Sooooo, this is an actual picture book for kids, available in print, from a French author and a Chinese illustrator. I’m not 100% sure about the copyright on this story. I found it floating all around on dozens of sites on the Chinese internet, but considering lax copyright protection in China, that doesn’t mean it’s not stolen. I hope not… but if you like it, I found one print copy of the Chinese version on Amazon, so go buy it to read aloud to young readers at home or in the classroom. It’s better with pictures. If you are the copyright owner, contact me.
Anyway, this is a sweet story that also includes a little bit of story-ception. At one point, Mile has to read a story to her class, so you get two beginner stories for the price of one.
Some language stuff
As with most of these pieces, a few advanced phrases have snuck in, so let’s take a look at those before we get going:
小得不能再小 xiǎo de bù néng zài xiǎo – This structure actually just came up in my last advanced post, so it’s pretty commonly used. Let’s break it down:
小 – Small
得 – To the point that / to the degree that
不能 – Cannot
再 – Again
小 – Small
Yikes. Hard to piece that together, even though we know the definition of each character. It means “small to the point that it could not be any smaller”, or in better English, “so small it could not be smaller” / “extremely small”. We can use this structure with many different adjectives. In the advanced post, the phrasing was: 丑得不能再丑, or “so ugly it couldn’t be uglier”.
不知所措 bù zhī suǒ cuò – To be at one’s wit’s end, to not know what to do.
硬着头皮 yìng zhe tóu pí – This one cracks me up. 头皮 is the skin on the top of your head over your skull. 硬, as we know, is usually an adjective which means “hard”, as in “a hard surface”. In this case, 硬 is being used as a verb, as in “to harden”. But, “to harden the skin over one’s head” still doesn’t make any sense in English. That’s because in Chinese, hardening one’s head-skin is used to describe “bracing oneself to do something scary or difficult”. For example, you’ve got to 硬头皮 before you walk out on stage to give a performance, or before you have a hard conversation with your significant other, or before you walk into a job interview. 着 is a grammar word indicating something is continually happening. You can’t just brace yourself for a second. You’ve got to brace, and then hold onto that courage to go forth and complete whatever task you had to brace yourself for, so 着 shows us that this is a continual state.
腿发软 – tuǐ fā ruǎn Three easy characters that seem to make no sense together. Let’s look at each:
腿 – Legs
发 – To radiate, to send out
软 – Soft
Legs send out soft?! Clearly, the hard part here is the appearance of the character 发. In Chinese, 发 can be used to describe a kind of discomfort that radiates out from some part of the body. For example, after a workout, your muscles can 发酸 fā suān, “radiate ache”, or in better English “be sore”. When you’re sick, you may 发烧 fā shāo, “radiate burn”, or in better English “have a fever”. If a cut gets infected, it may 发炎 fā yán, “radiate heat” or “become inflamed”. If you’re terrified, you may 发抖 fā dǒu, “radiate twitches”, or “tremble”. So, all together, 腿发软 is equivalent to the English for “to go weak in the knees” or when ones “legs go soft” from fear.
以为 yǐ wéi – And last but not least, 以为 means “to think”, but not “to think” in the sense of sitting around pondering something, like “to think up a solution” or “to think about a friend”. It means to have the wrong idea about something, or to believe something false, as in, “Did you really think you could beat me?” or “Do you think this is some kind of joke?” or “I really thought I turned that paper in already!”
Alright, ready? On with the Chinese.
老师说，“怎么这么吵！你们以为这里是动物园吗? 是菜市场吗? 你们这些捣蛋鬼，不觉得难为情吗？她叫米乐。不叫西红柿！”