One of the many Chinese awards for picture books is the Feng Zikai Children’s Picture Book Award 丰子恺儿童图画书奖. The latest, and 5th, awards were announced last summer and I’ve recently read two of the books on that list – one that won an award, and one that had to make do with getting included in the shortlist (no small feat).
Let’s start with the winner: Zhang Ning’s 张宁 The Tortoise Family Goes to the Sea 《乌龟一家去看海》. This book is also on the IBBY Honour List 2018. Zhang Ning graduated from China University of Petroleum, seemingly an odd place for a picture book writer and illustrator. But she has worked as graphic editor with a magazine for several years and created quite a number of picture books. This book was inspired by her memories of learning embroidery and sewing from her mother as a child, at a time when most people in China still made their own clothes.
The Tortoise Family tells the simple but charming story of a tortoise pair who has promised to show their child the great sea. Spring arrives and they set out. But the sea is very far away, at least for someone who doesn’t walk that fast. Along the way, the tortoises meet with other animals and ask them how far they have to go, but since each has his or her own idea about distance and time the answers vary. In the end, the tortoise family reaches the sea and get to experience all the things they heard so much about.
The illustrations are made with appliqué techniques, where different pieces of cloth have been sewn together and embroidered. To imitate the shimmering, shifting colours of the ocean, Zhang Ning has used fabric dyed in different shades of blue. It is beautifully done. The classical Chinese landscapes at the beginning and the end of the book, and the spread where the great sea opens up in front of the tiny turtles, are stunning.
Blind Little Red Riding-Hood 《走出森林的小红帽》 by Han Xu 韩煦 is a more humorous kind of book. Little Red Riding-Hood, who is blind, wants to go and visit her grandmother, who lives in the middle of the forest. Since she doesn’t really know how to get there, she asks the animals she meets for help. None of them have time to take her to grandmother, but they give her some good advice: to listen, to feel and to smell her way.
In the end, Little Red Riding-Hood meets the wolf. He promises to take her to grandmother, since he’d like to eat them both. In a clever and funny twist on the old tale, Little Red Riding-Hood touches the wolf and asks him why his ears are so pointy, his teeth so sharp and his smell so horrible. She’s kind to the wolf and gives him flowers and fruit. He doesn’t want them. He hates flowers! He hates fruit! When he finally tries to attack her he falls into a pit and hurts himself. Little Red Riding-Hood dresses his wounds and he decides to let her be.
The illustrations are made of paper collage, and at the beginning of the book they’re all in black and white, but as the story progresses they become more and more colourful. It’s a truly entertaining picture book.
Both of these books have already been translated and published in Swedish. Let’s hope we’ll get to see both these books in English as well.
In the video below, Zhang Ning talks about how she created The Tortoise Family Goes to the Sea. She shows us around her studio and how she works.