57. Dong Yanan’s picture books

DONG Yanan 董亚楠 is the author and illustrator of the gorgeous book Express Delivery from Dinosaur World, which she created while she was a student at the Picture Books Studio at the Central Academy of Fine Art (CAFA) (中央美术学院绘本创作工作室) in Beijing. So far, the book has earned her first prize in the CAFA 2014 Student Design Award, and a special award in the 8B Design Awards; and its English translation, by Helen Wang, received a Kirkus starred review.

We wanted to know more about Dong Yanan, and were delighted when LI Xiaocui 李晓翠 (Lisa) of Candied Plums, agreed to do a guest post! The following post draws on email communication, and an interview article featuring Dong Yanan published in December 2017 (in Chinese). Very many thanks to Li Xiaocui and Dong Yanan!

[The title of the interview article translates as “Of course we can love dinosaurs when we grow up – finding your inner child in picture books” 董亚楠:长大了当然也可以爱恐龙,在绘本里找到心中的小孩〡轻芒, 2017-12-09 ]


Dong Yanan’s first picture book – Express Delivery from Dinosaur World 

I created this book while I was a student in the Picture Book Studio at CAFA. When I was little, we didn’t really have picture books in China. There were comic books, popular science books and some illustrated fairy stories, but they were not really picture books as such. I didn’t see picture books until I was at university, and I loved the way they brought together book design, art work and storytelling.

When I was creating Express Delivery from Dinosaur World, I didn’t follow a model (there wasn’t one to follow), and I didn’t think about it too much, I just got on with the design, drawing and production process. I put the things I love into it, such as graphic design, 3-D books, original illustration, old-style interaction, and of course, dinosaurs! There are a lot of little surprises in the story and in the pictures. I wanted readers to engage with the story, the pictures, the science, and I also wanted them to play – to enjoy the book, free their minds, and let their imagination flow.

It was my first picture book, and, like a first-born child, it’s very significant and very special. It represents my time at university, and marks my formal entry in the world of picture books. It was my first creative work, and there are lots of things in it that I felt were not fully formed, but at the same time I was thrilled to have completed it. It’s witness to my growing up, and a record of my impetuous and genuine passion for picture books.

New books from Dong Yanan coming soon!

I have a new dinosaur book coming out in spring this year. It’s called The Dinosaur That Lost Its Way《恐龙迷路》, and it’s another adventure story, this time featuring Dongdong’s little brother. I’m very interested in archaeology and palaeontology, so you’ll find creatures like Placodermi – a prehistoric armoured fish – in the new book.

Above: artwork for the Dong Yanan’s new book The Dinosaur That Lost Its Way

I’m also developing a story about the cat we had when I was little. She was called Mimi, and we only had her for about three or four years, then because of SARS and because my little brother was born, we had to let her go. It was hard, and I felt bad. Last year someone asked how I could be an artist and not have a cat! I took out Mimi’s photo and looked at it for a long time. In the middle of the night, I got up and drew the story of Mimi and me, from the first time we met until we parted. It was probably the most fluent and creative art work I’ve ever done, I had all the details there in my head. But I put it away until I’d finished Express Delivery from Dinosaur World. So, there should be a book about Mimi. I do have a cat now, a lively Siamese, which I call Mi Two.

Yanan and MiTwo

Dong Yanan and Mi Two

Dong Yanan’s column “Picture Books”

I’m passionate about picture books! There’s a lot happening in the picture book world in China, but the information is scattered, so I started bringing it together and sharing it on my column “Picture Books” (绘本) – it’s part of a Wechat-based journal  called Qingmang 轻芒杂志. I probably spend about three hours a day at the moment doing this – it’s quite addictive.  [To access this on Wechat (version 6.6.1) > Discover > Mini Programmes > Search 轻芒杂志 > Select 绘本]

I have certain criteria when choosing which books to share. First, I’m looking for good books. Second, picture books are artworks with a commercial nature, so I’m looking for high quality images and written content, but I’m also looking at the design, production and appearance of the book as a whole. In addition to the aesthetic quality and interest, there has also to be a spirit of experiment and exploration, new ideas. These are the things I’m looking for.

Picture books are different from other publications. Their magic lies in their simplicity – in how simply they can express the essence of life and philosophy. But the simplicity can be deceptive: it’s not easy to achieve such clarity of perception, and it’s not easy to express it either. It’s important that we don’t give up on imagination and being genuine, or lose the ability to read pictures, no matter what age we are. Otherwise, life is just empty. When you look at picture books, you see the you of your childhood, you now, and you in the future. Life changes, but your original motivations don’t change.

Which authors and illustrators have inspired Dong Yanan?

There are so many! If I had to choose a few, then I’d say Maurice Sendak, the master; Emily Gravett, Anthony Browne, Norman Messenger, my pathlight, who enabled me to see so many possibilities in picture books. Express Delivery from Dinosaur Express is dedicated to him. There’s also Jean-Thomas “Tomi” Ungerer (France), and Ryōji Arai 荒井良二, Shinta Chō 长新太, Ishikawa Koji 石川惠里子 and Yoko Sano 佐野洋子, all from Japan

Dong Yanan’s Top Twelve Picture Books

With many thanks to Dong Yanan, to Li Xiaocui and to her colleague Zhang Tong!


5 thoughts on “57. Dong Yanan’s picture books

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