My First Book of Vietnamese Words: An ABC Rhyming Book of Vietnamese Language and Culture, the latest addition to Tuttle’s My First Book of [fill in blank] Words series came out recently. It is written by Tran Thi Minh Phuoc, and artfully illustrated by Nguyen Thi Hop and Nguyen Dong. The book guides visitors through the English alphabet with short rhymes and some contextual information:
C is for Cu.
The owl flies at night,
but when he hoots our grandma says
that something isn’t right
A contextual note on the same page explains that an owl’s hoot in Vietnamese culture is bad luck or bad news.
With minimal existing knowledge of Vietnamese, I requested to also take a look at My First Book of Chinese Words to compare. Both are nicely illustrated and take readers through each letter of the alphabet explaining, for instance, that V is for violin, or xiaotiqin, because there is no “v” in Chinese (this being Mandarin Chinese of course).
My main critique of both was that though there is audio pronunciations available through the publisher’s website, the minimal explanation at the opening of each book does not adequately set anyone up to really pronounce these foreign words. Are the books for children whose parents speak the language? Perhaps, but I would guess this is not the main audience. The most useful aspect of these volumes is buried in the subtitle–an introduction to the cultures associated with these language, be it Chinese or Vietnamese. Superstitions and festivities, family relationships, and of course, food culture are liberally sprinkled throughout, and it is there that these books offer the most to their young readers.