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!
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!
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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!
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?
- Mandarin narrations are available on the author’s website
- Cantonese Mommy has also provided Cantonese narrations on her YouTube channel:
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!
Interviews with multilingual families
We’re not alone in this journey! Here are more parents that inspire me on this multilingual journey:
- Top Tips for Teaching Chinese from Teacher and Author Cathy Ju Yao
- Raising Trilingual Kids: A Taiwanese-Korean-Australian Mom Shares Her Experience
- Raising Trilingual Kids: Insights From Korean-Taiwanese-American Parents
- 5 Strategies That Encourage A Child to Love and Speak the Minority Language
- Multilingual Books for Kids: Meet the Creator of Chinese Ebooks for Children