In his lovely picture book Childhood in a courtyard house《四合院里的小时候》architect and illustrator Xie Xiaozhen 谢小振 presents the story of this classical building type, often associated with Beijing but common in many parts of China. For children and parents interested in architecture the book is a goldmine – not only are the illustrations marvellous, Xie shows us details in the construction of gates and roofs, talks about roof tiles, edge plates, door stops, door knockers, and “spirit walls” – the often richly decorated walls that make it possible to keep the outer gate open without letting people in the street see what’s going on inside the courtyard. Xie also describes other objects and decorations that are traditionally common in a courtyard of this kind: goldfish ponds, trees, trellises, and so on.
The beautiful illustrations in combination with the detailed descriptions and panorama views make this a book you can read again and again. I imagine it would also be a great asset in the classroom for all teachers of Chinese. The book is the first in a series called An encounter with traditional Chinese architecture 《走近中国传统建筑》The next book in the series will introduce the tulou from Fujian, and after that it’s time for the gardens of Suzhou.
Overview of a courtyard house
Details of the book:
谢小振: 《四合院里的小时候》 (人民文学出版社，天天出版社, 2018 年), ISBN: 9787501610891 – Amazon.com
Since Cao Wenxuan is the most famous writer of children’s literature in China and also the one most well-known abroad, it was no surprise that there would eventually be a prize in his name. In fact, there are already two: The Bronze and Sunflower Award 青铜葵花奖 and the Cao Wenxuan Children’s Literature Award 曹文轩儿童文学奖. The Cao Wenxuan Children’s Literature Award was inaugurated in April 2017, with the aim to promote children’s literature in China, to encourage young writers, to promote Chinese literature abroad and to make Jiangsu province a major centre for the development of children’s literature in China. Continue reading
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). Continue reading
One of the most beautiful picture books that I’ve seen in the last few years is the bilingual A Tree 《树》 by the Chinese writer and illustrator San Zhi 三只. I’m not surprised that it was one of the books on the “10 picture books you can’t miss” list that we’ve written about earlier. Continue reading
Peng Xuejun’s 彭学军 award winning novel Sister 《你是我的妹》 is a beautiful and dramatic story for older children that takes place in Yunnan, sometime in the early 1970s. The young protagonist and narrator is a nine-year-old girl whose mother has been sent down to the countryside to learn from the people. The family (the narrator has a sister) settles in a tiny village with a population of farmers belonging to the Miao people, and although life here is very different and certainly harder and more austere than in the city, it’s also a new and interesting world for the children to explore. Continue reading
Mr Pang and Mr Shou (that is, Mr Fat and Mr Slim) live on opposite sides of a river, together with their families. For some unknown reason they don’t like each other and are always fighting. Their children are not allowed to talk to each other – they don’t even let their dogs Pointy Ear and Round Ear play together. But then one morning the families are cooking breakfast. The white smoke from one of the fires mingles with the black smoke from the other. And when the families see this, they start to change their minds … Continue reading
I am a tiger, who am I scared of? 《我是老虎我怕谁》 is the name of this lovely picture book by Wang Zumin 王祖民 and Wang Ying 王莺. Tiger isn’t a very nice animal. He’s big and strong and as the king of the animals (well, in his own opinion, at least) he doesn’t need to be considerate or nice to anyone. Continue reading
It happened when I was three or four years old, and it’s one of my earliest memories. That day, I was playing alone outside and happened to find a lump of dark clay in a ditch by the road. I must have been bored, for the lump immediately caught my attention. I picked it up, and with the help of a stick that I’d found I sculptured it into something that looked a bit like a cat. I was very proud of this little thing that I’d made and I wanted to share my joy with someone. And so, with the lump in my hands I ran home to find my mother. I remember the look on her face – it was as if I’d given her a treasure. Gently, she lifted the little thing into the air and studied it, then very carefully placed it in one of our flower pots. We stood there and watched it together a long time. It must have been the first thing I ever created. When I think of it now, so many years later, I realise I should have thanked her. If she had thrown the little black clay cat away I might not have become the writer I am today. People always ask me why I became a writer. It’s really very simple: I want to write a book that would make my mother proud of me.