We often end up bringing into our home materials that we never would have thought to buy in English, simply because they are Chinese. Dora the Explorer is one of these: I would have decided she is too commercial and unofficially banned her like Caillou or Spongebob Squarepants. But in Chinese, she was welcomed into the door, and we have been happy, very happy, with her.
Another product I ordered because it was in English AND Chinese is the Little Mammoth Big Adventure Series dvds. I had had them on a wishlist for a year, but only ordered when the store I frequented on ebay decided to close and have a clearout sale.
What a DISCOVERY! These dvds are produced in the states, and have enticing titles like “The Big Aircraft Carrier”, “The Big Submarine”, “The Big Christmas Tree”, “The Big Train Trip”. They are geared towards 5-10 yr olds or so, but my 4 year old just loves them. You can read some reviews on Amazon here.
Little Mammoth puts them out in English first, one title per dvd, for $19.95 US . But you get a REAL DEAL by ordering the Chinese/English ones: 5 dvds for only $24.99!
The first set we got (by error, from the ebay clearout, since we ordered the navigation set) is The Big Science and Invention Series. The titles included are The Big Christmas Tree, The Big Auto Plant, The Big Train Trip, The Big Boom, and The Big Newspaper. I thought these may not have such huge draw to a 4 yr old, but boy was I wrong. My son sits glued to the tv, forgetting to put his fork in his mouth (we sometimes share supper over new educational dvds), and other times overflowing with questions and “WOW! AMAZING!” comments.
The Big Christmas Tree follows the New York Rockefeller Christmas tree from the search (the man in charge scours the US in a helicopter all year for the right tree), discovery, cutting it down, delivering it (it lays on a huge semi-trailer that goes INSIDE a GIGANTIC freight plane), setting it up at Rockefeller Center, being decorated, and its public unveiling. There are asides about Christmas tree farms, a man who collects Christmas tree ornaments, and the origin of Christmas tree traditions. Fascinating for kids AND adults.
The Big Auto Plant takes us inside Mercedes Benz in Germany, from car design, prototype and testing, through the complete production line. The child narrators manage to impart so much technical information without it being overwhelming, and we are glued to the screen the whole while.
The Big Train Trip takes us from Toronto to Vancouver on Via Rail. We learn about how they get food on the train, how they take an engine apart to overhaul it, what one can do on a train, and many details behind the scene. I loved, being Canadian, that it was so close to home, and understandable for my son.
The Big Boom is a bit more esoteric for small kids, as it talks about explosions. Volcanic eruptions, the demolition of a large building, and sonic booms from planes. But my son has asked to watch it on his own repeatedly.
We haven’t seen the Newspaper one yet, but I assume it will be just as good.
The set we initially ordered, The Big Navigation Series just arrived two days ago, and so far we have watched The Big Plane Trip (SwissAir from US to Europe) and The Big Aircraft Carrier (the US navy’s largest carrier). They are uniformly wellmade, and take us straight to the top (and bottom): the pilots, the engineers, the designers. We learned everything from how the fighter pilots train (dumped into a pool to simulate being trapped inside a helicopter downed in the ocean) to how the planes stop (in 3 seconds from full throttle to full stop, hooked onto huge elastic cables!). We have yet to watch The Big Submarine, The Big Airshow and The Big Space Shuttle.
We did attempt to watch these dvds in Chinese, but the level of Chinese is way beyond us. It is spoken fairly quickly by child narrators, and I only caught a word here and there: da fei ji, sheng dan shu. Hopefully one day we will be able to understand them end to end in Mandarin. But in the meantime, they are super educational and a steal in the 5-dvd chinese/english boxed sets. The only thing I dislike is the incredibly long intro trailer at the start of each dvd, though my son is happy to watch it… remarking on things he recognizes from the dvds he’s already watched, and exclaiming at those yet to come.
I am happy to see that there is a third chinese/english set, The Big Amusement Park Series, with the titles: The Big Aquarium, The Big Hotel, The Big Zoo, The Big Park and The Big Renovation. We’ll have to look into those in the future.
The Peabody award-winning director of this series of educational dvds, which have won all sorts of accolades, is William VanDerKloot. He started working on this series after realizing, with his own children, what a dearth there is of good educational dvds to answer children’s questions. Too often the material is not enough in depth or turned into a cutesy animation or anthropomorphized. There is a very recent interview with him here, at Fivehens.com. Turns out the current Little Mammoth dvd in production is The Big Breakfast, where they examine how all the makings of a blueberry pancake breakfast get onto your table.
To purchase these dvds, click on the above title links (they are the AsianParent.com store) for English/Chinese, or go to Little Mammoth’s website for the English ones. If you are daring, you can probably save a lot of postage if you are not in the US by ordering the English/Chinese ones from CNEMAY Chinese Cultural Products. I haven’t ordered from them, but they have the same price, $24.99 US for 5dvd sets, $9.99 US for individual dvds, with Free International Shipping from Beijing. If you do order from them, please let me know how your experience was.
And if you are really lucky, your local school or library will have Little Mammoth Big Adventure Series dvds on hand to get your fix for free! Definitely worth your while.