Site icon Lah Lah Banana

Simplified Chinese Comic Books & Graphic Novels for Kids

This blog post outlines six sets of Simplified Chinese graphic novels which my children have enjoyed – they’re all originally written in Chinese, and are hard to put down.  They have touching stories, Asian graphics, and are overall great ways to enjoy the Chinese language further. 

What is a Graphic Novel?

Graphic novels are a great way to encourage a reluctant child to read … in any language.  We’ve found them helpful for Chinese because it breaks up the monotony of reading a 150+ page book of characters.

Some people may confuse graphic novels with comic books, because they essentially do look similar.  In English terminology, the key difference is that a graphic novel tells a complete story within the book, just like any other novel.  It will have:

For the purposes of this blog post, I’m using the term “graphic novel” to refer to full books (novels) which are written in pictorial (graphic) form, but which are not part of ongoing periodical series like Marvel, Tin Tin, Doraemon, Nao Nao, Pleasant Goat and Big Bad Wolf, GG Bond etc.  In Chinese language itself, I don’t think there is a distinction (yet?) between the genres as everything simply seems to be called 漫畫 (comic).

Why are graphic novels good for learning Chinese?

Some kids just love comics and drawings, so if you can get them to immerse in Chinese at the same time, it seems a good idea.  One of my kids can spend hours reading these books if I don’t stop them.

Key benefits of reading graphic novels in Chinese which we’ve seen first person:

What I especially like about well-written graphic novels is that they allow the reader to engage thoughtfully with both the text and the images …… so much can be put across from facial expressions, font sizes, panel layout etc.   And, these visuals provide really helpful context and clues for the Chinese text itself.

Great Simplified Chinese Graphic Novels for Children

Treasure Hunt Around the World Series 法国寻宝记  (我的第一本历史知识漫画书·环球寻宝记)

Author: (韩)小熊工作室
Publisher:  二十一世纪出版社
Country of original publication: China
Characters needed to read the book: ~1500
Length of book: ~180 pages
Books in set:  2 sets, with ~35 books in each
Best Ages:  8+
In Singapore NLB libraries: some

This consists of two sets of books – once focused on China (“Greater China Treasure Hunt series”), and the latter series focused globally (“World Treasure Hunt series”).  The books integrate history and geography, into fun graphic fiction.  Buka and his friends visit different cities (or countries) and solve mysteries to find scattered treasures, including many instances to ancient civilisations.  The books include famous buildings and places, foods, clothing, and social customs of the various countries and regions. 

Each book also contains several non-fiction pages with photographs and information about the country which the characters are visiting.  It’s a good way to learn about different cultures and traditions around the world (or within China, if you read the specific Chinese series).

[I’s possible the concept for this series originated from Korea?  I’ve read in a few places about Korean versions…. Really not too sure, but it clearly now exists in multiple languages, including English].

The Kid from the Big Apple 我来自纽约

Author: 张爵西 编剧 / 漫魂 漫画 Zhang juexi
Country of original publication: Malaysia
Characters needed to read the book: ~2000
Length of book: 220 pages
Best Ages:  9+
In Singapore NLB libraries: No

The Kid from the Big Apple has been adapted from a heartwarming 2015 Malaysian film of the same name, which garnered several awards at both the Macau International Film Festival, and Malaysian Film Festival.  Technically this means it’s not a graphic novel, but a film comic (电影漫画)!

Sarah is a tween girl from New York, who is sent to Malaysia to stay with her grandfather when her single mother has to deal with some serious work-related matters.  She’s unfamiliar with the Chinese language and customs and is lost in this new country in an old HDB estate.  She spends a lot of time texting and eating potato chips, and observing the world around her.  The book also deals with generational issues and aging.  It would be relatable to many children who are growing up in a culture that is different from that of their grandparents.

I would recommend watching the movie first even …… even for a parent who doesn’t speak Chinese, you’ll still understand most of it.

Note: Does contain some curse language.

Warm Hearts Original Comic Series 温情原创漫画系列

Author: 蓝国清
Publisher:  Kadokawa Gempak Starz
Country of original publication: Malaysia
Characters needed to read the book: ~1800
Length of book: ~150 pages
Books in set: ~50
Best Ages:  9+
In Singapore NLB libraries: No

This series title doesn’t exactly shout out “awesome book to read”.  But they really are heartwarming.  Each story focusses on a tough topic and a teenager, and feature family/friends working through the issue.  We haven’t read them all, but we purchased a few of the more recent stories, including:

The Malaysian publisher of this series says in their own words that this written to “cultivate values and create hope”.  Each story is very insightful, inspirational, real and emotionally charged. We’ll look forward to reading more, they just take some time to get through.

Sumikko Gurashi 角落小伙伴  (“Little Corner Partners”)

Author: 日本监修San-X编  and 横沟百合
Publisher:  接力出版社
Country of original publication: Japan
Characters needed to read the book: ~1500
Length of book: ~112 pages
Books in set: 3
Best Ages:  8+
In Singapore NLB libraries: Yes – in eBook form only

Sumikko Gurashi are a set of fictional characters produced by San-X, the Japanese stationary company who have marketed several cute and quirky characters over the years (essentially a competitor against the other Japanese company Sanrio with Hello Kitty).  Sumikko Gurashi was popular enough to make it into a film, and this book set is a spin-off from that. 

The main Sumikko characters are polar bear who doesn’t like the cold, a gherkin-eating penguin who isn’t sure he’s actually a penguin, a dinosaur who pretends to be a lizard, an anxious cat, and a piece of leftover pork cutlet. These characters are castaways in everyday life, and they feel most relaxed when they are away from the centre of attention, and in a corner.  It’s an eclectic bunch, and the pages have relatively less text and less poignant graphics than any of the other books in this list, and certainly the least culturally relevant.  But for some reason, I have a daughter who really likes this series.  Including this on my list is my one anthropomorphic exception!

Sumikko Gurashi is known in Taiwan as 角落生物  “Corner Creatures”, for those searching for Traditional Chinese versions.

The Ballad of Ya Ya 丫丫历险记

Authors: Jean-Marie Omont, Charlotte Girard, Golo Zhao (Artist), Patrick Marty (Artist)   
Publisher:  Sichuan Children’s Publishing House
Country of original publication: France / China
Characters needed to read the book: ~1800
Length of book: ~210 pages
Books in set:  9
Best Ages:  9+
In Singapore NLB libraries: No

This is another international award-winning graphic novel series, and came about as a collaboration between French and Chinese creatives.  It’s filled with adventure and action, and really vibrant illustrations.  In fact, this is the most beautifully drawn graphic novel we’ve seen, with rich yet delicate colour and plenty of emotion.

Ya Ya, the 8 year of daughter of a diamond merchant, lives a privileged life in pre-World War II Shanghai.  However, she becomes separated from her parents during a piano recital she’s secretly performing in, when bombs finally fall on the city.  The tale follows how Ya Ya becomes unlikely friends with an orphan, and hopes to reunite with her family, amid a backdrop of ongoing war between China and Japan.   It’s an engaging read (at least for a child).

The amount of text per page is less than some of the other books mentioned above, however content covered is really for upper primary only.  It has levels of violence in it and a bit of coarse language (e.g 混蛋). The poor language is made up for by the beautifully realistic views of old Shanghai, with the illustrator depicting historical scenes as much as possible, including comparing many paintings, and even living for a week in a remote town in Hunan where many of the buildings and features still resemble yesteryears. For a child who enjoys war history novels (eg Anne Frank’s diary, Sadako’s Crane, The Endless Steppe, etc) this is an eye-opening perspective from China.

This bookset is available (first few books) on the great eBook app Ellabook, and watching the first book as an introduction could be a nice way to help a child connect with the story before they venture out and read it independently.

Little Dim Sum Warriors

Authors:  胡恩恩 吴荣平 Dr Woo Yen Yen, and Colin Goh (illustrator)
Publisher:   饮茶工作室 Yumcha Studios
Country of publication: Taiwan
Characters needed to read the book: ~300+
Length of book: 40 pages (20 English, 20 Simplified Chinese)
Books in set:  8 (physical books) and ~16 on the app
Best Ages: 3 to 7
In Singapore NLB libraries: Yes

Little Dim Sum Warriors books are like an introduction into graphic novels….. they don’t have comic panels in them,  and they’re not long enough to be considered a novel.  They’ve been cleverly constructed in a simple comic-style with speech bubbles and sounds, for younger readers. They’re bilingual flipbooks, with English on one side, and flipping the book over reveals Simplified Chinese on the other side (without hanyu pinyin).

The theme of each book has been deliberately selected to encourage resilience and open-mindedness in children, touching issues of feelings, friendship and social issues.  The text selected is pedagogically sound and designed for early language recognition. The book themselves are fun and funny.

These books can also be accessed in soft copy through the Dum Sum Warriors Bilingual Learning app, which comes with full audio recording in both English and Mandarin.  It’s nice for younger children to read along with the audio, and then practice reading by themselves.   The audio is done by professional actors (note: some Singlish slips into the English too).  The app also has accompanying games and activities related to the Chinese characters and content in the stories, which is a good learning complement.  I have an earlier blog post with an interview of the authors of Dim Sum Warriors.   

For a child who likes art (and especially cartoons), there’s also an online live-streamed Bilingual Comic Jam with the book’s author and illustrator twice monthly, for those who join the Dim Sum Warriors Club. 

How we read graphic novels in Simplified Chinese?

I insist that my children must read the books, and not just look at the pictures and gloss over. When the story has a great narrative, they do genuinely want to engage in it and read it properly too. 

Generally, the kids will leaf through it at the start to check if the story seems fun and get the context, but after that, they will read it independently and fulsomely.  When they come across an unknown word or phrase, the children use their Alpha Egg or Youdao pen to pronounce that section.  Usually, they don’t need to use the translate/definition function, as they’ll get the context simply from the graphics and surrounding text.

Finally, when they’re finished reading (for graphic novels, but not for general Chinese comics), I purposefully ask the children to recount to me what is happening in English and re-explain the story to me as we look at the pictures together for a speed-read recap together.   Some graphic novels have taken us weeks to get through, and we’ve had really meaningful conversations about them.  So much so that I often wish I could read the books myself!  In some cases, I’ve reverted to watching the movie or finding an English translation, so I can truly understand the heart of the stories too.

How can I tell the difference between a Comic and a Graphic Novel?

Okay, so there is certainly some is debate about the difference between the term “graphic novel” and “comic”., and the lines are indeed blurry Generally, a graphic novel is more substantive than a comic book, as I hope you’ll see from my posts above. Key differences you might observe are that graphic novels are:

Personally, I have seen how effective this genre is in engaging children AND realizing there is a clear difference between mass-produced comics and well-written/drawn graphic novels.

Are other comics bad for learning Chinese?

No no, why would you think that? I’m simply using this post to highlight how great graphic novels are in particular, but there’s nothing wrong with general comics either (what could be bad if it involves more language exposure, right?).  My kids do actually read many serialised Chinese comic books too in their own time, in addition to Chinese Graphic Novels.  One of my kids is a big Pokemon 精灵宝可梦特别篇 fan, and another likes Minecraft 我的世界·冒险故事图画书 .  We do have plenty of these more inane comic books lying around the house too. They’re worthy of a photo, but not really an entire blog post.

Where to buy good graphic novels and comic books for children in Singapore?

Every book listed in the post above we purchased (yes full price we purchased them) from Maha Yuyi bookstore in Singapore (not sponsored or affiliated).  They just have so many wonderful books for upper primary age readers.  Many of these books you could also likely find at Popular or Shoppee.  The one exception is the Ballad of Ya Ya, which is really hard to find in Singapore.

What else is there to know?

If you’re curious about what else is in our book collection and how I’ve tried to select books, my previous post is an analysis of all the 1100+ books we currently have, and some background into the whys and where they came from.

Actually I’d love to know what your family’s favourite graphic novels are too! I love looking at suggestions from others, and if you do too, I’d suggest checking out Motherly Notes for kids aged 7+, where you can find a huge list of great Traditional Chinese bridging book and chapter book reviews for inspiration. For younger kids, Growing Hearts 123 has nice suggestions for Simplified Chinese picture books and comics.

Some earlier posts to look at on my Lah Lah Banana blog related to literacy would be:

Exit mobile version