This is Part 3 of my Building a Chinese Library for the Kids series. In Parts 1 and 2, I gave some background on Chinese children’s books and how I picked them, as well as a survey of local libraries as a place to check out some books you may want to buy.
One of the most common questions I see asked on FB groups is,
“I’m going back to Taiwan to buy some books for my xx year old child, do you have recommendations on what to get?”
I’m always tempted to say, “It depends. Tell me the family background, child’s age, Chinese level…..” Not an answer I would have liked to see myself.
So just like my background post on different types of Chinese books, I thought I’d also do a background post on publishers I’ve encountered in Taiwan and some of the authors you really cannot go wrong with. You could go to Eslite when in Taiwan and ask for books written by these authors. Or if you see a book published by these publishers, chances are, they’re pretty good books. (Note: I make no promises!)
For each of these books, I will link them to Amazon if there are English versions. You can see that there’s an English version because there’s a space between the Chinese and English titles. Otherwise it links to books.com.tw. Though my focus is on Taiwanese publishers, many of their books have simplified versions.
First off, I’m no expert on all the publishing companies out there. Just this week I learned about 東方出版社 and their great line of books. So here’s just a partial list of some preferred and not preferred publishers. If you like, you can look at a master list of publishers off of books.com.tw. Other websites I like to go through is 元生文化 Anson Book and 小書庫童書網 Baby Library. Anson Books has those old publishers with quality book sets, often non-fiction. Baby Library gives really good pictures and descriptions of books you may be interested in.
So as a summary, if you were to go to Eslite (pronounced like elite!), try books published by 信誼基金出版社 Hsin Yi Publishing, 小魯文化 Tian Wei Publishing, 天下/親子天下 Common Wealth Magazine. Look for 風車出版社 Windmill Publishing & 幼福出版社 You Fu Publishing & 世一出版社 Acme Books for cheap baby books and basic knowledge books at Costco Taiwan, 大潤發 RT Mart, or even convenience stores like 7-11.
I know I’m a bit biased, but I’m not a real big fan of these publishing companies. To me, these are the cheap books you buy at Costo-like warehouse stores, or 7-11. My impression of their books are that 1) they tend to sell them in sets, 2) they are very cutely and brightly illustrated, and 3) they’re cheap. That said, if you’re looking for basic knowledge books, they are the company to go, partly because they’re cheap.
By basic knowledge, I mean, character flashcards, or maybe a book about different types of transportation, or super easy encyclopedic book on birds, a book on animals, etc. These are books for the baby to toddler age, where they’re learning Chinese vocabulary. All three of these publisher also sell cheap nursery songbooks. I’ve got quite a few of them in my house and like them.
These two came from the same parent company. I don’t really know why they’re different. I’ve linked to all there books in Books.com.tw because their own website doesn’t just sell books. This company’s major focus is on Early Childhood Education.
In any case, you can always find high quality books with this publishing company. They’ve been in existence for a long time. They’ve got 2-3 different sets of picture books with audio CD for 1-6 year olds, a magazine for 1-3 year olds call 小太陽 Little Sun, and even Early Readers. When you go to the bookstore and look at their best sellers list, many of the 0-6 books are from this publishing company.
Han Sheng for me, is where you find really old published books that are of high quality. For example, they’ve got a set of books called 漢聲中國童話 Han Sheng Chinese Fairy Tales, one for each day of the year, that I grew up with. They don’t have many published books. But I don’t think I dislike any of their published book sets. They’re just very expensive.
They’ve got sets on Encyclopedias, picture books, math picture books, Miffy DVD, Children’s Fiction (such as Little House on the Prairie!), DK’s Eyewitness, Teen Fiction, I could go on. Everything I would get if I had money! Note, a lot of these you probably can’t just buy in Eslite.
MDN Kids is a funny one. They’re famous for their Daily Children’s Newspaper that they publish. I wish we had such a thing in English. I’ve not really been impressed with any of the books I see in their physical bookstore. They’re not bad per se. But they also don’t make me want to buy them. Other than 林良 Lin Liang, a really famous children’s author whose books they publish.
However, anytime I see a good book at a library that I want to buy, it often turns out that it was published by MDN Kids. It’s just that these books are now out of print. So I like to look for their old books in used bookstores like Mollie.
I like this publishing company. In my mind, its quality is equivalent to 信誼 Hsin Yi, and 親子天下 Common Wealth Magazine. I don’t think I’ve got too many picture books from this publisher. But they’ve got a few that are super popular, like 一百層樓的家 The 100 Story Home and 小雞 Little Chick Series (my review). They’ve got a lot of good translated Japanese books and baby books (e.g. really simple picture books that are not board books).
What I remember most about 小魯文化 Tian Wei Publishing is their great series on Chinese History, World History, Taiwanese History for preschool and lower elementary and equivalent elementary Taiwanese, Chinese, and World history books for mid and upper elementary.
For me, they’re most famous for the 神奇樹屋 Magic Treehouse series. It feels like they deal mostly with translated books. And the popular series they have that’s by a local author 用點心學校 Dessert School is, to me, is those books that are funny and silly so children enjoy them, not necessarily very literary books; similar to Junie B. Jones. I haven’t read the books yet, just my impression.
In any case, they also have a set of Early Readers.
Isn’t it terrible? These two publishers (小天下 and 天下) have almost the same name! I only realized they were different this week. They also publish a parenting magazine called 親子天下 so sometimes their books list this name.
Like 信誼 Hsin Yi, this publishing company has a lot of good books, some translated, some by popular Taiwanese authors. They don’t seem to have a huge selection of picture books, and yet I’ve heard or purchased many of them, because the books usually have beautiful illustrations, like the 大家一起玩 Everyone Plays Toegether set by 竹下文子 Fumiko Takeshita. Or the 我的感覺 Way I Feel series by Cornelia Superman.
This is my newly discovered publishing company. They appears to be a super duper old publishing company (founded 1945!). So their books are all those classics that may be out of print now. I’m looking at their early reader series called 故事摩天輪 Stories Ferriswheel and even easier early reader called 法蘭茲系列 Franz series by Christine Nostlinger.
There are a few other publishers that I like. But I won’t list them here because I typically go for their non-fiction. I may mention them in my non-fiction post instead.
There are a few authors where I just buy whatever new books they publish, without reading reviews. They are:
Lai Ma is a prolific author who also illustrates books written by other people. Though initially his illustrations struck me as kind of ugly, I have come to love them. The characters he draws sometimes show up as side characters in his various books, as my kids have pointed out to me recently. His books are always kind of silly and funny and they’re true picture books, with great details that require kids to really look.
Many of his books are bilingual with CD. And if not, you can get an English version on Amazon. The books are beautifully written and illustrated. Two of my favorites are 小魚散步 On My Way To Buy Eggs or 熊爸爸去另一個城市工作 Papa Bear Goes to Work in Another City. His baby picture books 米米系列 Mimi Series are similarly great.
I don’t love Tom Liu’s illustrations. And sometimes I don’t love the writing either, it’s not as deep as Chen Chih-Yuan or as funny as Lai Ma. They’re geared toward the younger crowd in the 0-6 age range. But, his books are a quality above most picture books. And the kids love them. Astroboy has recently been reading, and re-reading 建築師傑克 Jack the Architect. And we own many of his books.
I buy Lin Liang books because of his writing. We own a set of picture books by him, (小紙船看海、小動物兒歌集、汪汪的家、我要一個家), that I love. His books, to me, are a bit more literary. So they’re good books to expose the children to for good writing.
Taro Gomi is a popular Japanese author. You may have come across his Everyone Poops book in English. His books are geared toward the younger children, toddlers especially. We have quite a number of his books. I love them because they’re often bilingual, like 鱷魚怕怕牙醫怕怕 The Crocodile and the Dentist. They’re silly and funny and make the children go, “eh?” like 看，脫光光! Look We’re All Naked!
There are a few other Japanese authors that I like. I will mention them in the various book recommendation sections. I really advocate for Chinese authors if you have limited suitcase space. Some things always get lost in translation.
Now that we’ve covered what you would get if you only had 30 minutes at a bookstore, time to list our current collection, starting with Board Books!