Dr. Seuss in Chinese!

We recently hit the jackpot on Chinese translations of Dr. Seuss books. Bedtime stories are big in our house; we grew up with them as kids, we read aloud to each other as a couple before we had kids, and now our daughter has stories before every nap and bedtime, and often during playtime. Of course we want to take advantage of all the reading to improve her and our Chinese. It turns out there are at least three different Chinese publications of Dr. Seuss out there. Our reviews and all the links and search terms you’ll need are below.

How Can You Translate Dr. Seuss?

Since Dr. Seuss books were written as English-teaching tools, many of them are pretty pointless in Chinese, especially the ones aimed at the youngest readers that emphasize phonics over story, like Hop on Pop. Aside from providing useful Chinese vocab, the translations aren’t much use; it’s impossible for translate Dr. Seuss’ English-learning magic. However, we’ve found that the longer stories like The Cat in the Hat and The Sneetches are a lot of fun for for us and our daughter as Chinese language learning tools.

When it comes to language and culture acquisition, translated material can’t be as useful as stuff written in Chinese by Chinese for Chinese because a translated story is still culturally foreign in its content. But translations are still good stepping-stones on the language learning path, depending on your level. Also, when you no longer have the luxury of a pre-child, full-time language study lifestyle, you have to find creative and convenient ways to work Chinese into your daily routine (in addition to whatever part-time study you can squeeze in) or your language ability atrophies. So for us, 苏斯博士 is fun and useful for our little family’s Chinese learning.

We have books from two of the three different Chinese Dr. Seuss publications out there, and each seems to have a different purpose in mind. If you’re into bilingual bedtime stories you’ll want to know these significant differences so you can pick the ones that best fit your situation.

1. Chinese-only reading

These extra-large soft-cover bilingual Dr. Seuss books emphasize the Chinese translation. Published in 2010 (with more on the way) by 现代出版社 (Modern Press) in their 苏斯博士最经典童书 (Dr. Seuss’ Most Classic Children’s Books) series, they’re meant to be read aloud in Chinese. We have eight of these, all translated by 馨月, who’s obviously tried to capture the Dr. Seuss spirit by giving the Chinese as much as rhythm and rhyme as possible. The binding is the better-quality Chinese-style softcover foreigners in China will be familiar with — not bad but of course not as durable as the traditional hardcover Dr. Seuss books.

The large pages and prominent Chinese are great, but these aren’t convenient if you want to also read in English because they only provide the English text in the back of the book next to thumbnail versions of the illustrations. I’ve found the odd English typo.

We bought them on sale here and here at 45元/4 books.

Here’s a text sample from 戴高帽子的猫又来了 (The Cat in the Hat Comes Back):

你可知道我是哪儿把他找到?
他正在浴缸里大吃蛋糕!
没错儿,正在大吃大嚼!
他打开了热水龙头
冷水也在哗哗地流
我对那只猫说道
你这么做真是糟糕!
那只猫哈哈大笑
我喜欢在浴缸里吃蛋糕
你哪天也该试试看好不好。”

Do you know where I found him?
Do you know where he was?
He was eating a cake in the tub!
Yes he was!
The hot water was on
And the cold water, too.
And I said to the cat,
“What a bad thing to do!”

“But I like to eat cake
In the tub,” said the cat.
“You should try it some time.”
Laughed the cat as he sat.

2. Bilingual reading

These look and feel pretty much identical to original hardcover Dr. Seuss books you’re familiar with, aside from the addition of Chinese titles and text. They were published in 2006 by 中国对外翻译出版公司 in their 苏斯博士 双语经典 (Dr. Seuss Bilingual Classics) series, and use various translators. Each page has both the original English text and the Chinese translation; the English is sometimes slightly re-formatted to make room for the Chinese.

My biggest complaint is the formatting: with squintingly small Chinese text that’s not given a prominent position on the page, it looks to me like they’re aimed at Chinese parents who want to teach their kid English and just need the Chinese as a reference to help with comprehension. But I’d still definitely choose these over the original English-only Dr. Seuss books. They also have a colourful introduction to Dr. Seuss in the front and tips from a children’s education expert on how to use the stories in the back (both in Chinese only).

We found them on Taobao for 110元/10 books by searching for 苏斯博士 双语经典 全10本.

Here’s some sample text from 史尼奇 (The Sneetches):

忽然有这么一天光肚史尼奇们正像往常一样在沙滩上呆着无精打采地做着肚皮上冒出颗星的白日梦一个陌生人驾驶着一辆奇怪的车呼啸

Then ONE day, it seems…while the Plain-Belly Sneetches
Where moping and doping alone on the beaches,
Just sitting there wishing their bellies had stars…
A stranger zipped up in the strangest of cars!

3. ?

We don’t own any of this third kind; we’ve just seen them for sale online.

If you have links to any other great English kids books in Chinese (like 蚯蚓的日记/Diary of a Worm), or if you have particularly outstanding Chinese kids books to recommend, please share in the comments! Same good Chinese kids music!

And if you’ve ever wondered how to say “The Perilous Poozer of Pompelmoose Pass” in Chinese, click here.

Related posts about having a Foreign Baby in China:

12 thoughts on “Dr. Seuss in Chinese!”

  1. To read familiar content really does benefit for learning language. I can see a lot of such kind of english kids books that written in chinese in Guang Zhou book center, i believe there are a lot of materials in other big city’s book center. for the online resource, i havn’t found this.

  2. Thanks, this is very useful.

    A couple of years ago, we got several of the #2 type. I use them simply for the English, and ignore the Chinese (my wife tells me it is not worth reading it). (They are also very cheap, and I gave a few to my sister’s children back in New Zealand!)

    But it is nice to know that there are other Chinese translations out there.

    As I type this, my wife has been teaching me a bit about translation methods, readers for children, Chinese teaching and Chinese language — all things she knows much more about than me. When she has a moment I think she will write a comment here giving her thoughts on these translations.

  3. (My thoughts on this, as promised by my hubby, Glenn)

    I think that many of the Chinese versions of English children’s books have the same problem. The translators try too much to make the story read more “有文采”. Therefore, firstly they tend to use big words rather than basic everyday words and secondly they try to avoid repetition, both of which are essential for raising young readers through instructional or self reading.

    The translation of The Cat in the Hat is not too bad. But I would say that they use some bigger words or phrases than Dr Seuss used, like “大吃大嚼”, “热水龙头”, “哗哗地流”, “道”. Also, the first sentence uses a poetry-style sentence pattern, which is bit too “big” too. (I can see that the translator tried to make the text in rhyme, but I don’t think it is necessary because the English version basically has no rhyme here.)

    “The hot water was on And the cold water, too.” is such a simple English sentence, and I think it can be translate into simple Chinese too: “热水开着,冷水也开着”.

    Another little problem is that the translator didn’t translate “sat” in the last sentence, while in the picture the cat is sitting there. Again, for young readers, the match of text and picture is very helpful.

  4. Hi, Xiaoying! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    One of my Chinese friends (a former Chinese teacher) made similar comments, saying that the translator unnecessarily used big words, which, of course, Dr. Seuss doesn’t do. I think he was specifically referring to the text on page 1:

    太阳不露面,大雨哗哗下,
    这样的天气没法出去玩耍。
    我们只好坐在屋子里,
    整整一天又湿又冷,大雨哗啦啦。
    The sun did not shine.
    It was too wet to play.
    So we sat in the house
    All that cold, cold, wet day.

    Are there any Chinese young children’s books that you’d recommend for reading aloud?

    Here’s another translated book that our daughter’s really been enjoying lately: 怎么都吃不饱的狮子 (link has the Chinese text). How does it sound to you?

  5. Yeah, the #2 books I don’t think were meant to be read in Chinese. Plus, some of Dr. Seuss’ books are totally pointless in translation, so I can see why she’d say the translations for those ones aren’t worth bothering with for reading’s sake.

    If your wife has any suggestions for kids books in Chinese to read aloud, we’d love to hear them!

  6. If I might answer on Xiaoying’s behalf! (And I will ask her to take a look at the link when she is around)

    For Xiaoying’s work, she has recently got involved with writing and organising books for children learning Chinese overseas. (And, without going into details, we have both got quite frustrated and disillusioned with the current system.)

    While we were in New Zealand, Xiaoying researched the writing methods and levelings of English readers, and spent quite a bit of time in the library looking at English children’s readers.

    As a result, Xiaoying and I are now much more aware of what make a book good for language-learning purposes (in contrast to all the other valuable purposes of children’s books!).

    Xiaoying next intends to spend time in Chinese libraries, looking at Chinese children’s books, to got more familiar with what is around.

    So, to cut a long story short, Xiaoying says she doesn’t yet feel ready to give any opinions about Chinese children’s books. But she will form some opinions soon (both for us personally, and for her work). We will let you know :-)

  7. I was born in China and now working in California. My daughter was born in U.S. She loves Dr. Seuss’s books, so do I. It is great we have some the books translated into Chinese, especially we like the bilingual ones.

    Thanks for the great information!

    1. We have a hanzi/pinyin interlinear version of Max Lucado’s You Are Special, but that’s the only one I think of off the top of my head that includes pinyin (not counting a couple Chinese books that inlude pinyin).

      As much as I don’t like reading pinyin — our first teacher always made a big point of “pinyin is a Chinese learning tool, not Chinese” — interlinear books with pinyin would be SO much easier. I think we’d do more Chinese at home if we had more books like that. Recently our youngest has been on a Berenstain Bear’s kick, and those books are only hanzi, no pinyin. And even though I can read over 90% of it straight out, that last few % is a real pain when trying to read aloud and keep it interesting.

  8. I’ve just found your blog and find it fascinating. Thanks for sharing your experiences thoughtfully and sensitively yet honestly. We’re Americans who got interested in China, then adopted a daughter from China, travel some in China and study Chinese. Our now-14 year old has surpassed us in language, as hoped she would. It’s been through finding local Chinese speakers (our town has a university), spending time in China, struggling to learn ourselves and so on. An expense of time and money but worth it. Alongside that we host Chinese students and love developing relationships with them.
    In response to this topic: each time we go to China we visit bookstores and look at children’s books. (Lately this has been in Kunming.) We bring home dozens of books and at home figure out which ones are usable for our ability and context. I’m drawn in by the illustrations and, because of my familiarity with western styles, I often end up with translations. Many of these have the problems you mention: “hard” words, odd phrasing in too-literal translations. One series I liked may not be available now since it was published in France in 2006, in China in 2012 and I cannot find the publisher’s website. There are 10 books and they have nice repetition within each. In this first one the main character, 蓝色的考拉,goes to preschool; the first day he forgot his shoes, next day his lunch and so on. ISBN 978-7-5448-1359-4. publisher 接力出版社/全国优秀出版社。In another book he helps his grandfather on the farm.

Leave a Reply