I wanted to post a review of these amazing books from Habbi Habbi that I picked up for my little one. They are available in Mandarin and Spanish, but I’m using Mandarin so I will focus on that aspect. However, I’m sure the Spanish versions are just as great.
First, a little bit of my background. I’m a second-generation immigrant, Chinese-American, which means that my parents immigrated from China to the United States and I was born here in America. I grew up speaking Mandarin to my parents, but it’s not a big strength of mine, so I can get by with some relatively simple Mandarin. I also studied it in college so that I could build some literacy skills, but I am far from actually literate. However, it was really important to me that my son grow up in an environment with Mandarin, as it’s an important part of our heritage and culture. To that end, we have a Mandarin-speaking nanny who speaks to him exclusively in Mandarin. Me and my husband also try to speak to our son with our simple Mandarin, but of course he hears all the English we speak to each other, too. We’ve been reading to him every day since he was just a few months old – but by necessity these have all been English books. Of course there are Chinese children’s books but I don’t really think I’m literate enough to read them!
I heard about Habbi Habbi when they were launching and to be honest I was a little skeptical – a “wand” that reads books? I didn’t understand the vision at the time, but I was willing to try it because there’s aren’t really many (any?) options for bilingual books easily available in the US for us to read together. I purchased the starter pack, which came with the original 4 books (First Words, First Phrases, Book of Emotions, and Careers Vol 1) and the reading wand.
How It Works
When I got the books, I was pleasantly surprised by the mechanics. You tap the bottom, pointy end of the wand anywhere in the book, and it gives you an audio response. You can tap on the picture, the text, or anywhere else. Unless you tap specifically on the printed English text, the wand will respond with the Mandarin reading followed by the English reading. Depending on where you tap, you might also get a hidden phrase using the word in a sentence. You might get a fun sound effect, or a little snippet of music. My son especially likes to tap on the white space of the book to get the music, and often sways or taps his foot to it!
Every word is labeled in the English, the simplified Chinese characters, and the pinyin which gives the pronunciation: super helpful for the minimally literate like me, or parents with zero Mandarin background. My son likes the word book right now the best, as these read out single vocabulary words that are easier for him to understand and learn. When he gets older and his language develops more, I anticipate that he will “graduate” to the more complex books. I particularly like the modern and useful choices for vocabulary. For example, even for something as basic as fruits and vegetables, there’s kale, avocado, blueberries, along with the more pedestrian apples and bananas. Some of the vocabulary can get quite advanced in the phrase and other books. I like this as it keeps my interest and I can learn new vocabulary too. For example, the careers book has sentences about various careers, and their associated vocabulary, including ones like product manager which I definitely did not know how to say in Mandarin before this.
Also, the illustrations are so cute. And the pages are all made of sturdy cardboard, which I love. My son can flip the pages himself with no fear of ripping or damaging them accidentally (or intentionally!?)
So anyways, after buying the original 4 books at launch, when they released 3 more books this past season I was eager to buy those too. Now they are releasing a whopping 20 more new books this fall, including new story books as well as new word and phrase books, and a second career book focused on daddies. If I could I would buy the whole shelf but I’ll have to start picking and choosing now.
I wondered when I bought the second set how to update the wand with the new audio files. It turned out to be very simple. I just plugged it into my computer, opened the folder it contained, and replaced the single file in it with a new updated audio file I downloaded from the website. It couldn’t be easier.
Summary: Fun, Educational, Effective
How much does my son love these books? So much. Although at first when he was a really little baby we held the wand for him, by probably around 18 months or even before that he could use the wand himself. He now knows most of the pictures in both English and Mandarin – he can point to the right picture if for example I ask him, “where is the avocado?” whether in English or in Mandarin. Sometimes I think he has better Mandarin vocabulary than me. He loves to read now–it is pretty much his favorite activity. He can quietly occupy himself with these books for half an hour, which for a toddler is nothing short of amazing. In short, I would wholeheartedly recommend these books for anyone wanting to enrich their kiddo’s language environment with Mandarin (or Spanish!)