“Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like me” as viewed by an East Asian parent

For the second year in a row, I posted Children’s Literature Ambassador Gene Yang’s Reading Challenges (Reading Without Walls) as a preamble to the Summer Recommended Reading Lists for my students.  The three main points are:

  • Read a book about a character who doesn’t look like me or live like me.
  • Read a book about a topic I don’t know much about.
  • Read a book in a format (or genre) that I don’t normally read for fun.

Last Wednesday, a parent brought her 4th grade daughter to the library to check out summer books and her first question to me was, “Who decided on the summer reading challenges?”  Seeing her and her daughter, both of East Asian descent, it suddenly dawned on me that the first challenge was not a “challenge” at all, but a re-enforcement of what has been the norm in the child’s reading experiences: almost always reading about someone who doesn’t look like her.  The mother confirmed my realization by saying that there are pretty much no books with characters that look like her! So I grasped at the straw of the second part of the same challenge: live like me and said that this could mean someone living in a rural area, from a different era, or different country.

The next ten minutes saw me scouring the library collection, trying to offer SOME titles with characters that might mirror her daughter’s appearances or experiences, written by authors of a similar background — to very little success.  She already read all the books by Grace Lin multiple times.  Linda Sue Park’s books do not seem to speak to her (even though I thought Project Mulberry might work just fine…) Cynthia Kadohata’s books tend to cover more somber topics that the child does not want to read over the summer (and The Thing About Luck was already checked out!) Marie Lu’s books do not feature East Asian main characters and Kiki Strike’s girl pal Oona Wong has a father who is a major criminal.  The books by Ying Chang Compestine are either too serious or too scary or do not feature a girl main character. I was hoping she would probably take out Millicent Min, Girl Genius but she took one look and didn’t like the idea of reading about a girl who’s super smart.  Eventually, they took out some other books and left not unhappy but definitely not entirely satisfied.

And I was left pondering: Why did I not see how the first part of the challenge might read/feel to child readers who have not seen themselves reflected in books all along? Why?  Because I defaulted readily into the “white audience” mode and only realized the imbalance when confronted with this real-life scenario that offers me a broader view.   I also realized how lacking of knowledge I am to fun books (fantasy, mystery, school humor, graphic novels, etc.) that feature East Asian characters prominently for tweens! Suggestions welcome!

Lesson learned and hopefully will be able to apply in the future.

 

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Candied Plums in New York!

The Chinese bilingual picture books published by Candied Plums are now widely available through various book wholesalers and retailers: including Baker & Taylor, Ingram, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble online.

The editor and rights manager Lisa Lee attended BEA in New York and met many librarians and booksellers who all marveled at how well made, original, and beautiful these bilingual (and some English only) books are.  As a consultant to the company, I definitely feel a sense of accomplishment and pride.  It has been a joy to work with Candied Plums and especially Lisa and a privilege to provide a service to a much needed corner of the children’s literature field.

candiedplumslogo

 

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Chinese Government to Restrict Foreign Picture Books – News from China

According to these two articles, one by the Guardian, Peppa Pig pulled: China cracks down on foreign children’s books and one on South China Morning Post, What does China have against Peppa Pig?, the Chinese Government has started to limit the number of picture books originally published overseas in order to both foster local children’s book publication and have a firmer control over the kind of ideology conveyed through the local picture books. (Thanks, Jeff Gottesfeld, for posting these links on Facebook!)

I am monitoring this progress and will report back for those interested in following this topic.  But, right out of the bag, I’d like to point out that the number of translated books for children in China has always been huge and overpowering.  Look at this screenshot of the top paperback picture book bestsellers on their largest online children’s bookstore: 2 from the Netherland, 4 from the United States, and 2 from France.  Not a single title is by Chinese authors or illustrators.

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Compare this to the top selling picture books on Amazon in the U.S. (There is no such category, only best selling children’s books.)  There are eight picture books in the first twenty titles which are mostly Harry Potter books: First 100 Words by Roger Priddy, The Going-To-Bed Book by Sandra Boynton, The Wonderful Things… by Emily Winfield Martin, Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein, Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr. Seuss, Richard Scarry’s The Gingerbread Man (Little Golden Book) by Nancy Nolte (Author), Richard Scarry (Illustrator), and Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown.  All of them are published in the U.S., by U.S. authors and illustrators.  In fact, it has always been rare for foreign, translated work for children to thrive in the U.S. marketplace.

So, I imagine that the need for #OWNVOICE is real and urgent in China.

There is a reason I used this hashtag since I saw that someone invented this other hashtag on Facebook to stress that China Need Diverse Books: #CNDB (modeling after the #WNDB, We Need Diverse Books hashtag) as if the Chinese market is flushed with nothing BUT Chinese creators’ works.  The reality is quite the opposite.

Let’s truly examine the full ranges of the issues of picture book fields in these two countries before making judgements regarding the nature and influence of this potential “government mandate.”

The fact is: the U.S. has no government mandate, but a free market, that dictates what gets published and sold.  And what we have is usually an extremely U.S. or Western centric slate of titles year in and year out.  Any publisher is BRAVE enough to bring a couple of culturally unfamiliar, translated books into the U.S. market is praised, patted on the back, but rarely sees monetary success because of such courageous move.  (And why isn’t the Betchelder Award ever cites the Translator along with the Publisher.  Or for that matter, why aren’t translators’ names always prominently placed on the cover or title pages? That’s another whole blog post to come.)

As some of you know already, I am working with Candied Plums, a new children’s book imprint, to bring contemporary Chinese books to the U.S. There is no mandate from anyone or anywhere, except for the publisher’s and my desire to bring more cultural understanding and accessibility to the U.S. readers.  These picture books, in my opinion, do not promote the “Chinese/Communist Dogma,” nor do they convey any specific ideology except for displaying all ways that we can be human.  These books should be as popular in China as all the imported books.  So, perhaps, just perhaps, the publishers who have been working hard at publishing their #OWNVOICES would have a better chance at reaching their #OWNREADERS with this new, drastic mandate from the Government?

 

 

 

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Chinese/English Bilingual Books from Candied Plums

It’s FINALLY happening!!  So excited to report that the first group of books (20 titles) from Candied Plums, an imprint of Paper Republic, located in Seattle and Beijing, are finally available in the U.S. marketplace.

You can purchase the titles through Amazon or Baker and Taylor (and hopefully more venues in the immediate future.)

I have proudly served as Candied Plums consultant for the last year and a half and am impressed by the diligence and vision of those who venture into this new territory with me.  Manager Richard Li (Li Yun), editorial and rights coordinator Lisa Li (Li Xiaocui,) and editor Nancy Zhang (Zhang Tong) have poured their heart and soul into bringing the best contemporary children’s picture books to American readers: both Mandarin Learners and non-Chinese readers.  Some titles are available in both English and Bilingual Chinese (with English translation at the back of each book) versions while some are only available in Bilingual Chinese version.

Kirkus has reviewed some of titles and it seems that the reviewers all adore the stories and illustrations but worry about the fact that the English translation of the bilingual version does not appear along side the Chinese text.  This is a deliberate choice by the editorial team.  We want to present the books as close to their original version as possible while still giving the English readers a completely clear sense of what each page conveys.  It is a bold and risky choice — but perhaps it is also a chance for readers of all ages to get excited about something new and groundbreaking.  The company’s budding website will include companion audio recordings of each title.  I can see a fun library program where the librarian can play the audio version, stopping to translate each page with the provided English text, and give the young audience the pleasure of the storyline, the illustrations, and hearing an unfamiliar but widely used language in the world.

To give a bit of a taste of what the books are like, here are two titles and links to their reviews by Kirkus.

candiedhawberries

Who Wants Candied Hawberries?

buddyannoying

Buddy is So Annoying

Candied Plums’ Winter 2016/2017 Catalog also offers detailed information, description, and language learning levels.

Please also visit the Candied Plums’ Website.  Spread the word and give us feedback so we can continue bringing the best of Chinese children’s books to American young readers, schools, libraries, and families.

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The Book of Dust Trilogy – Philip Pullman. I’m freaking out!

I kind of knew about this upcoming fantasy for a while but didn’t realize that it’s not just ONE book, but a TRILOGY.  Woot!

Can’t wait to have new words, new phrases, new characters, new magical experiences and new emotional responses to Pullman’s creation.  The world is a richer place because it contains His Dark Materials and the wisdom of Philip Pullman!

Read the Guardian article here:

Philip Pullman unveils epic fantasy trilogy The Book of Dust

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Nameless City by Hicks – RWW Review

I’d like to draw attention to this thoughtful review of Erin Hicks’ graphic novel Nameless City over at Reading While White blog, I could not bring myself to reading most of the book, because of my own strong emotional (mostly adverse) reaction the raised concerns explored by Angie Manfredi in her review.  I did not speak up about this title because I strongly believe that one cannot critique a book without reading the book in its entirety and closely examining its many components.  (I felt the same about Ryan Gaudin’s The Walled City and Richelle Mead’s Soundless, both “inspired” and “loosely based” on an exoticized old China without the authors’ true understanding of the very real, and very much “living” culture or paying tribute to the long established literary tradition in this particular country.)

 

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Extreme Vetting

I woke this morning and looked out the window.  I saw three flying cars and two tooth fairies. I closed the blinds and SHRIEKED!  Suddenly one of the tooth fairies busted through my window and grabbed one of my teeth.  She pulled it straight out of my mouth, blood gushing, and then my house turned into a cat.

At least I made 10 bucks!

I used the money to buy another cat.  It was green and I named it Bob.  Then, with my leftover money, I bought a unicorn. The cars were still coming at one of my cats (my house!) Suddenly, my cat (the house) collapsed and it fell on me!

My unicorn bought ice cream and pizza for us so we can come back to life.  (Cause it’s yummy.)  When we were revived, we started to pass gas, used the bathroom, and barfed everywhere.  Then the ice cream and pizza came to life and said, “What’s your favorite color?”  Then we ate the cat and the unicorn.  

Next, we had a funeral for the cat and the unicorn.  It was a very sad and depressing ceremony.

Can you guess what my name is?  (Hint: DJT)

(This is an extremely silly story made up by 4th grade students as part of a “Search Engine” experiment.)

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