese, Pinyin, and English

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Tell us about your family.  Where did you and your husband grow up, and what languages do you speak?

I live in San Francisco, CA with my husband, Mike, our 3-year-old daughter, Mina, and our pup, Musubi.

Mike is a 3rd-generation Chinese American and speaks only English.

I’m also an ABC, but I have some conversational skills in Mandarin.

I can understand a lot more than I can speak, but unfortunately I cannot read or write Chinese.

I also know some basic Spanish.

Mina Learns Chinese and Katrina Liu author
Author Katrina Liu’s family

What was your experience like with Chinese language as an American child?

Growing up, we spoke mostly Mandarin at home until I was 6 years old, but when my mom remarried a non-native speaker, we switched to primarily English.

From then on, the only time I spoke Mandarin was with my grandparents and relatives from Taiwan.

I wish I could speak and write Chinese better now, but during my childhood, in the U.S., being bilingual didn’t seem to be a big priority to families.

Most of my Chinese friends at school weren’t fluent in Chinese either.

Mina Learns Chinese - Bilingual Chinese English books with Pinyin

What do you hope for your daughter’s Chinese learning journey?

I hope to encourage an environment where my daughter, Mina, embraces her Chinese culture and is motivated to become bilingual.

I regret not being fluent in Chinese, and I want to ensure that Mina is exposed to this aspect of our heritage.

I think learning a new language awakens something in your brain, and starting at a young age will provide the best chance at becoming fluent.

Mina Learns Chinese and pet dog
Mina and Musubi

Tell us about your Bilingual Chinese and English book series. What is ‘Mina Learns Chinese’ about?

My books are about everyday life and focused on easy-to-grasp dialogue that will be useful in early Chinese language learning. All my books feature my daughter, Mina, and are for a young audience.

My first book, Mina’s First Day of School, is geared towards children aged 1 through 3 and follows Mina as she meets her teacher and makes friends.

Along the way, readers learn the many ways you can say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ in Chinese.

My 2nd book, I Love My Grandpa, is dedicated to my dad and focuses on Mina and her grandpa working together to bring Mina’s idea for a dog house for her pup to reality.

My 3rd, latest book, Mina’s Scavenger Hunt is for 2 to 6 year olds. In it, Mina plays a game of scavenger hunt and uses clues to find various treasures.

Try this: Fun Printable Scavenger Hunts for Kids (Chinese, Korean, English)

Mina Learns Chinese and Katrina Liu author
Mina and her mother, Katrina Liu

What inspired you to write bilingual English/Chinese stories for children? 

My daughter, Mina, is 100% my inspiration. I’m a full-time working mom and reading stories before bed is our special time together. It all started as an idea to create a special birthday gift for my daughter.

About 2 years ago, Mina was about to hit 2 milestones around the same time:

  • Her 2nd birthday, and
  • Her first day of Mandarin Immersion school.

I looked around for bilingual Chinese books with Hanyu Pinyin and English translations so I could purchase to start preparing her for school.

I was disappointed in what was available. Very few books I found were visually appealing. What’s worse, the translations were off.

Wanting to support Mina and get her excited about starting school, I thought… maybe I could write one about her!

My friends and family encouraged me to publish it and that’s how Mina’s First Day of School, my debut book, was born.

Mina inspires me in ways big and small every single day.

Mina Learns Chinese dedication pages
Dedication page for the author’s daughter, Mina

Traditional Chinese, Simplified Chinese, Pinyin, and English – why do your books offer all of these options? 

I wanted to create a book that would be accessible to non-native speakers, like myself. Pinyin is super useful to me because I don’t recognize many Chinese characters.

When I searched for books that had Chinese, Pinyin and English, I was frustrated with how few options there were.

There were some books with Chinese and Pinyin, but as a non-fluent ABC mom, sometimes I need the English translation if I come across words that I’m not familiar with.

My husband is 3rd generation Cantonese and my family is from Taiwan, so it was important for me to have Traditional Chinese as an option since that’s what they used. I also wanted my mom to be able to read the book to Mina.

However, Mina’s Mandarin immersion school teaches Simplified as do many of the immersion schools now, so that’s why I created both versions.

'Mina's Scavenger Hunt' (top) and 'I Love My Grandpa' (bottom)
Mina’s Scavenger Hunt‘ (top) and ‘I Love My Grandpa’ (bottom)

How long does it take to draft a story in the Mina Learns Chinese series?

This book series has been a challenging project for me because I’m not fluent in Chinese. I think I went through at least 10 revisions with each book. I start with drafting the English version of my stories.

From there, I focus on the translation and tweak until both the English and
the Chinese versions sound good.

It’s super important to me to have accurate translations and natural dialogue in both English and Chinese — and that’s been my biggest challenge!

My first attempt was to try to use Google Translate and my limited speaking skills to do the translations, but I quickly realized that it wouldn’t work.

Luckily, I have amazing friends and family I could lean on, who helped me translate the story and proofread both the Chinese characters and Pinyin. I am so grateful for everyone’s support.

The best critic is my daughter, who will tell me right away if a story is not interesting.

A major bonus to creating these stories is that I’m learning more Chinese, myself!

Large, readable Chinese font stands out while Pinyin and English provide clues to non-fluent readers
Large, readable Chinese font stands out while Pinyin and English provide clues to non-fluent readers

How did you choose your illustrator for the ‘Mina Learns Chinese’ Series?

I had a particular vision for my illustrations. I browsed through all types of children’s illustration styles and created a Pinterest board for inspiration.

I found my first illustrator who illustrated my first book and I liked his style. While I was pleased with his work, it took a lot longer than expected to complete it.

When it came time to work on my next book, we ended up having to part ways. It was disappointing because I’d wanted to maintain the same illustration style throughout each of my books.

But as the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens, and I was fortunate enough to find Rosalia Destarisa, who is fantastic! I absolutely love her style and am happy with how the aesthetic of my books has evolved.

'Mina's Scavenger Hunt' (top) and 'I Love My Grandpa' (bottom)
Mina’s Scavenger Hunt‘ (top) and ‘I Love My Grandpa’ (bottom)

What does the publication process involve for children’s books?

I decided to self-publish my books, which means that I pay for all the fixed costs.

Many of the books that you see in the bookstores and online are typically not self-published, which is why the prices are lower and the distribution is much wider.

The self-publishing process involved a lot of research. I researched everything from figuring out the right paper thickness, size of book, printing and layout guidelines, copyrights, obtaining an ISBN, pricing, printing costs, and more. I think the research phase is what took me the longest, and I made many mistakes along the way.

My first job out of college was in publishing. I worked as a print designer for a small magazine company. So I’m familiar with some of the software needed.

I created my own book and cover layouts and formatted them for the printer. I ended up using an on-demand publishing platform to print and distribute my books. This took care of listing, printing, and shipping my books directly to customers.

I receive a small royalty for each book sale. I really don’t make much money from it, but that’s okay, these books are something special for my daughter to have.

It’s become a passion project of mine. I’ve received amazing messages from parents who tell me how much their kids love my books.

So as long as I know that I’m helping other parents like me read Chinese to their children that’s enough for me to keep going.

And the feedback from parents and customers have been really heartwarming.

I Love My Grandpa bilingual Chinese-English picture book
‘I Love My Grandpa’ bilingual Chinese-English picture book: simplified Chinese & traditional Chinese

What has been the hardest part about writing Chinese children’s books?

If you asked me this question last year, the hardest part was trying to figure out how to get my book published and all the research that went into it.

But now, with 3 books under my belt, I’d say the hardest part is getting the translations of my stories right as a non-native speaker.

What are Mina’s other favorite Chinese books?

At the moment she’s really into my books because they are all about her! She loves listening to the audio readings in Mandarin more than she does when I read them to her.

To be honest, there’s really very few Chinese books out there that I can read to her.

Her other favorite book is a Food Superman Chinese reading picture book that my uncle brought over from Taiwan. This book is more like a Chinese picture dictionary, but she loves it because it’s interactive and she can touch the pictures with a reading wand/pen.

Any final tips for parents raising bilingual children?

Get them started as early as possible! Having them learn at an early age when their brain is still developing is incredibly beneficial. It’s amazing how much they can absorb when they’re little.

If you’re not fluent like me, then look into other ways to expose them to the language such as playing Chinese songs, watching Chinese shows and movies, finding a Chinese nanny/babysitter, or enrolling your little one in a Chinese immersion school.

Also, take an interest in learning with your child! Sometimes, I feel self-conscious speaking Chinese to my daughter in public, but I have to keep reminding myself to push past the fear of judgement.

I also encourage family and friends who are fluent to only speak Mandarin to my daughter, and I think this helps as well!

Mina Learns Chinese and Katrina Liu author
Author Katrina Liu and her daughter, Mina

Where can I buy the “Mina Learn Chinese” books by Katrina Liu?

All of Katrina Liu’s books are available internationally in hard cover format and kindle eBooks.

You can choose between these language versions:

  • Simplified Chinese with Pinyin and English
  • Traditional Chinese with Pinyin and English

Click on the links below to purchase and read reviews:

Where can I listen to audio narrations of Mina Learns Chinese books?

So thankful for Katrina Liu for taking the time to share her passion and experience in creating bilingual children’s stories that all families can enjoy and learn from!

Please leave a comment if you have any questions about Katrina’s books or experience raising multilingual children!

If you’re like to learn more about her family’s Chinese learning experience and find out more about the Mina Learns Chinese series, check out the following links!

Instagram | Facebook

Interviews with multilingual families

We’re not alone in this journey! Here are more parents that inspire me on this multilingual journey:

Chinese resources for kids on Amazon!

Click here to see Chinese learning tools and cultural toys on Amazon!

Chinese resources and cultural tools for children

Happy reading, friends!

56 Comments

  1. Katrina: What a beautiful labor of love on behalf of your daughter! My little girl is 4 so I’m very interested in exploring these books. May I ask if you’ll ever put zhuyin in your future books? I’m also from Taiwan, and my maiden name is Liu also. 😅

  2. If love to buy this. Betty’s interview says that you are self-publishing; why does amazon say that it takes 1-2 months to deliver?

    1. Thank you for your comment! Unfortunately, even though I self publish, amazon will still buy my books in bulk and when it sells out they take 1-2 months to reorder more. It’s pretty frustrating since technically my publisher can print to order, but that’s how amazon chooses to do it. If you need them sooner, I suggest buying from Barnes and Noble, since they always place an order when someone orders it. There’s a cyber Monday sale for 15% off if you hurry.

    1. Hmm, no plans at the moment. I have a full time job, so not sure what else I can squeeze in. I still have a lot of story ideas and creating these bring me so much joy. We will see how far this project goes. I never say never!

    1. I’m working on a 4th book that will be about different emotions. Mina will have a fun-filled day with lots of different feelings. I finished the draft and now my illustrator is working on it. I’m really excited about this one!

  3. I so hope I win this giveaway!! Can you write a book about Mina celebrating different Taiwanese holidays? New Years, Moon Festival, Dragon Boat, etc. ? And also one about her talking about the things she (or you) loves about Taiwan? The food, fun places to go, cultural customs unique to Taiwan? I would buy these in a heartbeat!

    1. Thank you! Yes! This is a great idea and has been requested before. Holidays are definitely on my list! I’d love to do a theme on Taiwan too, my family is from there so they would be really excited about it. 🙂

  4. I don’t have a question, I just want to say how awesome it is that you’re pursuing this. I have a friend whose trying to start her own publishing company so she can publish children’s books, so I know the dedication and hard work is no joke. Keep up the great work! I have the absolute worst luck with drawings so don’t worry about adding me to it.

    1. Sure! Mina goes to a full time preschool that speaks 100% mandarin. She loves it! We were pretty set on finding an immersion school for her. Thankfully, there are a lot in San Francisco. I see her picking up the language right away and I was surprised how she isn’t confused between English and Chinese. She seems to know when to switch the languages. I hope to continue her education by sending her to an immersion elementary school when she hits kindergarten.

  5. I have two boys who were adopted from China. One of them is in kindergarten at an immersion school, I’m hoping they both can attend next year.

    What are some ways you can support learning Mandarin and help with homework/be involved if you can’t read characters and/or have minimal skills? I know a little Mandarin and I’m learning the vocabulary/etc as they go, but as time goes on I may not be able to keep up and I can’t read characters, only Pinyin. My son also isn’t reading characters yet, but is expected to. I feel stuck because I can’t help.

    1. Hi Alicia! Thank you for your question! I thought I would chime in on this one and some resources that have helped us. This post “Teach Your Child a Second Language at Home with 5 Key Steps” is a good starting point, but I’ll highlight some key points here. Music is one of the easiest and best ways to expose children to Mandarin while having fun! Here is a list of popular Chinese songs that your children might enjoy. Chinese audiobooks are also helpful for more listening opportunity. Also check out the Bilingual Teaching Tips section which is organized by language skill. I would suggest focusing on listening/speaking first, then gradually introduce Chinese characters in your home.

  6. Amazing. Thank you so much for writing these books. There’s so much dedication in speaking a language when you’re not fluent yet alone have a full time job and writing a book. Well done! I am just gutted I don’t live in the USA and can’t enter the competition. What is the next book going to be about?

    1. thanks for your comment! Sorry you weren’t able to enter this one. Hopefully we can do an international one in the future. My next book will be about learning about different emotions Chinese. Mina will have an exciting day of ups and downs with lots of different feelings. 🙂

  7. How do you keep her interested in learning chinese after she begins public school that has English as the primary language?

    1. We are looking into immersion elementary schools for this reason, but I still know it will be a challenge. Betty has some great tips for this and fun activities to keep them engaged in the language. I also hope to send her to summer camps in Taiwan or China when she gets older.

  8. How did you practice speaking Chinese with your daughter for everyday situations? I feel like I have to use Google translate a lot and then I forget the phrases.

    1. Haha I have that same problem. A lot of it ends up being Chinglish or I use Alexa or Siri to look up the word for me. It’s a learning process, but the more you do it in practice the more you retain. I also try to watch more Netflix shows in Mandarin. They have a bunch with English subtitles.

  9. Thank you for making this resource available and for the audio. I’m relearning Chinese as I haven’t learned much in school. My kids would often correct how I pronounce the words though. Do you think I should just let them listen to the audio recordings instead of talking to them? I feel like they might learn the wrong pronunciation from me.

    1. How awesome that you are relearning! I think you can do both! I highly encourage you to try to read it yourself because it will show your child that you’re learning with them and that you’re excited about reading the book and engaging with them. I would use the audio as support and for you to also practice with it for the correct pronunciation. I wouldn’t worry to much about providing the wrong pronunciation, kids are smart and can pick up the difference if you expose them to the right ones too.

  10. What a wonderful series, can’t wait to read it to my newborn. I have a strong home to teach Chinese to my half Chinese half Caucasian daughter and your books will come in handy!

  11. Love your books. It’s great to have both traditional and simplified characters as options. Is it possible to add “注音/zhuyin”, another phonic system that is commonly used by Taiwanese readers. Thank you!!

    1. Thank you! I’ll look into Zhu yin, it will be tougher to do since I’ve never learned it. But if there’s enough demand I will consider it!

  12. This is such a wonderful article. Thank you so much for sharing about your inspiration to write and publish. That is my dream too. I wish I could learn from you. I hope you can write books about the Chinese holidays and other traditions. I would love to teach my daughtee about them too. Congratulations on on your beautiful books ❤️

  13. I love the big fonts and lovely illustrations in your books! Look forward to many more, especially one on exploring different Chinese food/snacks.

    1. Thanks for your comment! I’d say do it if you have a passion for it. It doesn’t make much money. Also I recommend getting an editor and/or plenty of proof readers! It’s so hard to catch your own mistakes!

  14. I love that you have traditional & pin yin! I grew up speaking and reading Cantonese. I learned Mandarin in my teen years. Are you focusing on mandarin for Mina, even though you know both? Abs why?

    1. Actually I don’t know any Cantonese but my daughter’s nanny is from Hong Kong so Mina can speak and understand both mandarin and Cantonese. I don’t know how long we would be able to support both languages in the long run, but if she can become trilingual that would be amazing.

  15. Your sorry sounds like mine and probably many others. Feeling self-conscious about speaking broken Cantonese or Mandarin is still a struggle for me. My boys are 7 and 10 and in an immersion program. Do you think you will start writing stories for these age groups as well? (Regardless, I will buy all you have now! 😁)

      1. Thank you! At the moment I will probably stick with this age range, but maybe when Mina gets older I might try it! In the meantime, I can recommend the “travel learn and see” books that are appropriate for that age by my friend Edna ma. Just search for Edna Ma on amazon. She has 2 bilingual books with audio readings too!

  16. Thank you for sharing. This motivates me to be more vigilant with my son and his Chinese. My husband doesn’t speak Chinese and I know only conversational Chinese. How do you balance between the amount of English that a child is exposed to while also teaching and maintaining his Chinese? Will just speaking to him be enough for him to learn and retain Chinese? (We don’t have Chinese school here)

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! . Speaking to him is a great start but you’ll probably need to support him with other resources. Living in the US, your child will probably always lean to English. If there’s no immersion school, you can do things like online tutoring, watch shows in Chinese, connect with other families who speak Chinese to do play dates, send him to summer camps abroad etc… Betty has some really great ideas in her blog. So glad my story helped motivate you! 🙂 it’s definitely possible, but it takes commitment. Best of luck!

  17. Thank you for your story and all your hard work in publishing these books. Many parents take their kid(s) to Taiwan for summer school for the total immersion exposure, do you do the same?

    1. I plan to do this when my daughter is older. She’s only 3 now. We have family in Taiwan so I would love to do this every summer!

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