BYU’s Chinese Flagship Center Earns Award for Children’s Books

The Creative Works Award was given to BYU’s Chinese Flagship Center for creating books to help children in Chinese immersion programs learn and read Chinese.

PROVO, Utah (October 16, 2018)—The BYU Chinese Flagship Center was recently recognized for the development of Chinese children’s readers, a project that began just over a decade ago. At the time, Susan Gong was teaching Chinese at Provo High School when the state of Utah asked her to help develop the curriculum for the new Chinese immersion program that would be implemented in elementary schools across Utah. As she and others prepared to implement the program, a void was recognized. Gong said, “It became very apparent very quickly that there were no materials available for English-speaking children who had not grown up speaking in a Chinese-language context.” Thus, a project was born.

Gong teamed up with the BYU Chinese Flagship Center to develop books for children that only introduced a few Chinese characters at a time. Gong became the head editor of the project, with students and volunteers helping to write, edit, and illustrate the books. The project took three years as sets of books were made for the first, second, and third grades. In Utah’s Chinese immersion program, school subjects are divided and taught in either English or Chinese, so Gong and her team adapted the books to reflect this. “By the time [students] are in third grade, we have books on Newton’s Laws of Motion, friction, and sedimentary rocks… [because] in the Utah curriculum science is [presented as] part of the Chinese side as opposed to English,” Gong said. The way these books are to this day able to communicate and teach while using only a few characters is in large part because of their amazing illustrations. Gong said that she loved working with the illustrators, commenting that “so much of the story has to be told in the illustrations to make it engaging for the children.” This was a big focus for the team, making sure that “each book is a story, not just a recitation of characters,” Gong remarked.

The Step by Step Chinese readers are now used in elementary schools not only in Utah but in different states across the country. They won best in category at the New England Book Fair and were picked up by the publisher Cheng & Tsui. Most recently, because of the readers, the BYU Chinese Flagship Center won the Creative Works Award from ORCA at BYU. Gong has seen the impact these books have had, not only through awards and recognitions, but also up close in the lives of the children who read them. She described a personal experience with the books, saying, “I took a set of the books to my grandchildren who are in Chinese immersion programs in California two months ago, and my six year old granddaughter was reading to me, and she was just so excited that there was something she could actually read.”

As elementary students learn Chinese from these readers, they not only develop language skills, but have their minds opened as they, in Gong’s words, gain “a second way of looking at the world.”

Emma Ebert, Editing & Publishing, 2021