The secret to find great Chinese picture books in the Singapore library with Luka

How to find great books in the Singapore NLB Libraries?

One special thing about Singapore is the collection of books contained in the National Library Board (NLB) libraries.  The NLB is really a treasure trove, filled with amazing books, including great children’s picture books in Simplified Chinese.  But it’s a little intimidating at the same time, especially if you’re trying to browse for titles in a language which you don’t speak.

Usually I do a lot of reading up before I get there, and this post is to help you out discover some gems too, especially for titles which are compatible with Luka Reading Robot.

How to know if the book will work with Luka Reading Robot?

The easiest way to determine whether a book is compatible with Luka Hero is to use the Luka app on your phone, and scan the book barcode/ISBN.  However, regular library borrowers will have realised that about half the books don’t have the ISBN accessible because it’s blocked by the library board’s sticker.  Not very helpful. 

So, usually I go by a few general rules of thumb to find Luka compatible books:

  1. Avoid books from the Singapore Chinese section, as 99% chance it won’t be in the Luka collection
  2. Focus on books from mainland China
  3. Focus on publishers like Scholastic, HarperCollins, Ladybird, or major Chinese publishing houses (in particular Beijing Limited Publishing Co and Qingdao Publishing House seem to be winners)

Tips for finding the right books?

Finding books which are compatible with Luka can read is actually much easier than finding books which your children will actually enjoy reading with Luka.

My pet peeves with finding good Chinese books for Luka in the library are:

  1. Some are translated poorly from other languages (e.g. the rhymes don’t carry through, such as for the Madeline series), but as non-Chinese speaking parents I wouldn’t know
  2. Many of the Chinese origin books place a strong emphasis on moral values, which is not a bad thing, but it means they’re really not so fun or imaginative
  3. Some book types which are better read by parents to their children, rather than by a robot like Luka, especially if the adult cannot engage with what is being read (eg books which raise a lot of open questions such as T-Rex series, or books which require explanations such as Full Moon)
  4. The NLB catalogue for Chinese – unlike the English books – rarely has photographs of the books covers, so I’m often unsure if I’ve discovered the correct book or not
  5. The way some of the libraries in Singapore are set up (with books neatly on shelves, spine facing outwards) is not conducive for a child to browse, so it’s difficult to let your child lead on which books they want to read
  6. ISBN is inaccessible because it’s blocked by the library sticker (but there’s a fix to this….. use this barcode generator, which a reader suggested)

Our tried and tested strategy is to find an author the children like (if they enjoy the book, it generally avoids all the above issues) and then focus on finding more books from that same author.  Reading through multiple books by the same writer has been a fun experience for us, and often we can notice similarities / intertwined themes across them.  The authors shared below are some of the winners we have found.

I also find looking for specific titles of books in the library in person is not a good use of time.  Often the specific books are not there, as they’ve been borrowed, or they’re available in a different library.  So, if you’re really really looking for a specific book, I would recommend reserving a book through the online catalogue (it costs $1.55 per book, and you can pick it up from any library). I’ve kept a list of all the Luka compatible book titles which we have enjoyed, sorted by age group.

Good Chinese children’s book authors (which work with Luka too)

Look for good, prolific authors who have written lots of great books, and just take a chance that most will be interesting for your child, and also compatible with Luka.   Once you’re onto a good author, keep trying to go back for them!   It also helps that library book sare organised by author’s surname, so it’s easy to find the place on the book shelf and search through the titles available.

Once you find an author that resonates with your family, go to that section of the library and see if there are more!

Authors we like are listed below, along with all corresponding Luka compatible books we’ve which found in the NLB collection.  These books would also all be great without a Luka too, since it’s the fact they’re fun, engaging and imaginative stories with great pictures.

Chinese Books for toddlers / beginners in the language

You will note all of these are books translated from English. That’s my bias, because when I’ve read with my youngest children, I want to be sure that I also know what the story is about, and also that the children will be familiar too.

  • Eric Carle:  All the English classics (Hungry Caterpillar, Spider’s Busy Day, Draw Me a Star, Where are You Going?, etc also translated into Chinese.  Some of these don’t work so well with Luka is the pages are not regular sized. In the CAR section of picture books.
  • Mem Fox: 小熊的安眠曲 (Sleepy bears),  袋貂魔法  (10 Fingers and 10 Toes). In the FOX section of picture books.
  • Pat Hutchins: 母鸡萝丝去散步 (Rosie’s Walk), 动物绝对不应该做的事 (Animals should definitely not wear clothes).    In the HUT section of picture books.
  • Sam McBratney: 猜猜我有多爱你 (Guess how much I love you), 你笑起来可爱极了 ( It’s lovely when you smile), 你们都是我的最爱 (You are all my favourites).  In the MAC section of books, mainly available at Tampines Hub. 
  • Todd Parr: 带上玩具去野营; Family series, 和平书 (The Peace Book), 淘弟有个大世界 (Todd’s World series), 不一样,没关系 (It’s Okay to Be Different), 我不怕了 (The I’m Not Scared Book), Courage & Strength series, etc, which I’ve reviewed hereIn the PAR section of picture books.
  • Herve Tullet:   点点点 (Dots); 变变变(再版) Change Change; :小黄点(Little Yellow Dot).  In the TUL section of picture books.
  • Mo Willems: 淘气小鸽 (Pigeon series); 开心小猪和大象哥哥 (Elephant & Piggie Series which I reviewed here),  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.  In the WIL section of Chinese picture books.

Chinese Picture Books Best for kindergarten and early primary

You’ll see for my list for older children that we tend to love books translated from Japanese (and many of them don’t have English versions at all).  I think Japanese books are some of the few picture book types which can keep a much older child fully engaged, with their vivid storylines and intricately detailed pictures

  • Doreen Cronin (克罗宁, 朵琳):   苍蝇的日记 (Diary of a Fly),  蚯蚓的日记  (Diary Of A Worm), 嘻哈农场 (Click, Clack, Read).  蜘蛛的日记 (Diary of a Spider).  All in the CRO section of picture books.
  • Taro Gomi (五味太郎):   桌子就是桌子 (The table is the table), 如果是你怎么办 (What if it was you?), 海的那边是什么 小金鱼逃走了 (Little Goldfish Escaped), 牛的春天 (Spring of the Mavericks), 冰激凌是谁吃的 (Who Ate The Ice Cream?), 看,脱光光了!( Look, I’m naked!), 藏猫猫 藏猫猫 (Tibetan Cat),  黄色的……是蝴蝶 (The Butterfly is Yellow), 从窗外送来的礼物(Gift From The Window), 袜子藏哪儿了 (Where Are The Socks Hidden?), etc.   In the GOM section of picture books.
  • Toshio Iwai (岩井俊雄):   地下100层的房子 (House of 100 Storeys series, which I reviewed here); 小手指的大冒险 (Truth or Dare).  In the IWA section of picture books.
  • Christian Jolibois:  不一样的卡梅拉 : 珍藏版, 我是罗密欧. 我给巨人做饭 ,etc  (Les P’Tites Poules series).  In the JOL section of picture books, mainly available at Tampines Hub. 
  • Satoshi Kako (加古里子): 乌鸦面包店  (Mr Crow’s Bakery series of 5, which I did a more detailed review on here); 101个蝌蚪宝宝  (101 Tadpoles), 我在哪里? (Where am I?).  In the KAK section of picture books.
  • Lai Ma (赖马) :  勇敢小火车 (Brave Little Train);  卡尔的特别任务 (Carl’s Special Mission) , 爱哭公主, 生气王子 ( The Angry Prince),  我变成一只喷火龙了 (I am a fire breathing dragon), and plenty plenty more.   Take particular note that in the Singapore NLB collection, these are listed under the name “LIM”… so go to the LIM section, and nowhere else.
  • Noritake Suzuki (铃木典丈):   我的神奇马桶 (My magic toilet). 我的百变浴缸 (My amazing bath).   Available in SUZ section.
  • Miyanishi Tatsuya (宫西达也): 好饿的小蛇 (The little hungry snake);  你看起来好像很好吃 (T Rex series of 8, which I reviewed here), Virtue series, 哒哒哒爸爸超人 (Da Da Da Dad Superman), 神奇糖果店 (Magic Candy Shop), and plenty more.  Some of these books are very emotional/sad, so worth keeping in mind. In the TAT section of picture books.

Don’t forget to borrow some books which you can read with your kids too!

Research shows that exposure to books has a direct positive impact on a child’s literacy and emotional development.  However, studies also show that the language should ideally be live and in person.  Reading in Chinese with Luka is a great start to reading aloud and exposure to Mandarin audio, but don’t forget you should still read to them too.  Whilst you’re at the library, be sure to borrow some books in a language you can read comfortably in, and enjoy the literacy journey with your child.   

One nice aspect of the Singapore NLB collection is they have specific shelves for “Bilingual Chinese-English” books (with both languages concurrently through the book), so you could consider borrowing from this section.

I’ve made a list of our favourite 1000+ Luka Compatible Books. You could even use this to search in your own local library catalogues.

Which libraries in Singapore are the most child friendly?

NLB has 26 libraries islandwide.  Honestly, if I’m looking for books to read with Luka, I usually go to our nearest library by myself (without kids) and do a quick ‘hit and run’.

But there are some libraries which are better designed for children, and have some fascinating kid-friendly features to insure young readers (although a few of these features are closed at the moment with COVID restrictions).

Some of the more kid friendly libraries are:

  • Bedok library: with a nice garden-themes children’s reading area
  • Bishan library:  it’s physically nothing particularly special compared to several of the newly renovated libraries, but the entire basement is designated for children which gives a nice expanse for reading; they also have some excellent Chinese book reading programmes for children.
  • Bukit Panjang library: with its own Children’s Zone
  • Central Public Library:  with a garden-theme children’s area, including a Treehouse and a weather cloud, which changes colour based on the outside weather
  • Jurong Regional Library: with its very own massive early literacy library
  • Pasir Ris: again, with an expansive children’s area
  • Our Tampines Hub: with an entire floor dedicated to young children, and a really unique collection of Chinese picture books, as  Chou Sing Chu Foundation (CSCF) is the main sponsor of the library, and has donated 56,000 Chinese children’s books to the Tampines  Library from 2016 to 2021.  This means the books here are slightly different from other collections, with more slant towards Chinese culture and less books translated from other languages.
  • Woodlands library:  also with a tree-themed children’s area

The NLB library is an indispensable resource!

Be sure to make regular trips to the library….. whilst it’s not always a family friendly affair (many libraries require children to be very very quiet), it’s fantastic to keep new books coming into the house.  We tend to have a rotating supply of books, in a variety of formats and genres.  Be sure to look out for the reading lists which the library recommends (a new list comes out about once a quarter), and also look out for storytelling sessions, which happen in both English and Chinese (and other mother tongue languages).  

I’d love to know which authors are your family’s favourite too. Please do share!

Raising a happy reader is fun and rewarding, and can be relatively cheap if you rely on the NLB collection.    Enjoy the journey!

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