Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
How does an author who already won so many accolades to continue pushing herself for such new heights?
This book has no surprising twist ending: magical or SciFi-esque; it has no flashy mystery elements; it is set in an ordinary school with ordinary middle school students — but yet, one cannot stop reading it because we as readers care so much about the interior lives of the characters (three “main” plus the supporting cast). It makes one feel compassion and empathy towards all who behave “well” and who might have some questionable motivation. It also makes readers marvel at the author’s ability to write a “quiet” book that speaks so loudly on the reality of being a young teen who must navigate the treacherous waters of friendship, social dynamics, and power-structure.
On my 10-day trip to Beijing in August 2015, attending the Beijing International Book Fair and meeting with various publishers, editors, and booksellers, I collected some names and information to share. In this post, three authors, three publishers, and one mega store are mentioned, but of course there are more in that vast land full of talented and passionate children’s book creators! As I learn more about specific titles, I will continue to report.
One of the most revered current children’s book author is 曹文轩 Cao Wenxuan (pronounced “tsau wen-shuan”)。He teaches Chinese literature and children’s fiction writing at the Beijing University and is sought after by many Children’s book publishers for fiction, picture books, nonfiction, and editorial advisory on book series. His picture books tend to be philosophical in nature, slightly wordy, and not shying away from presenting harsh realities to even the very young. Here’s a link to a short info on Wikipedia.
The Last Leopard
A book recently translated and published by NorthSouth Books by a Chinese author is Grandmother Lives in A Perfume Village by 方素珍 Fang Suzhen. Fang is a Taiwan native and has become really popular in China and is nicknamed “Granny Flower” (花婆婆) who has a literary blog and advises parents on how to share children’s books with their children. She’s the Taiwan translator for Barbara Cooney’s Miss Rumphius (Granny Flower). Fang’s blog is in Chinese.
I fell in love with many of the picture books by 熊亮 Xiong Liang (pronounced shuong liang). Mr. Xiong is both an illustrator and an author with the uncanny ability to tell very moving stories with very few words and simple story arcs. I hope many non-Chinese readers will eventually get to appreciate his work. Here are a couple cover images:
The Mud General
Nian the New Year Monster
These three publishers all have their own visions and skilled editors to bring Chinese children the highest quality contemporary original works. The official and formal descriptions do not do their justice!
21 Century Books and its 20-volume set of original middle grade novels by Chinese authors definitely captured my attention:
Ming Tian (Tomorrow) Publisher as part of the Shan Dong publishing group has some of the best original picture books around:
The Toy Rabbit Story by Xiong Liang
海燕 (Petrel) Publishing House just ventured into making their own picture books and novels for children after bringing many quality translated work to China from overseas:
One Mega Store
当当 (DangDang.com) is one of the major online shopping stores in China and many if not most parents buy their children’s books from this outlet which hosts book and reading events, creates age-level and genre book lists, and compiles tailormade book lists (by human sales reps, not just algorithms), etc. for their loyal customers.
As the site claims, this is the world’s biggest children’s books online seller, where according to the report by its sales manager local Chinese and imported foreign books have equal shares of the market. Check it out: http://touch.m.dangdang.com/topics.php?page_id=40131&sid=cbb00b359ca906be87bf470ace50a1ec
This was not a work day for me. Got up later than the past week and spent the hot and humid morning and early afternoon at the Beijing Olympics Park, shopping center, and by the Bird’s Nest (The Olympics Stadium.)
Afternoon also brought me back to Nanluoguxiang and Houhai area: revisiting old haunts and discovering new spots.
Said goodbye to the extremely kind and gentle Xiaocui, the exporting manager with whom I hope to maintain long lasting friendships.
Oh. And finally had donkey (驴) meat! Extremely tender, a lot like beef!
My last day of scheduled meetings with publishers. In the past week, I read/looked through about 100 locally produced, original picture books. Much will be reflected on after I get back home next week!
Two more events worth mentioning: the special picture books and activities area set up for children and their caregivers to explore: much fun and organized chaos. No one misbehaved.
The biggest happy surprise event was an interview and Q&A with my long time hero illustrator Alan Lee. A lot of devoted fans here due to his involvement with the Lord of the Rings movies. My first encounter with his artwork was in the early 80s. Having the opportunity to hear him discuss his art with so much care and humility was such pleasure.
Of course… More yummy food:
Second full day at BIBF brought me much delight in discovering more wonderfully original picture books, novels, and literary nonfiction. It is apparent that children’s books are growing in market, importance, and quality countrywide.
Got invited to a dinner with two publishers from Sri Lanka and exchanged much information about the two countries and heard quite a few humorous stories by one of the veteran publisher and former newspaper editor.
Today was the first day of BIBF (Beijing International Book Fair). I attended five meetings with various publishers and rights reps, exploring a wide range of picture book themes and styles. There is so much potential and such willingness to learn and eager to improve: and a few names to be seriously look out for. The authors and artists of note will be posted this Sunday for the special China edition of the FCL Sunday Select. I am to meet with more people in the next two days, but perhaps a little more free time to wander around on my own as well.
Dinner was a most wonderful affair at an elegant restaurant specializing in Beijing traditional food, done with delicacy and close attention to details. We talked a lot about the future of Chinese Children’s books: its need for YA books, for creative and literary nonfiction, for better training of editorial staff, for curtailing the practice of giving the illustration jobs to “illustration companies” where the pictures are done in bulk and without personal touches, individual connections or editorial input.
A very productive and delicious day!
I attended the very first International Children’s Publishing Forum at the Beijing International Book Fair today. Jam packed with great information: we listened about the development of Chinese Children’s literature of the past 100 years, how to examine picture books for their individual worthiness whether a title has garnered major award or not, the statistical and strategic reports from major publishers and booksellers here and abroad, and the extremely valuable collaboration of authors and illustrators, among other topics.
The most fun was to spend time with my close friend and like minded colleague Junko Yokota who gave the talk at the event on picture book evaluation. I learn so much from her every time we talk! Today was no different.
After the Forum, Junko’s host, Miss Zhang from the China Children’s Press and Publishing Group graciously invited me to the opening ceremony and reception hosted by the BIBF organizer at the Great Hall of The People. There many new connections were formed and much hope for future collaborations was shared.
Went back to Junko’s hotel room where we talked some more: about our plans, the upcoming IBBY conference in New York, and her upcoming talk on building empathy through reading picture books.
This is not a short note but then again this was not an uneventful day!