25 April 2017 by Christina Barker
Title: How Mouse Gave His Name to the First Year (Stories of animal sign series)
Author: Ya Chun Li
Reviewer: Christina Barker
The cover of the book is very appealing to small children with the three larger animals looking down on the small mouse. The first page explains how the Chinese character for ‘mouse’ was developed from the picture of the mouse which I found really interesting and easy to understand. The entire book is written in both languages but in a really simple way so that you can try and follow it.
The illustrations are very colourful and draws the children into the story straight away. I read this story to my five year old boy who was very interested in the story. Our favourite part of the story is when the cheeky mouse enters the race early and doesn’t tell the cat until it’s too late. We both enjoyed this book following along with the animals in the race. My little boy is now really keen to find out where the rest of the animals came and who didn’t get in the final 12.
At the end of the book there are some useful words in both languages which are easy to read as well as an audio CD. We can’t wait to read the next book!
Reviewer: Taylor Brooker
An interesting feature of this book is how the first page is explaining how the Chinese character for ‘mouse’ was developed from the picture of a mouse. For someone wanting to learn Mandarin, this is really useful because it’s helpful to know where characters derive from, and seeing something visually like this can also help you remember it.
Something I love about the book is how we’re told about the story of cat and mouse. Everyone knows that cats and mice don’t get on, but this book gives us more insight as to why, which I found really interesting – who knew cat and mouse were once best friends before the zodiac race?!
The book is full of beautiful hand-painted illustrations, which are clearly influenced by eastern art styles, something that you can see in all of Snowflake’s books. The cover on this book is my favourite of all the book covers, just because it’s so simple, but effective, and the mouse looks so cute! The colours are more muted than they are on some of the other animal zodiac books, but the line-work speaks for itself as it’s so simply but intricately drawn, meaning that it expresses emotions really well. Only the mouse is painted in colour, meaning that it stands out the most so children can immediately see who the book is about and who they should be rooting for in the story before they even open the book.
Analysis of All Snowflake Books Design:
From the wrap-around cover to the stunning and consistently-painted illustration throughout, the books are beautifully designed, allowing the reader to easily explore the traditional Chinese stories. Every book is child-friendly, with large enough text and colourful paintings, but still suitable for adults because of how lovely the paintings and stories are, and how easy they make it to learn Mandarin words. Underneath each small block of English text is the same text written in Mandarin, along with the pinyin. To any designer, the task of putting two blocks of text on one page is a challenge, as it’s easy to overcrowd the page and take over from the visuals, but each illustration has been done with the overall design in mind, meaning that the text never takes away from the art, but works in harmony with it to tell the story. Even if you’re a native English speaker who just wants to enjoy the story and not learn Mandarin, the Chinese characters don’t disrupt your reading as it’s always directly underneath the English, so your eye isn’t drawn elsewhere.
Most of the illustrations are done in watercolour, giving the books a unique feeling, making each one feel timeless and as though it can be passed down through generations. The illustrations are intricate but still have the movement needed to visually tell stories, especially to children, as it gives the sense of movement and reality, and makes the characters more believable. Also, a key aspect of making a picture book work is making sure the imagery tells the story without the text, as young children won’t be reading the story, but relying on the pictures to tell the story and convey the message and emotions, and Snowflake’s books definitely do that. Each character in the illustrations has personality and their emotions can be read easily – as an illustrator myself, I know that’s difficult to achieve!
Another great feature of the books is how they all have certain words in a different colour to the rest of the text, which helps the reader learn Mandarin, or English. Those highlighted words are also in the back of each book as a mini dictionary. I particularly love this feature because it really breaks it down and makes it easier to learn a new language!
Look out for more reviews from Taylor and Christina soon!
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