Perhaps the greatest challenge for Westerners to learning a language that is not based on the Latin alphabet is deciphering its “code.” With the Chinese language, this task is especially difficult because there is no alphabet but, rather, characters or symbols that generally represent concepts or phrases. In Haiyan Fan’s creative and intriguing Chinestory, this arduous task is transformed into an enjoyable journey of discovery.
The book tells the story of Yi, a teenage boy who awakens from a deep sleep and finds himself alone in a wonderful, natural environment. Throughout his journey of self-discovery and awakening senses, Yi expresses himself through a series of Chinese characters.
The book offers several layers of organic learning possibilities that are structured to build one upon the other as the student progresses. At the most basic level is the storyline itself, which Fan recommends the student simply enjoy as if reading a novel, absorbing the cultural nuances and flavor of the Chinese words through the adventures of Yi in the natural world. Gorgeous color illustrations accompany the story and enhance the student’s ability to relate to the Chinese symbols as they are introduced. Some of the illustrations are designed to teach the correct way to draw these symbols.
In addition, the pinyin (Latin letter substitutes to aid in pronunciation) is given, along with explanations of the origins of the Chinese characters and some grammar and usage rules. A glossary of terms is included as well as an index of all the characters introduced (about 150 total) in order of their appearance. Missing is a pronunciation guide to the pinyin and tone marks, which would be helpful.
Chinestory is intended and recommended for students of the Chinese language seeking a deeper, culturally relevant understanding of the origins of Chinese characters and who want to be able to read Chinese rather than only speak it. Both children and adults will appreciate the storybook format and the excellent illustrations.