The gorgeous cover of a new picture book caught my eye recently: “To Catch a Fish” 捉鱼去 written by Zhang Wei 张炜, illustrated by Zhang Honglei 张弘蕾, and published by Daylight Publishing House (Tiantian chubanshe 天天出版社).In the book, six young children (5 boys, 1 girl) show us five different ways to catch a fish without a fishing net. They stir up water to make the fish come up for air. They pick long grass and push fish through the water. They dam the stream and catch fish in a basket. They use bait to lure the fish to where they can catch them, and they make holes for the fish to hide in. We learn that fish like to swim in narrow stretches of water, close to the bottom of creeks and streams, and like to hide in holes. At the back of the book three pages give details of six types of fish found in Chinese lakes and rivers.
Zhang Wei is an award-winning author, and writes for both adults and young readers. His adult books include The Ancient Ship 《古船》, September’s Fable 《九月寓言》and On the Plateau 《你在高原》. His children’s books include the Life on the Peninsula 半岛哈里哈气 series, The Young Boy and the Sea 少年与海, and In Search of the King of Fish寻找鱼王.
The Life on the Peninsula 半岛哈里哈气 series (2012) is about a boy whose father has been banished to a peninsula, and who describes the noisy wildlife there, [image source: sina.com]
The Young Boys and the Sea 少年与海 (2017) is about three teenagers on the beach, who go to explore the forest to find out whether the monsters in the forest are as bad as the stories they have heard about them. [image source: dongjing.com]
In Search of the King of Fish is a story based on an old folktale and full of traditional Chinese customs. [image source: chinawriter.com.cn]
Zhang Honglei has illustrated several books including the Chinese edition (2018) of Elena Fernandez Prados’ Economics through Everyday Stories from around the World (2016)When I first saw the cover of “To Catch a Fish”, I immediately thought of the famous Huxian peasant painting 户县农民画 titled “The Commune’s Fishpond” 公社鱼塘 by Dong Zhengyi 董正谊, published by Renmin meishu chubanshe, 1973. An exhibition of Huxian peasant paintings toured Europe in the mid-late 1970s, and this painting was available as a poster and a greetings card in Guang Hwa Bookshop in London (thanks to Mary Hinton, formerly a librarian at the British Museum for this information! She says “I’ve always loved this image for its dynamism and vivid colours. So many fish leaping in the net!”). For more about the touring exhibition and its reception, see Emily Williams,“Exporting the Communist Image: The 1976 Chinese Peasant Painting Exhibition in Britain”, New Global Studies vol. 8 (2014): 279-305.