The Empty Pot. Demi. Henry H0lt and Company. 1990.
What will you tell your children about beauty? Is it the polished veneer of the best face money can buy?” Is it the glitter of gold leaf in the mansion of someone selling empty dreams? Or is it the smile on your little one’s face after a hug? Is it the truth?
Reading the Empty Pot, it is not difficult to guess what Demi thinks. Here we have the story of a boy, Ping. Ping has always been good at growing flowers. When the Emperor holds a competition to see who can grow the most beautiful flower, Ping naturally seems like a shoe-in. That wily Emperor, though, has a few tricks up his sleeve.
The story is well told so that kids around age three can clearly understand what is going on. While set in China, “emperor” and “Ping” are just about the only unusual words. You won’t see very Chinese words like” Qing”, “eunuch”, or “concubine”.
The illustrations are great, they are done in a sort of Chinese landscape panorama style. Some are realistic with beautiful details of a Chinese residence. Others are minimal, but imbued with symbolism. In one scene, the emperor stands alone on a blank canvas on one page, with Ping in the opposite corner on the next page.
Overall, this book wears its message on its sleeve, and has an interesting story. After all, unadorned honesty is more beautiful than voluptuous deceit.
Love Asian Dramas? Feel like you might give up on them if you see just one more rich boy meets poor girl series? Then maybe it’s time to try something a little bit different. Maybe it’s time you tried Hong Kong TV dramas. It’s easier than ever (for American audiences) with about 20 or so HK dramas on Hulu and the recent launch of the Encore TVB app.
Warning: if you know a Hong Kong expat, they’ve probably just rolled their eyes so hard that they are on the floor. But hear us out. Hong Kong dramas canbegood. Yes, they can. They’re just…different. This article seeks to highlight some of that difference so you can enjoy without inhibition.
How does it work?
When we say Hong Kong TV drama, we mean those from TVB. Even though other networks have been dreamers and contenders along the way, it’s pretty much just TVB. For a domestic market of less than 8 million, the quantity of dramatic content produced by the single network is staggering: 2.5 hours Monday to Friday every single week of the year. There is no re-run season, no summer break, it’s all fresh, all the time.
Each evening, two one-hour-long dramas air. They go on for 20, 30, or 40 episode runs, and then are done. Rarely, a series gets a sequel, but that can be as many as ten years later. The remaining half hour is occupied by a long-running dramady. As of this writing ‘Come Home Love’ has been on for more than 800 episodes.
What will you see?
There’s really two basic genres – ancient and modern. Ancient dramas depict China/HK in the 1920’s, Qing Dynasty, Tang Dynasty, or other. Modern dramas are all about different workplaces. While cop shows pop up all the time, there’s also shows about lawyers, doctors, property agents, celebrities, even customs agents. All shows are centered around a core group of characters, usually 5-6, and their (mis)adventures in the world.
It is in their adventures that we come to the biggest bone of contention for non-HK audiences: wild tonal shifts. Would it raise your hackles to see a cop investigate a grisly murder in one scene only to be followed by the wacky antics of his brother’s failed love life in the next? Is so, don’t worry. Accepting these shifts is just a matter of acclimation. That’s what Hong Kong audiences like. It’s what they expect. In fact, I have heard a Hong Konger remark that while they liked the story of (the greatest show ever) Breaking Bad, they felt that the unvaryingly grim tone detracted from its enjoyability. So there you go.
Why give HK TV dramas a try?
So you really need a reason to watch TV? Culture, for one. As great as Asian Dramas from other countries can be, this viewer often feels like they’ve been focus-grouped to death to appeal to a demographic that I’m not a part of. No one expects Hong Kong dramas to have much of a reach outside Hong Kong and the Cantonese diaspora. So relatively speaking, you get a fairly unfiltered view of the hopes and dreams of the local audience. Not only that, they are designed to appeal to the broadest HK audience possible so there should be something for everyone here.
Now you are amped, and prepared to be angry if it turns out you don’t like HK dramas. So here are three recommendations to make your chances of enjoyability go up.
When Heaven Burns – Four band members go hiking, three return. Twenty years later, they realize they can’t avoid each other forever.
Beyond the Realm of Conscience – Tang dynasty, imperial palace, two sisters. Drastically different life-choices, drastically different outcomes.
Catch Me Now – Cat-and-mouse police thriller. The mouse leads the cat to something bigger than a mouse.
So there you go, before you hit the books again, maybe try out a Hong Kong TV drama.
The Halloween protocol for children is simple, give your little ones an unshakeable belief that monsters and ghosts aren’t real, then take them out on a night where monsters and ghosts roam the streets. You want candy? Well, kids, you’ll have to be a little bit brave. And to be a little bit brave, you’ll have to be a little bit scared. Nevertheless, little ones quickly learn to overlook the zombies, witches, and…princesses in favor of sugar bombs, tooth rotters, and gut punchers.
“Boo!” offers a micro-introduction to Halloween with bits on pumpkins, costumes, and overcoming fright for that sweet pirate’s booty. “Boo!” provides just enough story to deliver its message and introduce Halloween vocabulary related to costumes and parties.
Did I mention that this book is magical? While a perfect book for the youngest of the young, it also performs a beautiful trick for emergent readers. After they’ve listened to it a couple of times, kids will like to read it to you. Yes, it is simple, but captivating enough, so that kids can ‘memorize’ it, then use the pictures as clues to read it back to you.
And the illustrations, they bring the cute. But what else would you expect from our favorite big-headed, diaper clad, world enthusiast? For a book that teaches vocabulary, pictures looking like what they represent is important. Patricelli nails it, and does so with her simple but expressive illustrations. With their big black lines and bright colorful fills, the illustrations made an impression on my kids, who now do their best to imitate the style.
The perfect Halloween book for the super young and the just starting to read.
Momo is Not Sad. Trace Moroney. Sesame Publication Co. 2012.
Emotions. Kids. We love emotions when our kids squeal with delight at, “Hi, Hungry. I’m dad.” We’re less than enchanted when there is a weeping puddle of tears and flailing limbs because “I know you want the pink spoon but it’s in the dishwasher.” But it happens. Kids get angry, sad, frustrated along with happy, bold, and elated.
Enter Momo. Momo is a kid who is a rabbit, and a rabbit who is in touch with his emotions. In this book Momo is not sad. In other books in the series he is “angry,” “not scared,” and even “jealous.” Educating kids on their emotions is a core skill set for success in their lives. This Momo books has a clear sequence 1) how to recognize the emotion of sadness, 2) common causes of sadness, and 3) some strategies to deal with sadness.
The edition reviewed is in traditional Chinese characters with pinyin directly underneath for pronunciation help. For kids who know Chinese, the pinyin provides a nice scaffold for them to build up their reading skills. For those learning Chinese, there is a cheat sheet in the back with English translations. The sentences are simple enough that Chinese learners who know the basics should be able to compare the Chinese with the English meaningfully.
While the series deals in the prickliest of emotions, the illustrations are soft and cuddly. Anyone who’s had an emotions (and hope you all have) knows that they can be hard to describe. The pictures succeed in demonstrating the metaphors we use to try to capture emotions.
Overall, it’s possible to teach kids about emotions and teach kids Chinese at the same time.
What monster do parents fear most? The evil temper tantrum. When can it strike? Anytime, anywhere, even on Halloween. “Daisy Saves Halloween” is the first book published by our affiliates at GiMi Books. So, this is a book preview rather than review. For a biased review we would probably say, “best book ever, best illustrations ever.”
Along with a celebration of a fun holiday, this book aims to give an example of one of life’s most important skills: facing inner storms with outer calm and making hysterics history. Daisy gets some help learning to think rather than react when her Halloween party runs into some problems.
The illustrator, Christmas Wong, made these eye-catching illustrations with acrylic, pastel, and felt. With a cute and extraordinarily unique visual sense. We are proud to present this book.
It is available to purchase here. Keep your eyes open for traditional and simplified Chinese versions coming soon!
Butterflies in My Stomach and Other School Hazards. Serge Bloch. Sterling. 2008.
Do your kids ever sound like they’re living on another planet? Maybe it’s because our idioms sound like they’re describing another planet. They’re just listening, and Serge Bloch has picked up on this absurdity in “Butterflies.” The story is simple, our nameless protagonist has his first day of school. He is naturally nervous in a new environment, and a variety of adults try to suss out what is bothering him.
The real star of the story is the various idioms that we hear everyday. They sound normal to us, but we might not have considered how they sound to children. They range from “bottling up” our feelings to “being in a pickle” to “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” Kids will likely be familiar with a few of these, but your kids will have endless fun asking you why these idioms mean one thing, but seem to say another.
The illustrations bring the idioms to life with simple ink drawings for reality, and the idiomatic language illustrated with “real” pictures. The result is something like a newspaper comic strip invaded by pickle-bearing aliens.
Add this colorful book to your life, and your kids will add lots of colorful phrases to theirs.