What a Place!

What A Place!: Experience Beijing Through the Eyes of an Expat Child

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I’m a big fan of multicultural children’s books. Since we’ve moved places a bit, I also like looking for local bilingual books, with one of the languages in English since my readers are mostly English speakers.

A friend recommended Lana Sultan‘s What A Place!, a bilingual book that had just been released May this year. The book is about a little girl taking us through one year in Beijing, showing us the beautiful sights and sounds of this beautiful city.

So let’s take a look:

What A Place

First, I found this a great way for young children to discover Beijing culture. The words and sentences are simple enough, allowing children to easily connect to the story. The illustrations have so much details that allows the reader (be it parent or child) to picture Beijing better. Cultural references ooze through every page of the book, sure to get the kids curious and wonder-eyed.

Some examples are art of the Great Wall, an old man and his young apprentice (the main character) doing Taichi (an internal form of Chinese martial arts), some big Chinese celebrations and more. This book is so much more than just words on the page, since every page encourages discovery and wonderment.

What A Place!

I also think that this book is a great resource for Beijing-based Third Culture Kids (TCKs) to connect to their environment. The story, after all, was inspired by the author’s own daughter, also a TCK in Beijing. (Click here for the video by China Daily via Facebook.) The succeeding pages will especially tickle the fancy of those who have visited in (or even lived in!) hutongs and local homes. I love the emphasis on the red door and the lion-shaped nobs. It brings me back to a time when I posed in front of one just because it was so China. The pages with people playing on the street with their Beijing (soya?) drinks and a fruit cart just a few steps away is a very common sight in the Hutongs as well.

What a place!

I also like how this honest book shows that Chinese culture is NOT just all about the past. People unfamiliar to the country tend to naturally associate Beijing to its palaces and temples, when in fact there’s also the present culture that is sometimes not as advertised or just simply set aside.

Do you have chair skating in winter? Beijing does! And can you imagine a woman pushing a stroller and a rickshaw (the local traditional ride) both on one lane? In Beijing it’s possible!

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Look at this cute illustration of the main character trying to “touch” the moon:

What a Place!

It’s a great children’s book, but one problem I see is that it could get a bit overwhelming for some moms unfamiliar with the local culture. Mom, what are those balls on the stick? Mom, why is there a rickshaw on the walkway?! (actually it’s a small street), especially if the kids start with their Why questions. Simply put, there might be too much culture for an unknowing reader. If the author’s motive was to encourage its young readers (or their parents) to become more curious about Beijing or China, then I think Lana Sultan‘s method could work, but not always. This next page, for example, definitely might pique one’s curiosity:

What a Place!

The monkey trying to sneak away is actually the Monkey King, a mischief who used his wits to make him the leader of his Monkey Tribe and escape death a few times. But to curb the Monkey King’s mischievousness (and protect Heaven in the process), the King of Heaven decided to give him a position to make him feel more welcomed in Heaven. He was given the title Protector of Peaches, not realizing that this was a grave mistake. When the Monkey King later on learned that he wasn’t invited to the illustrious Peach Banquet that was about to take place and which only happens once every 3,000 years, naturally, he got mad. He decided to seek revenge by stealing the peaches and eating them up. This was just part of the reason he later on becomes immortal.

An interesting story, isn’t it? But it makes me wonder if non-Beijingers will invest time to research this curious story and make an effort to understand it. The art is wonderful and the story is attractive for young children, but sharing Beijing’s culture through this book might be a bit of a challenge.

So for those who are looking for gifts to give kids, this would be a great choice especially for those who have either experienced Beijing or are interested in the local culture. Click here to see where they are currently available at.

Click here to read her interview on Beijing Kids.

Thank you very much for reading, and I hope you enjoyed my post! Please feel free to let me know your thoughts in the comments section below.

*This is not a sponsored post.

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