Book Review: Elephant and Piggie (Set of 17) 开心小猪和大象哥哥

Author: Mo Willems, 戴永翔 (translator)  
Country of original publication: US 
Language: Simplified Chinese
Pages per book: 57
Lines per page: 0-3
Books in the series: 17
Pinyin: No
Audio available: 
Luka compatible and plenty of Ximalaya readings
Available in SIngapore NLB libraries: Yes

What is the Elephant and Piggie series in Chinese?

This is one hilarious book set!  Originally written in English, and translated into Chinese.

Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie set is a modern children’s classic, filled with hilarious storyline and plenty of simple, repetitive sentences overflowing with high frequency words.  For us, it was love at first read.     Every book in the series is ultimately about the everlasting friendship between Gerald the Elephant and Piggie the pig, and the humorous situations they find themselves in.

Gerald is a caring and careful elephant. Piggie is a joyful but not-so-careful pig. Piggie cannot help smiling. Gerald often has a bad time. Gerald worries a lot, which means that Piggie does not have to. They are best friends.

Mo Willems is a New York Times #1 best-selling author and illustrator who started his career on Sesame Street, where he garnered six Emmy Awards for his writing.  So he’s well positioned to be writing early childhood literature, which is based on sound educational pedagogy.   Willems said his primary goal in writing the books was to create stories that were as funny and exciting as possible, despite their being early readers.

In my opinion, Willems has captured everything an early reader book should be: simple words, short sentences, lots of repetition, clear illustrations with plenty of clues…. and no other distractions.

In terms of content, I would say they’re close to perfect:  perfect length, perfect level of humour, and perfect depiction of the world and people within it.  Having over 50+ pages for a kids book sounds long, but the pages are short and the time flies!

Who is this series for?

It’s likely best suited for ages 4 to 8. The books are conversational, first-person style writing, with only a few words on each page, most of which are repeated several times.  

Each book is a “mini drama” between the Elephant and Piggie, which are fun to read out and role play as a family (as an aside: there are some amazing free Ximalaya recordings of this book, done between a father and daughter which do just that!) Then, there are a range of supporting characters that make cameo appearances, like flies, snakes, rhinos, squirrels and that pigeon.  

They’re pretty good for the whole family – my pre-schooler can read large parts of these books on her own, which cannot be said for many other book series (for example, even Mo Willem’s other famous book set 淘气小鸽子 The Pigeon, doesn’t provide the ease of reading which Elephant and Piggie does).  Even just knowing ~300 Chinese characters (i.e. hasn’t finished Sage book series yet), it’s possible for her to read most of the 57-pages in these books, and feel a great sense of accomplishment in doing so.  Meanwhile, the stories are entertaining enough that my 8 year old also requests these to be read on regular rotation. The stories are fun.  And funny!

The entire Elephant and Piggie series is intertwined with the very subtle message that, despite all of their differences (species, personalities, genders, size), Gerald and Piggie can get along.  I appreciate literature like that.

I see the personas of the two main protagonists reflected in my own children too – perhaps you might see it in your kids or their friends?   The elder being a joyful child who overflows with enthusiasm and optimism, and occasionally gets over hyped. The second being the more cautious sister, who is practical, kind, gentle, and just a little anxious at times, although seemingly with wisdom beyond her years. 

As an overall ‘feeling’, I don’t find the Elephant and Piggie books to be quite as charming as many of Mo Willems’ books which are oozing with joy (in this series, the drawings are simpler, the storylines are less bizarre).  However, these books are deliberately very simple to read and give a nascent reader confidence, and in fact, they’ve been a great bridge for my eldest daughter to go on and read other more complex Mo Willems books (like Knuffle Bunny, or Leonardo The Terrible Monster).

What’s especially good?

We especially like:

  • The text is really large and simple dialogue – and it changes size depending on whether we should be YELLING or whispering the words.  This makes for highly fun and dynamic reading experience, with enough cues that the children get it too.
  • Lots of repetition and high frequency words: most of the words are very simple, but occasionally a ‘big’ word slips in when it’s needed
  • It’s perfect for reading aloud – and it’s laugh-out-loud funny for kids
  • It’s Luka compatible – in both Chinese and English (although there are other free Ximalaya audio recordings in Chinese which we much prefer to the Luka audio)
  • Simple drawings – enables the reader to focus on the words, and the body language of the characters. 
  • The books contain life lessons for kids in a covert way – each story creates room for conversations about values, differences, and problem resolution.

As an example of the life lessons, picture this:  Piggie finds a ball, only to have someone (aka “Big Guy”) come and take it away.  This causes Gerald to want to get the ball back. However, along the way, Piggie learns that the “Big Guy” owns the ball and was just trying to play with her, not be mean – see what I mean about having a nice lesson hidden in the subtext?  

Lessons aside, giggles will abound!

Titles in the 17 Book Elephant and Piggie series:

  1. 今天我要飞!  Today I Will Fly!
  2. 我的朋友不开心 My Friend Is Sad
  3. 第一次参加派对!I Am Invited To A Party
  4. 你头上有只鸟! There Is A Bird On Your Head
  5. 吓你一跳!I Will Surprise My Friend!
  6. 看我来扔球!Watch Me Throw The Ball
  7. 大象不会跳舞!Elephant Cannot Dance 
  8. 我要走了!I Am Going
  9. 我能一起玩吗? Can I Play Too?
  10. 我们在一本书里!We Are In A Book
  11. 要不要分享冰激凌?Should I Share My Ice Cream? 
  12. 听我吹小号! Listen To My Trumpet 
  13. 开车去兜风!Let’s Go For A Drive!
  14. 大个子抢了我的球!A Big Guy Took My Ball!
  15. 我是一只青蛙!I’m a Frog!
  16. 新朋友真有趣!My New Friend Is So Fun!
  17. 等待真不容易!Waiting Is Not Easy!

Short synopsis of each book:

These books come in a set of 5 and a set of 17.  Boy am I glad that I chose to buy the set of 17!  My kids tore through this entire series so fast: 

  • 今天我要飞!  Today I Will Fly! :  Piggie is determined to fly, but Gerald sensibly suggests this is impossible.  Piggie refuses to give up, and gives it her best shot, “I will try, I will try”.
  • 我的朋友不开心 My Friend Is Sad:  Gerald is having a sad day.  Piggie desperately tries to cheer him up, by dressing up a cowboy, a clown, and a robot. But what will turn his frown into a smile again?.
  • 第一次参加派对!I Am Invited To A Party:  Piggie receives her first ever invitation to a party, and asks Gerald to join her.  But, what will they wear?  Gerald thinks he has expert advice to give.
  • 你头上有只鸟! There Is A Bird On Your Head: Piggie tells Gerald that a bird has landed on his head, and Gerald really isn’t happy.   He slowly learns that it’s not so bad, in fact, it’s better than having two birds on your head.  This book was the winner of the Theodor Suess Geisel Medal in 2008.  Gosh, the book series is really that old?
  • 吓你一跳!I Will Surprise My Friend! Piggie and Gerald agree to surprise each other.  But things don’t work out as planned, which surprises both of them.
  • 看我来扔球!Watch Me Throw The Ball: Piggie wants to throw the ball, but Gerald wants to put more thought into it.
  • 大象不会跳舞!Elephant Cannot Dance: Piggie attempts to teach Gerald how to dance, but it’s not as easy as she hoped. In the process, Gerald teaches Piggie something much more important.
  • 我要走了!I Am Going:  Piggie decides she is going, and Gerald is distraught because he doesn’t want his friend to go away for good.  Why does Piggie want to go?
  • 我能一起玩吗? Can I Play Too?:  Piggie and Gerald are trying to play ball, when a snake asks to join.  The snake cannot catch the ball, so the trio need to adapt their game to be snake-friendly.
  • 我们在一本书里!We Are In A Book: Gerald and Piggie discover the joy of reading about themselves.  But how will the story end?
  • 要不要分享冰激凌?Should I Share My Ice Cream? Gerald has a big decision to make – but will he make it in time.  This story is about the challenges of doing the right thing, and making things right.
  • 听我吹小号! Listen To My Trumpet:  Piggie hopes to wow Gerald with her new trumpet. Gerald listen, but winces. Gerald, being a great friend, conscientiously decides he should tell her the truth — albeit as gently as possible.
  • 开车去兜风!Let’s Go For A Drive!: This is another Geisel Award winning title.  The two friends are preparing to go for a drive and trying to remember what to pack.  The only problem is that they have forgotten they don’t have a car!
  • 大个子抢了我的球!A Big Guy Took My Ball! : Piggie’s ball is taken, and Gerald helps her to retrieve it from the alleged perpetrator.  But they learn along the way that there’s always a different point of view.
  • 我是一只青蛙!I’m a Frog!: Piggie has some ribbiting news!   Can Gerald accept Piggie’s new identity? Piggie explains the art of using one’s imagination, how to “pretend” just for fun and giggles.
  • 新朋友真有趣!My New Friend Is So Fun!:  Piggie makes a new friend and has a lot of fun with her.  But it leaves Gerald (and the snake) feeling jealous and lonely.  Do they have something to worry about?  This is one of the few books in which there are four different voices – so it’s a favourite in our family.
  • 等待真不容易!Waiting Is Not Easy!: Piggie has a surprise for Gerald, but he has to wait for it.  Gerald learns a truth familiar to every preschooler: that waiting indeed is not easy, but it’s usually worth it!. We’ve certainly used the lessons in this book with our daughters.

Translation from English to Chinese:

It’s worth noting that I have heard from others that they don’t feel this series was translated particularly well from the English into Chinese.   There have been several different translators for different versions, so maybe that makes a difference.    In the 17-book which we purchased, it’s been translated by 戴永翔 . I think it’s been excellently written in such a way that it keeps the charm, but still preserves the essence of Mo Willems’ mission, which was to enable the books to be read and enjoyed by a nascent reader.   

I’m aware that there is another 5-book set translated by 漪然 , which we haven’t read.  Some desk-based research on the differences between the sets indicates that in our 17 book set, the name “Gerald” is translated phonetically into a Chinese name “杰拉” (jié lā ….. using two common characters jié = excellent and 拉 lā = pull). In contrast, the 5-book set translates “Gerald” into “小象“(xiǎo xiàng = little elephant).    I’ve also heard from a friend in Taiwan that the traditional Chinese translation is totally different again!

Having not read the original English version,  it’s hard to comment beyond that fact that we enjoy reading the Simplified Chinese version which we have, and we also enjoy listening to the English audio, which according to the children, it not that different from the Chinese.

Where to buy in Singapore?

You can borrow all these titles from the local libraries in Singapore (NLB), which lies excellent news!

We purchased our set in Singapore from the online Children’s Chinese bookstore called My Story Treasury . I’m excited to share that My Story Treasury has also kindly extended a discount code to all readers of my blog. Use “lahlahbanana10” on check-out to receive 10% off any title that you purchase through their store.

If outside of Singapore, other options to try could be Deziremi (UK), Jo Jo Learning (US), China Sprout (US) or Taobao or EZBuy (rest of Asia), with a search based on the story titles indicated above.

Other tips

I’m sharing a helpful link which My Story Treasury introduced me to which has teaching resources (in English) about how to use Elephant & Piggie books in the classroom with extended activities.  It has some interesting ideas, especially for value-based themes, but it also includes art, PE, creative writing and more for the classroom.

Luka compatible

The whole 17 book set can be read on Luka, in both English and Chinese. 

Luka reads all 17 books in Chinese, and also can read 8 books in this set in English (just tap Luka’s head twice to switch languages).   We sometimes do a page in Chinese and then repeat it in English.   The 8 books that Luka reads in both languages are:   

吓你一跳!I Will Surprise My Friend!
第一次参加派对!I Am Invited To A Party
看我来扔球!Watch Me Throw The Ball
今天我要飞!  Today I Will Fly!
你头上有只鸟! There Is A Bird On Your Head
大个子抢了我的球!A Big Guy Took My Ball!
开车去兜风!Let’s Go For A Drive!:
新朋友真有趣!My New Friend Is So Fun!

Actually, we don’t really need the Chinese audio, as my children can fully read most of these books, and they just fill in the gaps using Luka “point and read” mode.   However, we do like to listen to the English audio (it has great sound effects and musical background), so usually I let the children read in Chinese and then we listen to Luka read in English, where its available. 

Luka is a fantastic reading companion, which I’ve written about previously if you would like to find out more about this amazing little robot.

What are other similar books to Elephant & Piggie?

  • Books by the same author: Mo Willems has written several excellent books (in English), many of which are translated into Chinese too. These include 淘气小鸽 (Pigeon series); 小猫小猫, 该睡了! (Time to sleep, sleep the sleep!); 小猫小猫, 谁在叫? (What’s your sound, hound the hound?); 小猫小猫, 那是谁? (Cat the cat, who is that?), 怪兽阿抖来了  (Leonardo, the terrible monster),; 跟大伙儿说谢谢! (The thank you book), and many many more.  Do you have any favourites to recommend to us?
  • Books at a similar level of Chinese reading: For other similar level Chinese books, listed by complexity of characters, please see my earlier post on Chinese bridging books.
  • Picture books which also can be narrated by Luka: See my list of Luka compatible books at this link, sorted by age group.

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