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Book Review:  Squid for Brains Picture Books

Squid for Brains Simplified Chinese books are a set of books that I chanced upon randomly, after discovering one lone picture book in book-sharing free library.  My interest was piqued by that one book, yet after googling I could find little about the series, aside from the fact that more similar books existed.  Despite the Squid for Brains facebook page having less likes than even I do, I went against gut feel and ordered a few more books from their website at a whim.  I’m glad I did, and here’s what we discovered.

Note – Squid for Brains have books written in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese, along with matching titles in Spanish.  This post specifically covers the two Squid for Brains Picture Book sets. I have another post covering the Squid for Brains Readers (which are longer and chapter books).

Key Information on Squid for Brains Picture Books

Background to Squid for Brains Picture Books

Squid for Brains is the brainchild of Dr Terry Waltz, a talented translator, interpreter and language extraordinaire. Whilst little exists on the web about these books, I gather that the intent of these books was to have readable and accessible content for students learning Chinese as a second language, building on the theory of comprehensible input to gain fluency in a language.  In Dr Waltz’s case, she says she uses  ‘comprehended input’™  because it’s even more digestible than typical comprehensible input, meaning there is nothing left uncomprehended by the reader.  That’s getting into semantics, but I love her audacity to create meaningful literature for beginners.

Attaining fluency through graded reading books with limited character count is a concept featuring in many of my children’s favourite book series.  Why?  Because these are the books that they can pick up and read, understand, and enjoy, as they’ve been meticulously designed and written to be approachable for a non-native reader, with a limited character range.  I have this ongoing struggle with the children when they finish a series about ‘which book next?’ because comprehensible input in Chinese is a rare genre.  My kids are well beyond Mary & Jane type books, but the gap to reading Harry Potter in Chinese is still a very evident one for my children.   Something like Squid for Brains is a good gap-filler.

The author herself, Dr Waltz, is a Chinese language teacher of 30+ years, and those who have done her online classes (focussed for adults) cannot recommend her enough.

Synopsis of Squid for Brains Simplified Chinese Picture Books

What my daughter likes about the series

What a parent will like about Squid for Brains Picture Books

Insides of the Books

Some watchouts and considerations

I really want to love Squid for Brains, but I cannot give it a fully unqualified thumbs up for a few reasons.  This is a bit of an insight into why it’s really hard for small-time writers.  It’s never easy being a self-published author.

Firstly, only half the books I ordered actually arrived.  We’ll blame US Postal service for that.  So that’s a lesson for me that I should pay for proper courier service if it’s offered. Squid for Brains team was very kind in arranging redelivery.

Secondly, of the books that arrived, one of them was in Spanish when I’d ordered Simplified Chinese (thankfully my daughter is learning Spanish too, but it wasn’t what I’d been planning for).  Then, another book had the correct front cover, but inside had contents for a totally different book (it was a great book, but the wrong book).   That’s the printer’s error.  As I understand it, there isn’t much bargaining power when you’re a small business and the printer sees you as a dime a dozen.

Finally, inside one of the books, there were a few small grammatical errors that my daughter picked up (like differing tones of a character).  Again, this seems to be the printer using perhaps a wrong file, and I guess if the printing press cannot actually read the files they’re printing on-demand, this is bound to happen too.  I’d compare this with something like Sage 500 books, which are heralded as being the holy grail for teaching kids to read in Chinese.  Sage 500 books are literally littered with mistakes too, but people never complain about that, do they?

All in all, that sounds like a laundry list of small niggles, but it’s really so you go in eyes wide open.   They’re REALLY great books, although some headwinds with the execution.  I’m glad to be able to support an independent author / illustrator / publisher like Squid for Brains, and hope that others will also find Dr Terry Waltz’s efforts helpful in their own language journeys.  We’re looking forward to reading the Squid for Brains more advanced bridging books next (they look even more intriguing than the picture books).

Where to buy Squid for Brains Chinese books

I bought ours direct from Squid for Brains website.  As mentioned above, there were a few issues with their delivery, but the company was very responsive and apologetic. 

There are some books on Amazon, and I’m guessing lost packages and returns would be much easier through that channel.  However, it’s Amazon making the $$, and I’d rather support a great author directly if I can.

If my child likes this, what are other similar books in Simplified Chinese?

Squid for Brains Simplified Chinese picture books are very accessible for an emergent reader, containing modern stories with a decent – but short –  storyline.  There’s not too much similar which I’ve come across (although happy to be proven wrong on this).

Some books which my children have enjoyed at a sort-of-similar reading level are:

I hope you found this introduction to Squid for Brain helpful. I would also love to know what other books you think are great at this same novice level. Please share any ideas below.


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