A Dragon Helped Us Learn Chinese

© 2008 Christoph Niemann

Every once in a while my child receives a present that benefits the whole family. Our friend Gen bought an amazing book for Dek’s birthday. She knows how much we enjoy traveling and learning new languages, so she went on the hunt for the perfect gift.

The Pet Dragon by Christoph Niemann was in a stack of toy cars, dinosaurs and puzzles. All of these gifts were great and are being very happily played with, but there is just something about a new book. It makes my heart sing. As the mom who has to read the books, I look forward to a new adventure. (Yes, even if it is a 10 page board book about a fire truck. Trust me, the same books get old fast.) As a boy who loves dragons, Dek is thrilled to have new pictures to explore.

Our new book follows the adventure of a little girl who has lost her pet dragon. She goes on a long journey to find him. Along the way, Niemann adds in Chinese characters to illustrate some of the words in the book. These aren’t thrown in randomly. The character for “tree” is incorporated into the illustration of a tree so you can see how the character was developed. Niemann cleverly shows how the character for “woman” looks like a dress and the character for “mountain” looks like three mountain peaks. Not all of the illustrations are historically accurate to how the characters for words came about, but they do a very good job of associating the language to modern-day images.

Niemann also builds off of basic characters to make more complex ones. The character for “mouth” looks like a box and is imposed over the main girl’s mouth. He then builds the Chinese character for “speak/words” using that same box for “mouth” but with lines coming out of it, as if the words are rising out of the girl’s mouth.

This book is extremely smart and a truly remarkable way for English speakers to learn a new way to read a difficult language. The word and image associations make the Chinese characters easy to read and very recognizable. I wish we’d had this book before we left on our first trip to China. It would have made life a lot easier. We will just have to read up for our next trip. Until then, pass on a fun book the next birthday party you attend. You never know where you will transport that child and their family. You may even inspire them to travel or learn a new language.

Book Details:

  • Title: The Pet Dragon
  • Text and Illustrations: Christoph Niemann
  • ISBN: 9780061577765
  • Hardcover/ 40 pages
  • Imprint: Greenwillow Books: An Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
  • Ages 4-8 (although 2-99 will love it)

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