Verified: The Hanmoji Handbook is the first “traditionally published” children’s book with Cantonese/Jyutping


A collage of screenshots from various publisher and bookstore websites showing the search results for Cantonese (many of whom returned no results) and Jyutping. Also in shown the middle is a screenshot of The Hanmoji Handbook appearing in the Google Books search results for Jyutping.

Last month, I ran a special pre-order with the team at Little Kozzi for the launch of the paperback edition  of The Hanmoji Handbook: Your Guide to the Chinese Language Through Emoji (which I co-authored with An Xiao Mina and Jennifer 8. Lee). On their blog post announcing the pre-order, Little Kozzi suggested that:

This book immediately stood out to me because it’s the first traditionally published book (that I’m aware of) that includes: 1) Traditional Chinese characters, AND 2) Cantonese pronunciation + Jyutping (!!) There are a lot more books out there these days with Jyupting, but most (if not all) are self-published.

[In case you’re not familiar with Cantonese learning, Jyutping (粵拼) is most commonly-used Latin alphabet pronunciation system for Cantonese these days.]

Could this be true? Yes, but… One additional piece of context that’s implied in Little Kozzi’s post, but is not obvious unless you visit their website, is that they are an online Chinese children’s bookseller, so in their blog post they are only talking about children’s books. So within the realm of children’s books published by large publishers in the US, UK and Canada, I’m 99% sure this is actually true.

By scouring online booksellers, publisher websites and Google Books, I have verified that:

  • 99% sure: The Hanmoji Handbook is the first children’s book published by a big US/UK/Canada publisher with Cantonese pronunciation guides in Jyutping.
  • 90% sure: The Hanmoji Handbook is (also most probably) the first children’s book published by a big US/UK/Canada publisher with Cantonese.

The rest of this post is a summary of how I verified these two claims, in case you’re skeptical or simply curious. Given the volume of mainstream publishing in the US/UK/Canada, it’s not possible for me to be 100% sure about these claims… but I’m glad we got 99% of the way there.

How I looked for data

By running a keyword search for  “Cantonese” on online bookstores and publisher websites:

  • On 15 big US/UK publisher websites. The publishers I looked at were Penguin Random House, Hachette Book Group, Pearson, Harper Collins, Wiley, Scholastic, McGraw Hill, Macmillan, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster, Disney Books, Union Square & Co. (formerly Sterling Publishing), Cengage, Oxford University Press, and Abrahms. This list of publishers were sourced from Zippia’s The 15 Largest Publishing Companies In The World (2023) and Book Editing Associates’ The “Big 5” Trade Publishers and Their Imprints (2020).
  • On US online bookstore and Amazon alternative carries the same inventory as Ingram, which Wikipedia describes as having the “largest active book inventory with access to 7.5 million titles.” I looked through the first 100 search results.
  • On UK online bookstore Blackwell’s. I looked through the first 120 search results.
  • On Canada’s biggest bookstore chain and online bookstore Indigo. I looked through the first 120 search results.

I also looked on Google Books, which indexes the insides of a book, which means that it might find things that a simple bookstore listing won’t have:

  • I ran a keyword search for “Jyutping” on Google Books. I looked through the first 350 search results. The Hanmoji Handbook appeared on the fifth page of search results.
  • I also ran a keyword search for “Cantonese” on Google Books. I looked through all of the available 542 search results. The Hanmoji Handbook did not show up in the search results at all for some reason.

Of the book results I got:

  • I filtered for children’s books (luckily they have colorful covers and are easy to spot) and books related to language learning. I ignored the many search results about Cantonese cuisine and regional history. 
  • For the children’s and language learning books (sometimes they were both), I looked up their publisher. Sometimes, the listing would say “independently published,” but other times they would list a company name, and if so I would look up their website.

What I found: adult language learning books

  • Very few large publishers (which includes medium-sized publishers that have big-publisher distribution) have published Cantonese learning books:
    • Routledge (an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group) is one publisher I found that still actively publishes Cantonese learning books. Its Modern Cantonese series was last updated in 2023, on top of its other offerings from the 2010s and before.
    • Tuttle Publishing (which is distributed by Simon & Schuster in the US) published a phrasebook & dictionary, and a pocket dictionary in 2018 and 2019 respectively.
    • Lonely Planet (which is distributed by Hachette in the US) published a phrasebook & dictionary in 2016.
    • Teach Yourself (an imprint within an imprint of Hachette) published a handful of Cantonese learning books from 1994 to 2016. Unfortunately the publisher’s bare website suggests it may deep in its decline.
    • McGraw Hill Contemporary published a single book in 1997 called Communicate in Cantonese. It and its newer edition published by Commercial Press (Hong Kong) in 2005 are both out-of-print.
  • Out-of-copyright books, many by James Dyer Ball, from the early 1900s that are being sold in print by multiple vendors.
  • Special mentions:
    • Pimsleur (a division of Simon & Schuster) still supports Cantonese on its latest language learning app, and has historically published DVDs/CDs for Cantonese language learning.
    • Hippocrene Books (a mid-sized, independent publishing company founded in 1972 in the US) published a dictionary & phrasebook, and a practical dictionary in 2012 and 2014.

What I found: children’s books

What I found: access to Cantonese children’s books is growing

Though it might seem like our book has a clear advantage by being published by a larger press, the reality is that most of the recently-published Cantonese children’s books do have quite a wide distribution network as well. Their titles and covers came up again and again when I was looking  through big online bookstores — which means that they too are ready and available for order. The democratization of publishing is actually happening, at least when it comes to Cantonese children’s books.

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