Hooked on Books with Forest of Reading Author/Illustrator Jason Li

By Joanne Sallay

Posted in English Tutoring, Featured, Hooked On Books, Local, Parent Education Resources, Tips & Advice

Hooked on Books with Forest of Reading Author/Illustrator Jason Li

Learning a new language is an exciting opportunity, but it certainly is not easy. The Teachers on Call in-person and online tutoring team understands this first-hand as French tutoring is one of our most popular requests for students in Core, Extended and Immersion programs. We are big believers in making education fun and engaging, especially when it comes to learning a new language. This is why we were intrigued when we came across the Forest of Reading nominated title, The Hanmoji Handbook: Your Guide to the Chinese Language Through Emoji. The three authors (all based in North America) have this very same goal to make learning the Chinese Language interesting and memorable with the help of the ever so popular emoji symbols. In this Hooked on Books feature, Teachers on Call’s President, Joanne Sallay, interviews Jason Li to get his take on this unique and creative methodology. So, if you are interested in linguistics and exploring a new way to learn the Chinese Language, read on! 

What is the Forest of Reading program?

The Forest of Reading program is known as Canada’s premier recreational reading program where student readers as young as kindergarten select the winning titles. The books chosen by their respective committees are all Canadian, so it is a true opportunity to spotlight books, publishers, authors and illustrators throughout country. There are 10 reading award programs in total, including nine categories for students of all ages and one specifically for adult readers (the Evergreen Award, with the winner announced during Ontario Public Library Week in October). While the voting for this year has already taken place for the 9 student programs, the reading party does not need to end. In fact, weekends and summer break provide a wonderful opportunity to catch up on any of the nominated books students did not read during the official program window.

How is Teachers on Call celebrating the Forest of Reading this year?

With more than a quarter of a million readers, the Forest of Reading campaign takes place annually through schools, local libraries or at home. This includes elementary, middle and high-school teachers and students from the Teachers on Call education community. In celebration of the 100 nominated titles in 2022-2023, Teachers on Call’s president, Joanne Sallay, is featuring interviews with Forest of Reading creators across Canada. Fun fact, her children participate annually in this literacy program, and she herself is closely following the adult reading program!

Did you catch our last Hooked on Books with White Pine Award nominee, Jen Ferguson? Not to worry if you missed it, click here. For our most recent feature, read on for our interview with Jason Li and his Forest of Reading nominated title, The Hanmoji Handbook: Your Guide to the Chinese Language Through Emoji.

Hooked on Books with Jason Li

Book: The Hanmoji Handbook: Your Guide to the Chinese Language Through Emoji

Published by: Candlewick Press, MITeen

Category: Yellow Cedar Award – Non-fiction

For ages: Grades 5 - 8

An Interview with Jason Li

Check out Jason’s answers to our questions below!

Tell us about The Hanmoji Handbook: Your Guide to the Chinese Language Through Emoji in your words.

On the surface, The Hanmoji Handbook is about using something we all know (emoji) to learn something new (Chinese writing). And that is indeed a large part of the book. But there’s more to it. We also dive into the past, present and future lives of both writing systems (emoji and Chinese). By doing that, we hope readers become more interested (and have more fun!) in learning different languages, as they see that the language systems around us are still living and ever evolving.

Living in Toronto, Ontario, do you have a favourite reading and writing nook?

When it comes to reading, I love going to a cafe and sitting down with a book and a nice hot cup of coffee. Toronto is home to so many great cafes though, so it’s hard to pick a favourite. As for writing, I prefer the comfort of my work table at home (I have one of those fun illustrator tables that tilts up if I pull it up), which is surrounded by plants and littered with colourful toys, lamps, and ceramics.

What inspired your unique guidebook to teach beginners the Chinese language with the help of emojis?

It all started with a moment of play. My co-authors An Xiao Mina and Jennifer 8. Lee were texting each other, switching between English and Chinese, and throwing some emoji on the side as well. At some point in this mix, one of them spontaneously answered a question by using an emoji in place of a Chinese character, and the rest is history. We hope that our book sparks the same playful joy in our readers as they trek along their Chinese learning journeys.

Congratulations on your Yellow Cedar Award nomination. What does the Forest of Reading progra mean to you personally?

As a first-time author, it’s been really affirming to be recognized by the Forest of Reading. On top of that, it’s not lost on me that the Forest of Reading is a project by the Ontario Library Association (OLA), and librarians have been champions of our book since day one (shout out to all the librarians out there!).

Learning a new language is challenging. What feedback have you received on student progress after reading your book?

I love that readers are coming to the book from different places and getting different things out of it. Folks who are earlier on in their learning journeys have told us that the mnemonic device (using emoji) has been really helpful for them. Others who had a bit more experience really love knowing where Chinese writing comes from, and the general history behind it. And a few people who have zero knowledge of the Chinese language have told us that they were surprised they still enjoyed the book so much.

How would you describe the experience of co-writing a book as a team of 3 authors.

Working with my co-authors An Xiao Mina and Jennifer 8. Lee has been an incredible experience. Having a team of three means that we could each focus on what we’re good at. Our strengths are like little puzzle pieces that fit together to create this larger book. It helps that we’ve all worked together before starting on this book, so we already had well established channels of communication.

What’s next for you?

First of all, the paperback edition of The Hanmoji Handbook is coming out this fall, so working with our publisher to make sure the launch is a successful one is on the top of my list.

Another project is I’m finishing up the final touches on my graphic novel project, The House on Horse Mountain, which is a slice-of-life story about growing up in a refugee community in Hong Kong during the 1960s. It is based on my mother’s oral accounts of her own childhood.

We hope you enjoy our interview with 2023 Yellow Cedar Award nominee, Jason Li. For more Hooked on Books spotlights with Forest of Reading authors and illustrators, check out the Teachers on Call blog!

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