Tag Archives: beijing2015

Notes from Beijing: Chinese Children’s Books and Other Thoughts, Part 1

FCLBeijingThese thoughts went through my mind as I visited Beijing and the International Book Fair with a focus on the local books published for the Chinese young readers.

First, simply about communication and information exchanges.

It was quite an education for me to truly understand that the “WORLD” wide web as I see and use it is definitely NOT so “world wide.”   YouTube, Google-platform, Facebook, and Twitter are all inaccessible in China, unless someone has installed IP masking devices (VPN, etc.)   So, when I tweet or share something on Facebook from New York City, I cannot guarantee to reach the millions of potential internet users in China.  According to the editor of one of the publishers, Fairrosa Cyber Library site often shows up without her being able to load the included images — and no YouTube videos can be displayed either. Furthermore, since my recent reports on Newbery & Caldecott winning publishers feature Google spreadsheet graphs (pie-charts), the information, without a plain text summary, was inaccessible to the Chinese readers of my blog.

Although I always knew about the differences in accessibilities of certain sites in China, experiencing it first hand definitely made me think twice about my comfortable assumptions.

Another striking realization came after I spoke with several representatives of major children’s book publishers: either with the editors, publishers, or rights managers: each told me that they have all sold their best titles internationally.  Upon further inquiry, “internationally” means Korea and other Asian countries such as the Philippines, and France, and other European countries such as Germany.  They almost NEVER meant North America, especially The United States.  They all told a similar tale: the U.S. publishers of children’s books only wish to sell Chinese language rights and have the books available in China for sale; very rarely would a U.S. publisher seriously consider buying and translating Chinese originals into English editions for American children.  I wonder if this situation will change any time soon?

I have always noticed that translated children’s books are scarce on the U.S. market and felt sad that the U.S. children do not have the same level of exposure to world literature and diverse viewpoints and sensibilities that I had the good fortune to have, growing up in a small island country.  I read books translated from all over. Some of my all time favorite books that were re-read many times were from Italy (Heart or Education of Love), France (Arsène Lupin: Gentleman Thief series), Cuba (Malfada – a satirical comic strip series), Japan (manga) and India (Buddhist allegories.)  And while there have always been publishers who work hard at bringing books from other cultures to the U.S., there seems to be some difficulty to sell these titles when the cultural landscape and sensibilities differ greatly from the everyday, presumed mindset of the U.S. children.

Case in point: One thing I noticed was how the strong Chinese tradition of not shying away from sad endings remains evident even in picture books for fairly young children.  Tragedy is quite common in traditional Chinese literature, theater, and now TV shows and movies, and children are often familiar with many somber tales.

Take these two books by Cao Wenxuan (曹文轩) for example:

lastpatherThe Last of the Panthers shows the devastating scenario of the “last” of many species and there is no uplifting or hopeful ending when our Panther gives up on itself and falls into the perpetual sleep.  It is heart wrenching but so effective.  A young person reading the simple text and looking at these gorgeous pictures would acutely feel the pang of loss of such majestic animal and might be inspired to be more responsible in caring for our natural world.
kingofthecapAnother title is the Hat King.  A story set during the Sino-Japanese war when the boy and his grandfather (a magician skilled in “hat tricks”) had to endure the deaths of the boy’s parents at the concentration camp and even when they successfully escaped from the camp, they had no house to go back to any more.  And that’s how the tale ends. This is a story almost never told to the children in the U.S. It’s powerful and bleak — but it’s also real and full of familiar affection.

Will either of these titles, which are top-selling picture books, or dozens of other quality peers, ever find their way to the general U.S. mass market? And if and when they do, will they be translated faithfully and stay intact?

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Notes from Beijing: First Impression of Chinese Children’s Publishers

FCLBeijingFor the past 25 years, I immersed myself in the world of English Children’s and YA Literature: the output by writers, illustrators, and publishers from the U.S., the U.K., and Australia, mostly created in English.

This year (and hopefully for years to come,) my focus has shifted: I’d love to see what’s going on in the Children’s Literature world in my own mother country: China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan.)  And if possible, I’d love to serve as a bridge to connect the U.S. readers (young and not so young) with contemporary children’s literature created in China, by Chinese writers and illustrators, originally written in Chinese.  I’d love to help expand the U.S. readers’ understanding and reception of that vast treasure.

The first step was for myself to get to know that “vast treasure” a little more.

This and a few forthcoming posts are to share my first impressions:

During this year’s BEA (in NYC) and at Beijing International Book Fair, I learned a little about how Chinese publishers and Chinese children’s publishers function structurally.  As evidenced in these few photos, most publishers are attached to some huge publishing “groups,” all following a detailed government issued publishing guideline.  Each Province or Special District has its own Publishing Group that often contains more than a dozen publication specialty companies — we can consider them “branch publishers:”

This is Sichuan Publishing Group: the branch publishers range from Science, Culture & Arts, Literature, College Textbooks, Maps, and Children’s publishing companies.

sichuangroup

Below is Shandong Publishing group’s display of Confucius (Shandong being his birth place) statue and all the sub groups: Science, Culture & Arts, Multi-Media, and Children’s publishers, etc.  (The children’s branch of this group is the Ming Tian – Tomorrow – publisher that brought us many high quality children’s picture books in the past decade or so!)shandonggroup

And when a Children’s Publishing branch is successful, it gets a separate booth at the Children’s Literature exhibit area:

Hai Yan (Petrel)

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Feng Huang (Phoenix)

fenghuang

Shao Nian (Young People)

shaonian

Jie Li (Relay)

jieli

CCPPG (China Publishing Group)

CCPPG

Zhe Jiang Shao Nian Er Tong (Zhejiang Province Children’s)

Zhejiang

There seems to be plenty of creative autonomy within each individual branch.  However, the publishing guidelines and government mandates are not that hard to detect.  For example, since the third entry of the “essential missions” in the official publishing guidelines stresses the ideal of disseminating and upholding the doctrines of Marx, Lenin, Mao, and Deng, this following publication isn’t much of a stretch by one of the biggest children’s publishers, China Children’s Press & Publication Group (CCPPG):

karlmarx

karlmarxenglish

And although Chapter 3, entry 27 states that the publication aimed at minors may not contain materials “luring youth to mimic anti-social and anti-moral behaviors and criminal acts” or “featuring terrifying and cruel content that might harm the mental and physical health of youth,” Hunger Games (both in English & in Chinese translation) trilogy sells extremely well in China.  (So are Maze Runner, Percy Jackson, Divergent, Twilight, etc.)

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Notes from Beijing: Children’s Book Authors & Companies

FCLBeijing

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.

Three Authors

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.

最后一支豹子

The Last Leopard

grandmalivesinaperfumevillageA 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:

泥

The Mud General

年

Nian the New Year Monster

Three Publishers

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:
http://www.21stcenturypress.com/
http://read.21cccc.com/english/

彩乌鸦

Ming Tian (Tomorrow) Publisher as part of the Shan Dong publishing group has some of the best original picture books around:
http://knowledge.chinesebookshop.com/Tomorrow_Publishing_House

兔儿爷

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:
http://knowledge.chinesebookshop.com/Petrel_Publishing_House

海燕

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

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Notes from Beijing, Day 9

FCLBeijingThis 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.

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Oh. And finally had donkey (驴) meat! Extremely tender, a lot like beef!

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Notes from Beijing, Day 8

FCLBeijingMy 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.

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Of course… More yummy food:

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Notes from Beijing, Day 7

FCLBeijingSecond 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.

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Notes from Beijing, Day 6

FCLBeijingToday 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!

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