96. Frogs and Tadpoles

Bibbit Jumps, written and illustrated by Bei Lynn 林小杯, will be published in English by Gecko Press later this year. It’s a delightful book about Bibbit, a frog who loves to jump, and his little sister, who’s quite a lot braver than him. Of course, both of them were once tadpoles, and then grew into frogs.

Bibbit Jumps, written and illlustrated by Bei LYNN, tr. Helen Wang (Gecko Press, 2020). ISBN
9781776572786 (Image source: Gecko Press)

We keep coming across Chinese picture books about tadpoles – see Minjie’s earlier post, including a link to “Little Tadpoles Look for their Mummy” 小蝌蚪找妈妈 books.

Screenshot from Minjie’s earlier post

The original story, by Fang Huizhen 方惠珍 and Sheng Lude 盛璐德, was published in 1959. It’s about a group of tadpoles who go looking for their mother, but they don’t know what she looks like, so they ask several creatures along the way until they eventually find her. The story was made into a famous animation Where is Mama? 《小蝌蚪找妈妈》 (1960), under the artistic direction of Te Wei 特伟 (1915-2010). This was one of the earliest ink-wash animations (perhaps the first?), and was based on the paintings of Qi Baishi 齐白石 (1864-1957). You can watch it on Youtube here (it’s about 15 minutes long).

I decided to do a very quick survey of tadpole books in China and the UK. On Minjie’s link to the Chinese online bookseller douban there are almost 30 different titles.

For comparison, I took a quick look at tadpoles in English picture books – a search for “little tadpole” on amazon.co.uk and abebooks brought up these titles:

I guess from this very brief survey that the story of the little tadpoles (which even featured on postage stamps in 2013!) is one that’s known by almost all children in China, but by almost no children in the UK.

Little tadpoles postage stamps, 2013 (Image source: http://www.518yp.com/xiaobenpiao/4660.html)

95. Interview with Teresa Robeson

teresarobeson-photo
Teresa Robeson; photo by Grant Robeson

We’ve been fortunate enough to make a short interview with the 2020 APALA Picture Book Award winner Teresa Robeson 何顥思, author of Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom. In this book, illustrated by Rebecca Huang, Robeson tells the fascinating story of Wu Chien Shiung 吴健雄, the Chinese physicist whose work on beta decay (the Wu experiment) was instrumental in the research on parity violation that led to a Nobel Prize in Physics for Lee Tsung-Dao 李政道 and Yang Chen-Ning 杨政宁 in 1957. In spite of this (and all her other contributions to physics) Wu is not well known among those outside of her field, so Queen of Physics is a welcome reminder of this remarkable woman. Robeson has also written Two Bicycles in Beijing, which is officially out April 1st of this year.

We asked her a few questions!

So far you’ve published two books: Queen of Physics and Two Bicycles in Beijing. They’re both fairly recent – in fact, I think the latter hasn’t been formally  published yet. How come you decided to start writing for children?

I began writing for children back in the early 1990s. I’ve always loved to write, and my parents encouraged this interest. But I loved science more, so I didn’t study creative writing at university. When my husband was in graduate school and I was stuck at a very boring job, I decided to flex those writing muscles again. I took a course offered by The Institute of Children’s Literature around 1990. When I was finished with the course, I sent out one of the stories I’d written for an assignment to a couple of different magazines. Ladybug, a well-known and well-respected children’s literary magazine, wanted to buy it! I sold a number of other pieces to them and their sister publication, Babybug, for a few years but then raising kids took up much of my time. I let writing lapse until 2010 when I decided I needed to get back to it. And here we are…

Did you have to do a lot of research before writing Queen of Physics? Were you able to speak to people who had actually known Wu Chien Shiung?

I read everything I could find on, and also written by, C.S. Wu before I wrote the picture book. Unfortunately, I could not get anyone in her still surviving family to talk to me, but I was able to communicate with Sharon Burtsch McGrayne who had interviewed Wu personally.

I see from your website that you’re interested in Star Trek, the first moon landing and science. Can we look forward to more science fiction-type of stories by you in the future?

My science fiction works have mostly been for adults. Some of them were in anthologies published by the Minnows Literary Group where all the proceeds were donated to Doctors Without Borders. One of my sci-fi short stories for teens won second place in a contest sponsored by Children’s Writer Magazine, but I don’t have any kids sci-fi books published yet.

Could you tell us a bit more about Two Bicycles in Beijing? Why did you choose a Chinese setting, for instance?

Two Bicycles in Beijing was inspired by a family trip to China back in 2013. My parents really wanted to take my family — specifically my kids and husband who had never been — to visit my ancestral homeland. I last went to China in 1987 with my parents and sister. My husband is white American, and our children are of mixed-heritage. My parents wanted them to get to know more about their Chinese background. Sadly, my mom passed away in 2010 before she could go with us, but my dad was determined to take us. It was a wonderful trip and made me want to share the amazing sights of the capital city with the rest of the world.

What is your own relationship with books and reading? Did you read a lot as a child and could you perhaps tell us about some memorable books from that time?

In Hong Kong, where I was born and lived until I was 8 years old, we start kindergarten at the age of 4. That was when I learned to read. My parents bought me this wonderful magazine called 《兒童樂園》 (Children’s Playground) for years. I had my nose buried in those issues all the time. After we moved to Canada, I started reading books in English. You could never find me or my sister without a book or magazine. Whenever we had to attend any functions with our parents, we would bring a book to read. The first book I read after learning English was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. I still get waves of warm nostalgia when I see that book. Little Women was the first novel I read, so that one also holds a special place in my heart. I buy more books than I can possibly read these days. And I usually am in the middle of about 6-10 of them, juggling paper books with e-books and audiobooks.

Robesonbooks

Book details:

Queen of Physics: How Wu Chien Shiung Helped Unlock the Secrets of the Atom, text: Teresa Robeson, illustrations: Rebecca Huang. Sterling Children’s Books, 2019. ISBN: 9781454932208

Two Bicycles in Beijing, text: Teresa Robeson, illustrations: Junyi Wu. Albert Whitman & Co, 2020. ISBN: 9780807507643

Visit Teresa Robeson’s website: http://teresarobeson.com

 

94. War and Peace in China-Japan-Korea Picture Books

by Minjie Chen, Jongsun Wee, David Jacobson, and Reiko Nakaigawa Lee

 

During 2005 and 2006, amidst a sharp deterioration of Japan’s relations with her Asian neighbors, four Japanese picture book authors and illustrators called on their colleagues in China and Korea to address their mutual lack of trust–with picture books. Their intent was to “document the past honestly, share today’s sorrow, and create a peaceful tomorrow together.” The result was the Japan-China-Korea Peace Picture Book Project, comprising eleven titles – four from Japan, three from China, and four from Korea – to be translated and published in all three countries. This post will introduce the three Chinese picture books and one Korean title from the series. For details on the background of the collaborative publishing project and for summaries of more of the Japanese and Korean titles in the series, check out the guest post “The Japan-China-Korea Peace Picture Book Project” at A Fuse #8 Production, a children’s literature review blog by Elizabeth Bird.

Told in the format of illustrated story books (连环画), these Sino-Japanese War stories were immensely popular in China until the mid-1980s.

The three Chinese titles from the “China-Japan-Korea Picture Books for Peace” publishing project share distinct features. First, they join a growing body of Chinese children’s literature that moves away from idealizing heroic military combat in favor of depicting the civilian experience during World War II. Guerrilla warfare and combat stories used to dominate Chinese popular culture and juvenile literature about the Sino-Japanese War. With such telling titles as Little Soldier Chang Ka-tse and The Railway Guerrillas, these exciting stories suggested how Communist Party members—valiant, resilient, selfless, and typically male—seemingly single-handedly led Chinese people in defeating the Japanese invaders. Consequently, a whole generation of Chinese readers grew up with a cursory understanding of the impact of the war on civilians and everyday life. The years between the late 1990s and the mid-2000s saw initial endeavors to address the thematic gap in children’s reading materials. Notable among them were illustrated stories, graphic novels, and juvenile nonfiction about the challenging topics of the Nanjing Massacre, “comfort women,” and Japan’s biological warfare, as well as other wartime atrocities.

Second, all three picture books resulted from multigenerational story sharing and collaboration. All the authors and illustrators were of the postwar generation, but they drew heavily upon their own family oral/written narratives to reimagine wartime life. A Fan of Peking Opera, written and illustrated by Yao Hong, is a fictional story set shortly before the fall of Nanjing–then China’s capital city–based on interviews with the author’s mother and the latter’s essay memoirs. The Blazing City: 1938 is about the destruction of Changsha, Hunan Province by fire during the war. The book is written by Cai Gao, a native of Changsha, who blended her grandfather, uncle, and aunt’s accounts of the tragic fire with her own childhood memory of the city, and teamed up with her daughter Cai Aozi to illustrate the book. A Story About Two Old Photos, written and illustrated by Cen Long, is a fictional account based on the life of his father Cen Jiawu (岑家梧, 1912-1966), a pioneer Chinese anthropologist.

It is worth pointing out that the vast majority of canonical Chinese works about the Sino-Japanese War are by male writers. Of the three picture books, two are the fruition of mother-daughter collaborations. Both feature a girl narrator, again a welcome break from the dominance of male protagonists in the canon.

A Fan of Peking Opera [迷戏], written and illustrated by Yao Hong姚红. Nanjing, China: Yilin Press, 2010. ISBN: 9787544715706 (Also available in Japanese and Korean translations)

The full title of the book is A Fan of Peking Opera: Qinhuai River, 1937. A nine-year-old girl is staying at her grandmother’s house next to the Qinhuai River in central Nanjing when a stranger moves into one of the spare rooms. Uncle Xiao, as the unnamed girl addresses him, is a Peking Opera star and is scheduled to perform for two months in the city. The little girl is dazzled by his show. On the stage Uncle Xiao transforms into beautiful women, playing a lonely consort in one song, a legendary woman warrior in the next, and a graceful dancing goddess in another. (Cross-dressing is a standard feature of traditional Chinese opera.) Even his vocal exercises by the river in the mornings attract a big crowd. This is the eve of the fall of Nanjing. The approaching enemy will rob the surreal beauty from the little girl’s life—but not from her tender memory.

Blazing City: 1938 [火城:一九三八], written by Cai Gao蔡皋, illustrated by Cai Gao and Aozi翱子. Nanjing, China: Yilin Press, 2013. ISBN: 9787544737227 (Also available in Japanese and Korean translations)

The year is 1938. Chinese cities have fallen one by one into the grip of the Japanese army. Residents in Changsha are packing and getting ready to evacuate. However, in the dead of night, fire tears through the city, blazing for days before reducing it to a vast expanse of scorched ruins. The story is narrated by a little girl who yearns to reunite with her soldier father but relishes her life in the bustling city. In accordance with the young narrator’s limited knowledge, the book does not delve into the cause of the tragic fire (The Chinese army planned the fire itself in a desperate attempt to minimize resources that might be seized by the advancing army, but apparently lost control in execution). Dark brown charcoal drawings present the city in busy panoramic views, capturing the comforting warmth of life before the disaster, the escalating chaos, and the nightmarish, unrecognizable ruin in the aftermath.

A Story About Two Old Photos [两张老照片的故事], written and illustrated by Cen Long岑龙. Nanjing, China: Yilin Press, 2015. ISBN: 9787544754804 (Also available in Japanese and Korean translations)

A Story About Two Old Photos is narrated by the son of the protagonist, Cen. While seeking education in Japan, Cen has befriended Yamamoto, a fellow Japanese classmate. Both are brought up by their widowed mothers and they bond like a family. When the Sino-Japanese War breaks out and Cen decides to return to China, he leaves Yamamoto with a treasured photo of himself and his mother (the narrator’s grandmother). After the fall of Guangzhou, Cen’s family makes its escape and they become refugees. When an air raid attacks the weary civilians, the grandma shields the toddler with her body. The boy is unscathed, but the grandma never wakes up from the pool of blood. After the end of the war, Cen receives a letter from Yamamoto’s mother, who tells him that her son had been drafted into the army and killed on the battlefield. She encloses Cen’s photo as well as gives one of herself and Yamamoto for keepsake.

The three books repeat the same message: that war is senseless; it destroys lives and damages what makes lives worth living–beauty, joy, and relationships. In these stories the heroes are not Communist fighters, but survivors who not only live to tell the stories, but also refuse to let war take away their capacity for appreciating beauty, experiencing joy, and choosing love over hate. One thing to be aware of regarding publishing practices in China is that children’s literature does not necessarily offer clear paratextual and publication information to distinguish fact from fiction. All three books are loosely based upon or inspired by the real wartime experience of the authors’ family members, but blend in enough personal information to be mistaken as works of nonfiction.

Corn [강냉이], written by Kwon Jung-seang권정생 and illustrated by Kim Hwan-young김환영. Paju, Korea: Sakyejul, 2018. ISBN: 9791160943610 (Also available in Japanese translation)

Corn, one of the Korean titles of the series, is an extended poem written from a young boy’s perspective about his experiences of war. On an ordinary day, the boy plants corn seeds with his mother and brother. He is so excited to see the corn grow. Having come from a family with very few material possessions, this is a great source of joy for the boy. Before he can harvest it, however, war breaks out. The boy and his family rush to escape. When the boy’s mother and father think about the hometown they left, the boy thinks about the corn–and happiness–he leaves behind.

Author Kwon Jung-saeng was born in Tokyo in 1937. He moved to Korea right after its liberation from Japan and was thirteen at the outbreak of the Korean War. One of Korea’s most beloved children’s authors, he wrote the poems in Corn when he was in elementary school. Despite his fame, Kwon suffered from poverty and ill health all his life. In his novels, he depicts children from marginalized groups, touching readers’ hearts.

Illustrator Kim Hwan-young amplifies the emotions in Kwon’s poetry with intense colors, rendered in thick brush strokes of oil paint. He depicts the horrific situation of the war with bright yellow and red flames, the boy’s sadness when he was forced to leave his home in melancholy blues and greens. The thick textures, rough brush strokes, and saturated color tones match well with the strong emotions the boy experiences in wartime.

Summaries of additional titles in the Japan-China-Korea Peace Picture Book Project, including Kwon Yoon-duck’s Flower Grandma (Korea), Seizo Tashima’s Can You Hear My Voice? (Japan), and Keiko Hamada’s What Is Peace? (Japan), can be found at A Fuse #8 Production.

Flower Grandma [꽃할머니], written and illustrated by Kwon Yoon-duck권윤덕. Paju, Korea: Sakyejul, 2010. ISBN: 9788958289098 Originally in Korean and also available in Chinese and Japanese translations.

When Spring Comes to the DMZ [비무장지대에 봄이 오면], by Yi Ŏk-pae 이억배. Paju, Korea: Sakyejul, 2010. ISBN: 9788958284918 Originally in Korean and also available in Chinese and Japanese translations.

Can You Hear My Voice? [ぼくのこえがきこえますか?], written and illustrated by Seizo Tashima. Tokyo: Doshinsha, 2011. ISBN: 9784494019670 Originally in Japanese and also available in Chinese and Korean translations.

What Is Peace? [へいわってどんななこと?], written and illustrated by Keiko Hamada浜田桂子. Tokyo: Doshinsha, 2011. ISBN: 9784494019649 Originally in Japanese and also available in Chinese and Korean translations.

The Shoes That Go [くつがいく], by Wakayama Shizuko和歌山静子. Tokyo: Doshinsha, 2013. ISBN: 9784494019694 Originally in Japanese and also available in Chinese and Korean translations.

External links:

“The Japan-China-Korea Peace Picture Book Project” by David Jacobson, Minjie Chen, Reiko Nakaigawa Lee, and Jongsun Wee, at A Fuse #8 Production.

Publisher Doshinsha’s listing of the Japanese edition [URL]

Publisher Sakyejul’s listing of the Korean edition [URL]

Contributors:

Minjie Chen is a librarian at Princeton University’s Cotsen Children’s Library and author of The Sino-Japanese War and Youth Literature: Friends and Foes on the Battlefield (Routledge, 2016).

Jongsun Wee is associate professor of elementary and early childhood education at Winona State University in Winona, MN. In the summer of 2019, she studied picture books about war as a fellow at the International Youth Library in Munich, Germany.

David Jacobson is a writer, Japanese translator, and author of Are You an Echo? The Lost Poetry of Misuzu Kaneko. A board member of the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative, he is currently researching the biographies of Beate Sirota Gordon and Jella Lepman.

Reiko Nakaigawa Lee specializes in translating children’s literature from English to Japanese. She co-translated Newbery Medal honor recipient Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow as well as titles in the popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Wonder series. Now living in Hong Kong, she assisted with the 2019 translation and re-publication of Keiko Hamada’s What Is Peace? in Chinese.

Edited by Helen Wang. Thanks go to Faye Di for procuring copies of the Chinese titles reviewed in this post.

93. Interview with Jennifer Feeley

J Feeley Headshot August 2018

Photo: Shi Lessner

We asked Jennifer Feeley, translator of White Fox, for an interview, and to our delight she agreed!

Could you tell us a bit about yourself, how you came to learn Chinese and start translating?

I attended an arts high school, where I majored in Creative Writing, and we were encouraged to read as many books of poetry as we could get our hands on, so I spent a lot of time in the school library. One day, I stumbled upon Kenneth Rextroth’s One Hundred Poems from the Chinese, which then led me to One Hundred More Poems from the Chinese, and then two volumes he co-translated with Ling Chung: Women Poets of China and Li Ch’ing-chao: Complete Poems. On the same shelf, I also found Rexroth’s One Hundred Poems from the Japanese and One Hundred More Poems from the Japanese, as well as David Young’s Five T’ang Poets. I fell in love with these poems and wanted to be able to read them in their original languages.

When I started my undergraduate education at Oberlin College, I was torn between studying three different languages—Chinese and Japanese because of the above books, and Russian because I’d taken a Russian literature course in high school and become smitten with the writings of Dostoevsky and Anna Akhmatova (in whose translation I can’t recall). Chinese happened to best fit into my schedule, plus I’d been told it was the most difficult of the three languages (though I’m not sure if I agree with that assessment now), so I decided it made a good starting point. I double majored in Creative Writing and East Asian Studies, which worked together rather seamlessly, as I was able to fulfill many of the literature requirements for the former by taking courses in Chinese and Japanese literature.

Literary translation has long been a key component of Oberlin’s Creative Writing Program, and in fact, my very first Creative Writing course there was entitled The Poet as Translator. Many of our faculty members were poets who also translated (including the above-mentioned David Young). Even in our general poetry writing workshops, we did exercises in poetry translation, so literary translation naturally felt like part of creative writing to me. I went on to take workshops in literary translation, as well as independent studies, where I ended up translating poems by a Shanghai poet named Lu Yimin. I saw literary translation as a place where my interests in writing and Chinese literature intersected, and I knew early on that this is the career path I wanted to take.

I took a bit of a detour, however. After living in Kunming, Yunnan, for two years, where I taught English at Yunnan University, I decided to apply for doctoral programs. I ended up earning a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literatures from Yale and working as an academic for six years before I realized I wanted to spend more time translating (and writing non-academic works). Although I’d been working at a university that boasts a renowned MFA program in Literary Translation, my translation work counted for very little in terms of tenure and promotion, so I quit.

How did this particular translation come about? Were you contacted by the publisher or did you suggest the book to them?

Initially, I was contacted by an agent from Andrew Nurnberg Associates, the literary agency that represents Chen Jiatong (both within China and abroad), to translate samples from two of his series: The White Fox and The Dream Makers. It was my first time to translate works that felt like true page-turners, particularly in the case of White Fox—as you may recall, the first chapter ends with Dilah falling off a cliff, so it’s literally a cliffhanger. I wanted to keep translating both books so that I could learn what happened to the protagonists. It’s the first time that I thought of being a translator as being a sort of “literary detective.”

Not long after, Barry Cunningham, the Founder, Publisher, and Managing Director of Chicken House Books, expressed interest in acquiring Chen’s work, and he seemed fond of my translations, so Nurnberg put us in touch, and we spoke on the phone. Knowing that he had signed on J.K. Rowling and published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone back when he was at Bloomsbury, I was intimidated, but I needn’t have been. Barry was incredibly kind, curious, and funny, and he was enthusiastic about Chen’s work. I also appreciated that he was interested in knowing my background as well. I also learned he’d worked closely with the great translator Anthea Bell, as he’d published her translations of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series from the German. From the way he spoke about Bell with such admiration, I could tell he appreciated literary translation as a craft. After I hung up the phone, I crossed my fingers and toes that he’d decide to take a chance on either series, and I hoped that he would bring me along for the ride. Needless to say, I floated up to cloud nine when I heard he’d negotiated a deal to publish White Fox and wanted me to be the translator!

As a side note, I’d like to put in a good word for The Dream Makers 造梦师. It’s a series about a young girl, Meng Qiqi, who conjures up fantastic dream worlds. I have no idea what’s happening with any potential translations of this series, but I hope it makes it into English one day. It’s truly delightful, and I love the character of Qiqi so much! She’s quite spunky and a great role model for young girls.

Personally, I very much enjoyed the sense of humor in the book, not to mention the names (I’m from Sweden, and Ulla and Jens are quite common here). Were there any particular challenges with that?

Figuring out how to render proper names was probably one of the most interesting, and at times challenging, parts of translating the book. Though Chen is from China, this is a very global book, as our protagonist, Dilah, embarks on a quest that takes him around the world.

Many of the names in Chinese appear to be transliterations of Western names, especially a lot of Scandinavian names. The book starts off in Finland, near the North Pole. In the first chapter, Dilah observes a human family living in a fictional Finnish small town. The name of the town in Chinese is 拉布尔 Labuer. I checked with the author and learned that he made up the name, so I realized I needed to invent an equivalent name that sounded like it could be an actual Finnish town but wasn’t. I ended up consulting my friend Johanna, who is from Finland but speaks Chinese—we were in Kunming together. She and her daughter came up with the name Lapula. As she explained it to me, the pronunciation is very close to that of Labuer, but the name itself doesn’t mean anything, though she pointed out that it sounds like the way a person who can’t pronounce the letter “r” would pronounce the Finnish word for “hangover.” I also asked for her help with naming the family. For example, the parents’ names—乔恩 Qiao’en and 玛丽 Mali—
generally would be rendered as John and Mary, but after talking to her, I decided to choose Jon and Mari, since the characters are Finnish. Alas, we ended up cutting the parents’ names out of the final version, since we didn’t want to overwhelm young readers by naming minor characters who only make one appearance in the book.

The examples you mention, Jens (金斯 Jinsi) and Ulla (乌拉 Wula), were fairly straightforward, though I did go back-and-forth between Ulla and Ura for the latter—ultimately, since the literary agency used Ulla in their catalogue description, I went with that. They’re also the ones who came up with Dilah (迪拉 Dila), Ankel (安可Anke), and Little Bean (豆丁Douding). Egg’s name has a story behind it. His Chinese name, 丹尼尔Danni’er, is in fact a transliteration of Daniel. However, when he first meets Dilah, he tells him that one of the syllables in his name, Dan, is a homophone for a word that means “egg” (蛋) in Classical Animalese, and that his mother gave him this name because he was naughty (a “bad egg”) when he was little. We decided to call him Egbert in English and nickname him Egg in order to retain the humorous wordplay.

Sometimes, the name in Chinese was clearly a transliteration (or pseudo-transliteration) of a foreign-sounding name, but I couldn’t always identify what the name was supposed to be. In those cases, I’d message Chen and ask him if he had a specific name in mind; sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. For example, the Great Sage of the Arctic foxes is named 梅勒 Meilei. I didn’t know if Chen wanted me to keep her Chinese name or if he had a certain non-Chinese name he wanted to use. When I talked to him, he told me he wanted a female version of Merlin, so we went with Merla. At other times, he didn’t necessarily have a name in mind, so I had free rein to create something based off the Chinese. There are a couple of instances where following the transliteration would’ve resulted in a long, cumbersome-sounding name. My editor was worried that our readers might be put off by those names, so in such cases, we ended up shortening them. For example, there’s a giant rabbit in the book named Lord Lund; originally, I’d called him Lord Lundgren. Another example is the villain in Chapter 3, whom I’d originally called Archelaus, and was renamed Klaus. These changes are understandable, since our target demographic is readers ages 9–12.

As for the book’s humor, I’m delighted that you enjoyed it. For me, much of the humor is found in the dialogue, which was so much fun to write. One of my favorite scenes is when Dilah and Ankel first meet, and Ankel (a weasel) is dragging a sack of green apples that’s bigger than his body. I love their encounter so much—Ankel playing dead, Dilah calling his bluff, Ankel’s passive-aggressiveness when he tells Dilah to go ahead and eat his apples, and then how he pouts about it afterward. You can really glean a sense of their personalities in this scene, and I think that’s part of what makes the humor so effective.

I know you’ve translated poetry and fiction from Hong Kong before. Was this your first translation for children, and if so, what were the main differences compared to translating for adults?

I’ve translated poetry and prose by mainland and Taiwanese authors as well! For example, I have a book of translations of stories and essays by Shi Tiesheng coming out either later this year or early next year from Polymorph Editions. It is true though that I’ve been translating a lot of Hong Kong literature recently. I tend to be drawn to works that are regarded as being “on the margins,” which initially is what drew me to contemporary Chinese poetry. That’s also what partially drew me to Shi Tiesheng, as we don’t have many works about disability translated from Chinese into English. Even though Hong Kong literature increasingly has gained recognition over the years, I still find that it’s largely overlooked, which is unfortunate, because there are so many phenomenal writers from Hong Kong, many of whom are women. One might say the same about Chinese children’s literature being overlooked, both in scholarship and in translation. I’ve been told—and I’m not 100% sure whether this is accurate—that White Fox is the first modern middle-grade series to be translated from Chinese into English. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.

Indeed, this was my first experience translating actual children’s literature. However, I have translated literature that adopts a child’s perspective. For example, I have translated fiction and poetry by the Hong Kong author Xi Xi 西西, who, in many of her writings, draws on fairy tales and other works of children’s literature, describing her surroundings with a sense of child-like wonder and curiosity. Xi Xi is very clear to point out, however, that her work definitely is not intended for children. Similarly, I’ve been translating fiction by a younger Hong Kong writer named Wong Yi 黃怡—she has this marvelous short story collection, The Four Seasons of Lam Yip 林葉的四季, whose protagonist is a ten-year-old boy, and the stories are told from his point-of-view. I think for both Xi Xi and Wong Yi, exploring the world through a child’s eyes creates a sense of defamiliarization, encouraging readers to find the extraordinary in the ordinary. It also allows them to tackle serious issues in a deceptively simple manner that avoids didacticism.

I wouldn’t say that children’s literature doesn’t deal with serious issues, however—quite the contrary. In fact, White Fox has several heavy scenes, beginning with the death of Dilah’s parents in chapter one. I cried at several points when I was translating this book, and there were times where I found myself wondering if younger readers could really handle some of this stuff. One of the things I’ve learned through this process, however, is to give children more credit.

When I started translating White Fox, I assumed that the main difference in translating for children, as opposed to adults, would be the language. While there were times that I ended up simplifying the language, there were also other issues to consider. At Chicken House, I am fortunate to work with a brilliant editor, Kesia Lupo, who is also an author, and she’s taught me more than I could have imagined about crafting a compelling story and making my writing more vivid. Some of the things I have learned from her include adjusting the tone for a younger readership, simplifying not just the language but also the action, improving clarity, and ultimately creating a story that will captivate young English-language readers. For example, Chinese can be an extremely ambiguous language, which authors often use to their advantage. In this case, however, I had to resolve such ambiguities. Another example is in the chapter when Ankel and Dilah first meet Little Bean. Ankel has swallowed polluted water and is deathly ill, and while Little Bean is in the process of treating him, he starts telling Dilah a story about a legendary rabbit in the folklore of the rabbit clan. The story goes on for several pages. We decided to condense that passage and move it to another part of the book, as it interrupted the narrative flow, and young readers would be clamoring to know whether Ankel survived. Of course, we cleared any major changes with Chen Jiatong.

Will the sequel be translated? I really want to know what’s going to happen to Dilah and his friends!

I’m thrilled to share the exciting news that Chicken House will publish the second book in the series in April 2021. You only have to wait a few more months to see what adventures are in store for Dilah and his friends in the next installment of their journey! I should warn you, however, that another cliffhanger may be awaiting you…

And I have more great news! The first book will be released in the US on October 6 of this year, published by Scholastic. There will be a jacketed hardcover edition available for $17.99, and an affordable paperback version for only $4.99 sold through Scholastic Book Clubs. I’m over the moon about the latter, as I remember ordering tons of books from Scholastic Book Clubs when I was in elementary school. I’m sure the process has been updated, but when I was a kid, we’d get these paper order forms with a list of books, bring the forms home, and check off the books we wanted, then return the forms to our teachers, along with our payment. When our orders came in, it was liked Christmas! It’s really heartwarming to imagine children marking White Fox on their order forms.

Thank you so much, Jennifer! We’re all looking forward to reading more of your work!

Read more about White Fox in this earlier post!

92. White Fox

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The fox seems to be regarded as a kind of trickster in every culture, a clever little thing both admirable and slightly dangerous. East Asian foxes are especially ingenious and can – after years of spiritual cultivation, and perhaps with the aid of some human essence – transform themselves into humans. This tradition is the starting point for Chen Jiatong’s 陈佳同 story White Fox 白狐迪拉》 the first part in a series under translation into English.

Dilah, a young arctic fox, and his parents live somewhere in northern Finland. There are humans close by, and in spite of his parents’ warnings Dilah is fascinated by them and tries to imagine what it would be like to be human. Dilah has no friends, for his family is constantly on the move, pursued by other foxes. He has no idea why. In spite of this, he’s quite a happy little fox – until one evening, when his parents’ don’t come home. Late at night his mother staggers into the cave, mortally wounded and covered in blood. Dilah’s father is dead, shot by human hunters. On her deathbed, Dilah’s mother tells him a secret: the story of Ulla, patron saint of the arctic foxes, who has the ability to turn animals into humans. She also tells him where to find a small package with a hidden treasure that can lead him to Ulla.

The package contains a marvellous gem that Dilah calls “The Moonstone”. Hunted by a group of blue foxes who are also searching for Ulla, Dilah runs south. Alone he is unable to figure out how to use the stone, but fortunately he makes friends who help him to work it out and to handle the perils he meets on his journey: Egbert the seal, Ankel the weasel, Kassel the horse and Little Bean, who is a rabbit. He meets good humans who feed him, and bad humans who try to kill him. And all the time his path is illuminated by the magical light of the Moonstone. The book ends with a true cliffhanger, as Dilah, Ankel and Little Bean are trapped in a cave, when a shining white fox appears outside …

White Fox is exciting and full of dramatic and even tragic scenes. Dilah’s doubts about his quest are understandable: why would anyone want to become human when humans are so mean? But the book is also great fun and the main characters are truly endearing. Personally, I especially appreciate the way the translator, Jennifer Feeley, has managed to capture the author’s sense of humor and give the animals a new English language that really captures their personalities. There are many clever translations of names and expressions – for instance “classical Animalese”, the mysterious language that contains information on how to use the Moonstone.

Time and place are rather vague in White Fox – there’s nothing strange about the book beginning in Finnish Lapland, but what is a giant turtle doing in the Arctic Ocean? And if you travel south from Lapland, will you really run into evil lumberjacks ready to kill peaceful citizens for timber? White Fox is a fairy tale, a fantasy novel, so I guess one shouldn’t dwell too much on these things. Better to think that it all takes place in an alternate version of our world.

Chen Jiatong, the author, is a trained engineer, a great fan of Harry Potter, and wrote the Dilah series in his spare time. The Chinese version of the series has six volumes, and the second has already been translated into English and will be published in April 2021. If you want to find out more about Chen Jiatong, there’s a short interview with him here.

The wonderful illustrations are created by Viola Wang, who was born in China but lives in London. She’s got an MA in Children’s Books Illustration from Cambridge School of Art, and you’ll find more of her work here, at her blog.

We also interviewed the translator Jennifer Feeley here.

Book details:

White Fox, text: Chen Jiatong, illustrations: Viola Wang. Translated by Jennifer Feeley. (Chicken House Books 2019). ISBN 9781912626083

91. Our first 90 posts!

  1. Chinese books for young readers (Sep 12, 2016)
  2. Gerelchimeg Blackcrane (Sep 13, 2016)
  3. Chinese children’s literature and the UK National Curriculum (Sep 14, 2016)
  4. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival! (Sep 15, 2016)
  5. The Reason for Being Late (Sep 16, 2016)
  6. Why Translations? Don’t We ‘Already Have Chinese Stories in English’? (Sep 27, 2016)
  7. A Brief History of Chinese Literature for Children, What Sells Now, and More (Oct 1, 2016)
  8. The “Warring States” world of picture books … in a big Hangzhou bookshop (Oct 2, 2016)
  9. Poems for Children – selected by Bei Dao (Oct 7, 2016)
  10. Happy Double Ninth (Chongyang) Festival! (Oct 9, 2016)
  11. Literature: Another Form of Housebuilding – Cao Wenxuan’s acceptance speech
    (Oct 14, 2016)
  12. Crossing Cultures: Belle Yang, A Story of Immigration (Oct 16, 2016)
  13. I am a tiger! (Oct 20, 2016)
  14. Bronze and Sunflower shortlisted for the Marsh Award (Oct 24, 2016)
  15. Nami Island International Picture Book Illustration Concours 2017 – shortlist (Nov 2, 2016)
  16. Zhang Xinxin and Little People’s Books (Nov 3, 2016)
  17. Calling them Asian-American books isn’t sufficient… (Nov 8, 2016)
  18. Made in China: 10 picture books you can’t miss (Nov 13, 2016)
  19. A picture’s worth a thousand words… (Nov 14, 2016)
  20. Reflecting Teenagers on a Sichuanese Mirror: Yan Ge and her stories from Pingle Township (Nov 19, 2016)
  21. Context and contradiction in translating Aroma’s Little Garden, by Qin Wenjun (Nov 30, 2016)
  22. Jin Jin (1915-1989) (Dec 27, 2016)
  23. Bing Xin and The Little Orange Lantern (Dec 29, 2016)
  24. Tyrus Wong (1910-2016) and Bambi (Jan 3, 2017)
  25. Yu Rong’s paper cuttings (Jan 11, 2017)
  26. The Good Things That Come out of Collisions (Jan 15, 2017)
  27. Helen Wang Wins the 2017 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation (Jan 30, 2017)
  28. The Ventriloquist’s Daughter: Between Fantasy and Reality – by Lin Man-chiu (Feb 23, 2017)
  29. One Child: The Story of China’s Most Radical Social Experiment – by Mei Fong (Feb 24, 2017)
  30. St Gregory’s School ‘Reading China’ book group – by Theresa Munford (Feb 25, 2017)
  31. The Story of Ink and Water – by Chun Zhang (Feb 26, 2017)
  32. Sister – by Peng Xuejun (Mar 5, 2017)
  33. I Am Mulan (Mar 13, 2017)
  34. Bronze and Sunflower – now available in the USA and Canada! (Mar 21, 2017)
  35. The King of Hide-and-Seek (Apr 8, 2017)
  36. Bilingual books from Candied Plums (Apr 17, 2017)
  37. Chinese literature festival in London, 12-14 May (May 5, 2017)
  38. The Ventriloquist’s Daughter – now available! (May 25, 2017)
  39. A Tree (Jun 9, 2017)
  40. Stephanie Gou on how Bronze and Sunflower opened a door to her memories (Jun 13, 2017)
  41. Who is Wenzheng Fu? (Jun 18, 2017)
  42. Author-illustrator Lipei Huang (Jun 25, 2017)
  43. Starfish Bay Children’s Books (Jul 10, 2017)
  44. “Plums” for Your Tongue: Chinese Children’s Literature for Language Learners (Jul 21, 2017)
  45. The 10th National Outstanding Children’s Literature Awards, 2017 (Aug 6, 2017)
  46. The Only Child, by Guojing (Aug 11, 2017)
  47. CFP: Asian Festival of Children’s Content (Aug 30, 2017)
  48. Little Soldier Zhang Ga (Sep 30, 2017)
  49. Happy Mid-Autumn Festival 2017 (Oct 4, 2017)
  50. 12 Books for the Holidays (Oct 5, 2017)
  51. David Jacobson’s survey of translations of children’s and YA Literature translated from Chinese, Japanese and Korean (Oct 16, 2017)
  52. List of Chinese-Themed Books for Kids and Teens – by the Canadian Children’s Book Centre (Oct 19, 2017)
  53. A Cross-Cultural Conversation Between Two Master Storytellers at the 2017 USBBY Conference (Oct 27, 2017)
  54. Chinese children’s and YA books, in English, 2017 (Dec 11, 2017)
  55. The 2017 Bai Meigui Translation Competition is now open! (Dec 12, 2017)
  56. What’s the difference between children’s books in China and the US? (Jan 7, 2018)
  57. Dong Yanan’s picture books (Jan 18, 2018)
  58. China Welfare Institute Publishing House: Picture Books from China, with Love & Beauty (Jan 22, 2018)
  59. Interview with Chloe Garcia Roberts, translator of the picture book “Feather” by Cao Wenxuan and Roger Mello (Jan 25, 2018)
  60. Getting to Know Rural Young Chinese Readers and Their World(s) (Jan 29, 2018)
  61. Our first 60 posts! (Feb 4, 2018)
  62. The NCTA Freeman Book Awards (Feb 6, 2018)
  63. Witness China’s New Love: the Changing Landscape of Chinese Children’s Literature (Feb 14, 2018)
  64. Books from Taiwan (Mar 1, 2018)
  65. The Tortoise Family goes to the Sea, and Blind Little Red Riding Hood (Mar 12, 2018)
  66. Children’s Books in China 2018 (and 2017) (Apr 6, 2018)
  67. Chinese Dinosaurs in an English Village (May 20, 2018)
  68. The Cao Wenxuan Children’s Literature Award (Jun 10, 2018)
  69. Teardrops of the Christmas Tree: A Memorable Childhood Reading Experience (Jul 10, 2018)
  70. Vikki Zhang, illustrator with a love of textiles and fashion (Aug 14, 2018)
  71. Let’s Talk to Kids about Sex… in Chinese, Q&A with Minjie Chen (Sep 3, 2018)
  72. People Reading in Chinese Art (Sep 15, 2018)
  73. Our First 72 Posts! (22 Oct 2018)
  74. Theresa Mumford, Chinese Teacher (1 Nov 2018)
  75. Jennie Liu’s Childhood Reading in the USA, 1970s-80s (8 Nov 2018)
  76. Children’s Literature from Hong Kong in English (6 Dec 2018)
  77. Science Fiction for Children – Selected by Liu Cixin and Han Song (10 Dec 2018)
  78. Childhood in a Courtyard House (14 Dec 2018)
  79. Asian Children’s Literature, Film and Animation (special issue of SARE 2018) (3 Jan 2019)
  80. Translator Dong Haiya Studies Children’s Literature at Reading (14 Jan 2019)
  81. Justine Laismith and the Secrets of the Great Fire Tree (31 Mar 2019)
  82. White Horse by Yan Ge (29 Apr 2019)
  83. Interview with Yangsze Choo, author of “The Ghost Bride” (14 May 2019)
  84. Exams, Handwriting and School Stories (20 May 2019)
  85. The Moose of Ewenki (27 Aug 2019)
  86. International Research on Chinese Children’s Literature (IRSCL 2019) (12 Sep 2019)
  87. The 10th Asian Festival of Children’s Content – Sparking New Ideas (15 Sep 2019)
  88. Two Temples, and Two Approaches to Depicting Religions to Children (30 Oct 2018)
  89. “My Favourite Children’s Books” – children in China vote for their Top 30 books of 2019 (3 Nov 2019)
  90. Christmas in China (5 Jan 2019)

89. “My Favourite Children’s Books” – children in China vote for their Top 30 books of 2019

The  “My Favourite Children’s Books” (我最喜爱的童书) titles of 2019 have just been announced. The winning books are selected by children (the first award of its kind in China). [The awards are similar to the annual Children’s Book Awards in the UK – if you’d like to compare, the UK list starts with 50, is shortlisted to 10 – here’s the 2019 list, which has 3 winners and 7 runners-up.] Continue reading

88. Two Temples, and Two Approaches to Depicting Religions for Children

Natasha Heller is Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia, and studies Chinese Buddhism—past and present—in the context of cultural and intellectual history. She’s currently completing a book tentatively titled  Raising Bodhisattvas: Picture Books and Parenting in Modern Taiwan, which looks at children’s literature published by Buddhist organizations in Taiwan in the context of global parenting. We’re delighted that she agreed to share some of her work with us here; you can also follow her on Twitter: @nheller  Continue reading

87. The 10th Asian Festival of Children’s Content – sparking new ideas

I’ve just returned from the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, in Singapore. It was the 10th AFCC, and my 1st time to the AFCC or Singapore. I’m so grateful to the Singapore Book Council – in particular William Phuan, Caroline Wan and Chloe Tong and their team – for inviting me (I gave a keynote, was on a panel, gave a lecture, and a masterclass). Continue reading