Grandfather Counts

Grandfather Counts book cover

Image Credit: Ange Zhang, Lee and Low Books

Learning Chinese is as easy as one, two, three — or yi, er, san — in Grandfather Counts, this week’s HapaMama Summer Reading pick.

Grandfather Counts, written Andrea Cheng and illustrated by Ange Zhang (Lee and Low Books, 2000) is a story about a Hapa family.

The book begins as the family goes to the airport to pick up Gong Gong. It becomes quickly apparent that Gong Gong doesn’t speak English– and the kids don’t speak Mandarin:

¬†Gong Gong kept talking to me in Chinese. When he realized I didn’t understand, he turned to Mom, a look of surprise on his face. I wanted to explain that Mom had tried to teach us Chinese. She had gotten us Chinese flash cards with words and pictures. Once she sent us to Chinese Sunday school, but we didn’t want to go back.

Sound familiar?

Eventually, the little girl in the story finds some common ground with Gong Gong– and she even manages to learn a little Mandarin– in this heartwarming picture book.

Have you found books to be a good way to get your kids familiar with another language? What other books do you recommend?

[Disclosure: A review copy of Grandfather Counts was provided by Lee and Low Books] 


  1. says

    Sounds like me, I wasn’t able to communicate with my grandparents when I was little because they didn’t know English and I only knew a few words in Chinese. What a relatable book!

    • says

      I think a lot of people of our generation were raised like the character in the book! It’s funny that we all want our kids — who are only part Chinese– to know the language!

  2. says

    wow. it used to be a big deal to see any asian characters at all. amazing that this book also delivers the reality of a mutli-culti chinese family. then again, it’s published by lee and low, which is a very special publishing house.

    my daughter is 16 now. when she was little, the best i could do was buy two stacks of children’s books — one stack about asian kids and the other one, about black kids. if i was out there with a little one today, i’ll bet i could find books featuring mixed raced black-asian kids. thanks for updating my sense of reality!

    • says

      Betty, I appreciate your perspective as the mom of a teenager, and also for pointing out how things have improved. It’s true that most multicultural books feature a minority + white, which I think of as adding a little chocolate or strawberry syrup to vanilla ice cream, you know? I still haven’t seen too many children’s books with families blending two different minority cultures. But I’m sure there are some out there, and if not– plenty of people with stories they’d love to publish. I have a review coming up that features a YA novel with many multiracial characters!

  3. says

    Definitely sounds familiar to me. My mom bought us the flashcards and sent us to “Chinese School” on the weekends, but we didn’t want to go back. We were embarassed that we seemed to know less Mandarin than our classmates (our parents speak both dialects, but we felt most comfortable with Cantonese because they spoke that more around the house). I so wish my Mom had forced us to stick with it, but she is too nice. Now, I’m hoping my parents will teach my son who is only half-Chinese to speak Chinese better than his mama!

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