75. Jennie Liu’s childhood reading in the USA, 1970s-80s

Jennie Liu’s book Girls on the Line was published earlier this month. With a target audience aged 14-18 years, it tackles some tough issues:

It is 2009 in the city of Gujiao, China: 16-year-old Luli and 17-year-old Yun, best friends, have aged out of their orphanage and are now enjoying the exhilarating independence of factory work. … Told in the first person from the two girls’ alternating points of view, readers will be drawn into their emotional lives through sharing both their quiet, day-to-day routines and the moments of high drama, all of which are direct results of policies that trapped ordinary citizens and forced them into making terrible decisions. (Kirkus Review)


Girls on the Line, by Jennie Liu (21st Century, 2018) (Image source: Amazon)

We asked Jennie about her childhood reading, and are delighted she agreed to write for us.

Jennie writes: 

My parents immigrated to the U.S. when I was in the womb. During my upbringing, they were busy getting themselves established, and we five kids were kept pretty close to home with mostly only the yard, broadcast television, and books from the library with which to entertain ourselves.


Jennie Liu, school photo, grade 1

As a very young child one book I vividly remember pulling off the shelf was The Five Chinese Bothers, an American retelling of a Chinese folktale, by Claire Huchet Bishop and illustrated by Kurt Wiese. I remember being excited to find a book with the word Chinese in the title. I enjoyed the strange story, but was bewildered and felt somewhat ill-at-ease about the yellow characters with long braided hair. I didn’t know anyone who looked like that! The book was first published in 1938 and is a classic in the States, but has also been controversial for racial stereotyping due to those illustrations.


The Five Chinese Brothers, by Claire Huchet Bishop and Kurt Wiese (Image source: Amazon)

That was the only book I remember from early childhood with any speck of Chinese culture. Back then cultural diversity was not a concern. The books I read came from the library in a rural town in Florida near my parents’ workplace. The library was in a huge, creaky Victorian house. My siblings and I were allowed to go there on Saturdays and in the summer while my parents worked, and we would browse the young people’s section, which only had about five or six shelves in an otherwise vast empty room. The library was usually empty except for the two staff members who stayed in the office downstairs, and my siblings and I would camp out on the vinyl pillows for hours. I read whatever they had, mostly popular American authors like Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Lois Duncan, as well as whatever classics were required by the private school we attended.

Summer reading lists were issued from school, but the lists allowed for choices with an eye to developing an enjoyment for reading. In the ninth grade, Rebecca, by Daphne Du Maurier, was one of suggested novels that I was able to find in the adult section of my musty library. The novel, also published in 1938, follows an insecure, young English woman who marries an older, wealthy estate owner and is thrust into his gentrified world.  She feels to be in the shadow of his beautiful, competent, deceased first wife until she learns a terrible secret which wakes her from her own illusions and compels her to essentially grow up.

Perhaps, since so much of teenage life in America is about trying to fit in, I felt a particular resonance with shy protagonist in Rebecca. The private school I attended had only about four non-white families in the entire school, and I felt my cultural difference distinctly. Like I said, cultural diversity and inclusion was not matter of importance back then, but thank goodness that has changed, especially in publishing and in schools (at least the public ones my children attend).  I am thrilled that my sons have a seeming endless supply of novels by and about people of so many different backgrounds who are facing all sorts of issues. It’s an exciting time to be a young reader.


Exciting, indeed! On Jennie’s blog jennieliuwrites.com, she has a section titled “Amazing Time for Chinese Lit“, in which she lists the books she’s read, and the ones that on her To Read list. Thanks, Jennie!



74. Theresa Munford, Chinese teacher

Dr Theresa Munford, probably the most experienced teacher of Chinese to secondary school students in the UK, retired this summer. Her 8-lesson blog on teaching Chinese literature in the classroom – “Teaching The Ventriloquist’s Daughter” – has just been published by The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing. We’re delighted she agreed to an interview with us.

Theresa Munford

Theresa Munford

Hi Theresa, please tell us about yourself! What would you like our readers to know?

I took what used to be the traditional route into Chinese, learning it at Durham University in the 1970s, where there was a heavy emphasis on classical Chinese and not a great deal of modern spoken language.  That nurtured in me a love of Chinese language and literature but left me speechless when I finally got to China in 1979 as a British Council student! I went on to do a PhD at the Australian National University in Chinese history and then lived and worked in Hong Kong for many years, mainly as a business journalist.  It was only when I moved back to the UK that I trained to be a teacher and found my spoken Chinese improved as I taught it. I was lucky to get involved in teaching Chinese when it was starting to take off as a secondary school language about 15 years ago and it has been wonderful watching the pedagogy and resources improve year on year as the numbers studying it continue to grow.

Why Chinese? 
A childhood obsession with things to do with China, I think, and also a love of languages.

Could you tell us about the teaching of Chinese in schools? In the past Chinese was taught as a “community language” rather than a “modern foreign language”. Could you tell us how the change came about and the impact of that change?

The last decade has seen a huge growth in Chinese teaching in schools to non-native speakers   At first it was often extra-curricular,  with schools offering after school or lunch time Chinese language clubs.  Students could often do low level qualifications (such as OCR and AQA Breakthrough).  Gradually schools started to get braver about offering on-timetable lessons and higher level exams like GCSE.  There were and still are obstacles: for example,

  • Financial: Small classes can’t be justified unless there are specific pots of money, like the old Specialist School funding for language specialist schools, and currently the Mandarin Excellence Programme funding. 
  • Results: Schools are judged by exam results and some fear that unless high grades can be guaranteed, this might impact on their overall statistics. This is still a big problem especially because most students doing Chinese GCSE and A-Level are native speakers, who have come to study in the UK. Grade boundaries are set by algorithms that don’t take this into account so it is harder for non-native speakers to get high grades.
  • Shortage of teachers: Although there is no shortage of enthusiastic native-speaker teachers, they often encounter problems with Western teaching methods and behaviour management. Huge improvements have been made in this now and schools are more and more confident that they will be able to find qualified teachers. There has also been an influx of young teachers who have learnt Chinese after living in China. Though they may not have the fluency or literacy levels of a native speaker, they bring their own experience of learning Chinese as a foreign language to their teaching.

Overall the situation has improved greatly in the last decade, and there are now so many good resources, text books, on line support and cross-cultural teacher training that the future looks bright.  Also, increasingly parents are demanding Mandarin on the curriculum and schools are responding to this.

Another change has been the government policy that language teaching should include reading literature in the language being learned. As a teacher, how have you responded to this? Have you noticed any changes in students as a result of this policy?

Personally I welcome this.  I did the old fashioned language A-levels where we read lots of literature and I feel my education was enriched by it.  Many of the books and authors we studied have remained important to me throughout my life.

 I appreciate that some teachers feel that it is an extra burden in an already crowded curriculum but I think that if taught with imagination it makes language learning less dry and broadens the general education of our students. 

With Chinese, we can’t access a great deal of literature because, compared to European languages, our students’ reading levels  are  lower.  But by introducing tiny bits of authentic texts and encouraging them to read in translation, hopefully we can achieve something.  And of course, Chinese poetry is succinct and fascinating and offers a huge amount of imaginative potential, especially in terms of character recognition and cultural learning.

It’s too early to say how this new emphasis will impact on students.  I know from the bits and pieces I’ve done with my students, they really enjoy the challenge and the change.  And for us teachers, it gives us a chance to do something more exciting too, a bit ‘off piste’,  as a break from the humdrum curriculum requirements.  I just wish we had more time!

Could you tell us what really motivates (and demotivates) your students of Chinese? 

In schools where Chinese is optional, the students who chose it  are often already drawn to it as something different and exciting.  But even where it’s obligatory, I’ve found that students enjoy the excitement of something completely different from the languages they may have already encountered.  They feel proud that they can read and write something that their parents are unlikely to be able to do.  They get such a buzz the first time they see a Chinese character on a sign or a menu that they recognize.  

Demotivation?  Some lose heart if they think that they are not able to recognize characters or tones.   I always assure them that it takes time and practice ( I often confess that I couldn’t hear or  reproduce tones accurately for almost the first 10 years of learning Chinese!).  I use the analogy of an airplane taking off.  Learning another European language is like flying a small plane, you soon take off; learning Chinese is like a 747, it needs a longer runway, it’s all a bit slower at first but once you take off , the flight is a lot more exciting, the views a lot better!

Wall-display by Theresa Munford’s students following 8 weeks of lessons inspired by The Ventriloquist’s Daughter

If an avid secondary school reader were to ask you to recommend a few books by Chinese writers to read over the holidays, what would you recommend? And why?

My favourite is The Ventriloquist’s Daughter (LIN Man-Chiu, tr. Helen Wang). It struck such a chord with the young readers I’ve known and deals with so many issues that are important to them such as family relationships and mental health. Another one is Bronze and Sunflower (CAO Wenxuan, tr. Helen Wang) which also gives them an insight into recent Chinese history. I’m currently reading Young Babylon (LU Nei, tr. Poppy Toland) and think that would make a really interesting book for older students such as 6th-formers. It is about working as a young man in a factory in the 1990s. It’s funny, perceptive and has a lot about the anxieties of growing up and also recent Chinese history.

You’ve just retired . What now? We hope you’ll continue to be active in the field!

I’m loving being released from the daily grind of lesson planning, target setting, exam cycles and so on!  I want to do a lot more about Chinese poetry, try my hand at translating and also think of ways of making it more accessible to learners of Chinese. And I’m enjoying having time to read, there are so many interesting writers in China now to explore!

Many thanks, Theresa. We look forward to hearing more from you in the future!


73. Our first 72 posts!

Here’s a list of our first 72 posts! Thank you to everyone who has helped us along the way, to our guest-writers and interviewees, and, of course, to our readers!

               Images selected from posts 61-72

  1. Chinese books for young readers (Sep 12, 2016)
  2. Gerelchimeg Blackcrane (Sep 13, 2016)
  3. Chinese children’s literature and the UK National Curriculum (Sep 14, 2016)
  4. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! (Sep 15, 2016)
  5. The Reason for Being Late (Sep 16, 2016)
  6. Why Translations? Don’t We ‘Already Have Chinese Stories in English’? (Sep 27, 2016)
  7. A Brief History of Chinese Literature for Children, What Sells Now, and More (Oct 1, 2016)
  8. The “Warring States” world of picture books … in a big Hangzhou bookshop (Oct 2, 2016)
  9. Poems for Children – selected by Bei Dao (Oct 7, 2016)
  10. Happy Double Ninth (Chongyang) Festival! (Oct 9, 2016)
  11. Literature: Another Form of Housebuilding – Cao Wenxuan’s acceptance speech
    (Oct 14, 2016)
  12. Crossing Cultures: Belle Yang, A Story of Immigration (Oct 16, 2016)
  13. I am a tiger! (Oct 20, 2016)
  14. Bronze and Sunflower shortlisted for the Marsh Award (Oct 24, 2016)
  15. Nami Island International Picture Book Illustration Concours 2017 – shortlist (Nov 2, 2016)
  16. Zhang Xinxin and Little People’s Books (Nov 3, 2016)
  17. Calling them Asian-American books isn’t sufficient… (Nov 8, 2016)
  18. Made in China: 10 picture books you can’t miss (Nov 13, 2016)
  19. A picture’s worth a thousand words… (Nov 14, 2016)
  20. Reflecting Teenagers on a Sichuanese Mirror: Yan Ge and her stories from Pingle Township (Nov 19, 2016)
  21. Context and contradiction in translating Aroma’s Little Garden, by Qin Wenjun (Nov 30, 2016)
  22. Jin Jin (1915-1989) (Dec 27, 2016)
  23. Bing Xin and The Little Orange Lantern (Dec 29, 2016)
  24. Tyrus Wong (1910-2016) and Bambi (Jan 3, 2017)
  25. Yu Rong’s paper cuttings (Jan 11, 2017)
  26. The Good Things That Come out of Collisions (Jan 15, 2017)
  27. Helen Wang Wins the 2017 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation (Jan 30, 2017)
  28. The Ventriloquist’s Daughter: Between Fantasy and Reality – by Lin Man-chiu (Feb 23, 2017)
  29. One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Social Experiment – by Mei Fong (Feb 24, 2017)
  30. St Gregory’s School ‘Reading China’ book group – by Theresa Munford (Feb 25, 2017)
  31. The Story of Ink and Water – by Chun Zhang (Feb 26, 2017)
  32. Sister – by Peng Xuejun (Mar 5, 2017)
  33. I Am Mulan (Mar 13, 2017)
  34. Bronze and Sunflower – now available in the USA and Canada! (Mar 21, 2017)
  35. The King of Hide-and-Seek (Apr 8, 2017)
  36. Bilingual books from Candied Plums (Apr 17, 2017)
  37. Chinese literature festival in London, 12-14 May (May 5, 2017)
  38. The Ventriloquist’s Daughter – now available! (May 25, 2017)
  39. A Tree (Jun 9, 2017)
  40. Stephanie Gou on how Bronze and Sunflower opened a door to her memories (Jun 13, 2017)
  41. Who is Wenzheng Fu? (Jun 18, 2017)
  42. Author-illustrator Lipei Huang (Jun 25, 2017)
  43. Starfish Bay Children’s Books (Jul 10, 2017)
  44. “Plums” for Your Tongue: Chinese Children’s Literature for Language Learners (Jul 21, 2017)
  45. The 10th National Outstanding Children’s Literature Awards, 2017 (Aug 6, 2017)
  46. The Only Child, by Guojing (Aug 11, 2017)
  47. CFP: Asian Festival of Children’s Content (Aug 30, 2017)
  48. Little Soldier Zhang Ga (Sep 30, 2017)
  49. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival 2017 (Oct 4, 2017)
  50. 12 Books for the Holidays (Oct 5, 2017)
  51. David Jacobson’s survey of translations of children’s and YA Literature translated from Chinese, Japanese and Korean (Oct 16, 2017)
  52. List of Chinese-Themed Books for Kids and Teens – by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (Oct 19, 2017)
  53. A Cross-Cultural Conversation Between Two Master Storytellers at the 2017 USBBY Conference (Oct 27, 2017)
  54. Chinese children’s and YA books, in English, 2017 (Dec 11, 2017)
  55. The 2017 Bai Meigui Translation Competition is now open! (Dec 12, 2017)
  56. What’s the difference between children’s books in China and the US? (Jan 7, 2018)
  57. Dong Yanan’s picture books (Jan 18, 2018)
  58. China Welfare Institute Publishing House: Picture Books from China, with Love & Beauty (Jan 22, 2018)
  59. Interview with Chloe Garcia Roberts, translator of the picture book “Feather” by Cao Wenxuan and Roger Mello (Jan 25, 2018)
  60. Getting to Know Rural Young Chinese Readers and Their World(s) (Jan 29, 2018)
  61. Our first 60 posts! (Feb 4, 2018)
  62. The NCTA Freeman Book Awards (Feb 6, 2018)
  63. Witness China’s New Love: the Changing Landscape of Chinese Children’s Literature (Feb 14, 2018)
  64. Books from Taiwan (Mar 1, 2018)
  65. The Tortoise Family goes to the Sea, and Blind Little Red Riding Hood (Mar 12, 2018)
  66. Children’s Books in China 2018 (and 2017) (Apr 6, 2018)
  67. Chinese Dinosaurs in an English Village (May 20, 2018)
  68. The Cao Wenxuan Children’s Literature Award (Jun 10, 2018)
  69. Teardrops of the Christmas Tree: A Memorable Childhood Reading Experience (Jul 10, 2018)
  70. Vikki Zhang, illustrator with a love of textiles and fashion (Aug 14, 2018)
  71. Let’s Talk to Kids about Sex… in Chinese, Q&A with Minjie Chen (Sep 3, 2018)
  72. People Reading in Chinese Art (Sep 15, 2018)

69. Teardrops of the Christmas Tree: A Memorable Childhood Reading Experience

Professor Qiuying Lydia Wang is an accomplished scholar in literacy studies. Born and raised in northern China, she now teaches at the Oklahoma State University. We collaborated for more than a year organizing the “Border Crossing in Children’s Literature” Symposium and brought dozens of researchers to the Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University last month to exchange their latest scholarship on international, multicultural, and translated children’s literature. We were able to steal a little time after the intense work to relax in a café with Helen. As we were chatting, Lydia told us about her childhood reading and related the story that had touched her the most. We were spellbound by both her retelling and her personal story, and asked if she would write it up for us. We are delighted to share it here. Continue reading

67. Chinese dinosaurs in an English village

The Linton Children’s Book Festival takes place this weekend, in the beautiful English village of Linton, not far from Cambridge.  I was invited to introduce DONG Yanan’s book Express Delivery from Dinosaur World yesterday, and the event was fully booked! 32 young readers (some as young as two years old) came along with their parents. Continue reading

62. The NCTA Freeman Book Awards

The 2017 NCTA Freeman Book Awards have just been announced. I’m delighted that Bronze and Sunflower has won the young adult/middle school literature award, and that An’s Seed received an honourable mention. I didn’t really know what the Freeman awards were about. Who better to ask than David Jacobson, whose book Are You an Echo? received an honourable mention last year to tell us about the prize, and what winning meant to him.  Continue reading

59. Interview with Chloe Garcia Roberts, translator of the picture book “Feather” by Cao Wenxuan and Roger Mello

2017 saw the publication of Feather, the stunning picture book collaboration between author Cao Wenxuan and illustrator Roger Mello [you can read Minjie Chen and David Jacobson’s post about Cao and Mello at the USBBY conference in Seattle here].  I was delighted to discover that the translator was Chloe Garcia Roberts, poet (The Reveal, 2015), translator and managing editor of the Harvard Review. I know her better for her translations of poetry by the Tang dynasty poet LI Shangyin 李商隱 (813-858), and was keen to learn more about Chloe’s work, and how she came to translate Feather. She very kindly agreed to an interview.  Continue reading

58. China Welfare Institute Publishing House: Picture Books from China, with Love & Beauty

This guest blog by Helen Limon was first published on Children’s Literature in Newcastle, the blog of the Children’s Literature Unit Graduate Group (CLUGG) at Newcastle University, UK earlier this month. Many thanks to Helen Limon and CLUGG for allowing us to repost it here. We’ve added in some Chinese and a few weblinks. Continue reading

57. Dong Yanan’s picture books

DONG Yanan 董亚楠 is the author and illustrator of the gorgeous book Express Delivery from Dinosaur World, which she created while she was a student at the Picture Books Studio at the Central Academy of Fine Art (CAFA) (中央美术学院绘本创作工作室) in Beijing. So far, the book has earned her first prize in the CAFA 2014 Student Design Award, and a special award in the 8B Design Awards; and its English translation, by Helen Wang, received a Kirkus starred review. Continue reading