I was recently sent a review copy of Grandfather Counts by Andrea Cheng. It caught my eye immediately, as the premise reminded me of an event in my own childhood. While the book isn’t new (it was published in 2000 by Lee and Low Books, Inc.), I hadn’t heard of it before, and immediately wanted to read it to my 5 year old daughter.
Grandfather Counts is a large format picture book, detailing the experiences of a young girl, Helen, who has to give up her bedroom because her grandfather, Gong-gong moves from China to live their family. In their very Americanized family, she has not learned any Chinese, and her grandfather has not learned any English. The story goes on to prove that even language differences can’t break the bond of family, as Helen and Gong-gong establish a new relationship based on teaching each other their native language.
When I was a child, my own grandfather moved from Taiwan to live with us in America. While he understood and wrote English, he rarely spoke it, and our primary language at home was Taiwanese, while my grandfather’s native tongue was the Fuzhou dialect of Chinese, which only my dad spoke. It was a tough time for the entire family. I think my grandfather felt distanced, as did his grandchildren. A book like this one might have helped us to see through our differences and find ways to interact with each other. After less than a year, my grandfather chose to move back to Taiwan.
My own daughter had a very different experience. Pretty much from the time my daughter was born, my mom lived with us, that is until she passed away two years ago. So it was no surprise that while I enjoyed the book, she found parts of it annoying, and didn’t understand why the grandfather and granddaughter were so distant. She did enjoy the part where they taught each other their native languages, as she’s been asking me lately to teach her Chinese (after spending most of her life asking me not to speak Chinese).
Grandfather Counts is definitely a book to add to your collection, if you think a grandparent will be moving into your home in the near future, and a nice way to start with a basic introduction to the Chinese language.