Growing up as a Chinese American immigrant in New Jersey, Ran Wei Baker tried really hard to adapt to American culture. English is her second language, and she had to learn the language of her new country while maintaining her native Mandarin.
Even though Baker was only 6 years old when she immigrated to America, her parents instilled in her that she should know her mother tongue, taking her to libraries and Chinese book stores.
When Baker’s own daughter Lily was born in 2020, she wanted to set an example for her as her parents had. But as Baker was putting together a book collection, she was surprised at how few bilingual Chinese English books there were in the children’s market. The idea for the Boba Bear Bilingual board books came out of Baker’s frustration.
“To this day, exposing me to Chinese language and culture throughout my life has been the best gift my parents have given me,” Baker said. “I knew I wanted to give the gift of language and culture to (Lily) too.”
With the goal of making a positive impact on the Asian American community, Boba Bear Bilingual was created in 2022. Baker works the festival and library circuit to promote and sell her series of self-published children’s books. They come as single books, sets and even gift kits with stuffed plush to help children learn.
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Boba is one of Baker’s favorite Asian drinks, with chewy tapioca balls. The tea-based drink also known as bubble tea originated in Taiwan in the 1980s and is now popular worldwide.
“I was pregnant with Lily, I loved drinking boba tea, and also growing up, a big part of my weekend routine with my parents was getting boba after Chinese school,” Baker said. “I love that it represents a fun beverage in Asian culture, but also reminds me of happy memories with my family.”
Boba Bear's mother is a panda bear, which represents Chinese culture, Baker explained. Boba is a light brown bear cub, representing a mix between her panda mother and dark brown bear father.
Boba Bear Bilingual books are written in English and Chinese. Chinese culture is immersed in the books. One such example is Boba Bear's Lunar New Year, the biggest holiday of the year for East Asians. There are also recordings of book readings on the website for families learning Mandarin Chinese.
It's important to learn about different cultures for children because it teaches them to be open-minded, Baker said. Through book readings and festivals, Baker met other Chinese American parents who are also trying to raise their kids bilingual.
“Boba Bear is in many ways my love letter to Lily,” Baker said. “I wanted to create relatable and engaging learning books that make reading a fun experience for both parents and children, in hopes that multicultural kids like Lily can find joy and take pride in seeing books on the shelves that celebrate their culture and language.”
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