N˘i H˘ao! or “hello” in Mandarin Chinese! This is one of the many words that I’ve seen children learn in Urbana Regional Library’s new Panda Stories program, an all-ages, monthly bilingual story time in Chinese and English. Meeting the third Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m., Panda Stories is taught by Li Zhou, a mother of two and resident of the Villages of Urbana. Zhou grew up in China.
I’ve known Zhou for nearly two years now as she and her children regularly attend my story times. Over the summer Zhou made a proposal to teach a Chinese bilingual story time at the library — and Panda Stories was born!
Great storytelling is at the heart of the program. Zhou has told classic folktales such as how the animals were selected for the Chinese Zodiac, following a great race across the river; how the fox tricked tiger into believing he was the King of the Jungle; and how the great mythological archer Houyi shot down ten suns. For the latter tale, Zhou created bows and arrows for each child out of Popsicle sticks and Q-tips which they used during storytime to help Houyi shoot down the 10 suns.
Chinese culture and traditions are also shared. In September’s story time, Zhou shared stories about the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival, which is still celebrated in China today. Children learned about the Moon Goddess, Chang E, and her companion the Jade Rabbit. Li also shared moon cakes, a treat enjoyed by families during the holiday. Moon cakes are beautifully molded cakes that may be salty, with a meat or vegetable filling, or sweet and loaded with dried and candied fruits, nuts, and red bean, date or lotus pastes. Häagen-Dazs even makes an ice cream moon cake!
And while Americans have traditional nursery rhymes that we regularly sing to our little ones, Chinese families have their own, too. In October’s story time Zhou taught everyone the fingerplay “Two Tigers,” which is sung to the tune “Are You Sleeping, Brother John.” Led by Zhou, the children delightedly acted out the silly rhyme while singing the words first in English, then Chinese: Two Tigers, Two Tigers/Run so fast, Run so fast/ One has no eyes, One has no tail/So strange, So strange!
Panda Stories is for all ages and no registration is required. Our next session is Thursday, Nov. 21 at 6:30 p.m. We’ll be learning how to say numbers in Chinese, so come join us! Zàijiàn (Good bye)!
Editor’s Note: Robyn Monaco is the Children’s Librarian at the Urbana Regional Library and a Villages of Urbana resident.