The Only Child, by Guojing

The Only Child by Guojing was published to great acclaim in 2015. The following year it was published in China (郭婧: 《独生小孩》). This “silent book” (wordless picture book) tells the story of a little girl and her deep feeling of loneliness. The title and the setting – Guojing’s memory of her own childhood in China – makes an English reader immediately think of The One Child Policy in China. Introduced in 1979, the phasing out of this policy began in 2015, and families are now allowed two children. Li Xiaocui, a young professional in Beijing, has been reading The Only Child with her three-year-old daughter, and very kindly agreed to an interview. She is known to some of us as Lisa, who does a phenomenal job at Candied Plums, sharing the best of China’s new picture books with readers around the world.

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The Only Child – by Guojing (image source: amazon.com)

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郭婧: 《独生小孩》 (image source: douban.com)

Hi Lisa, please tell us a little about yourself and your daughter.

I come from China and am one of the “post-80s parents” (born in the 1980s). My daughter is three years and seven months. Born and raised in a small village in northern China, I only got to read a few lianhuanhua borrowed from relatives. It may be  safe to say that post-80s parents are “educated” about the importance of exposing young children to picture books to develop their ability to appreciate art and understand the world. I started reading and buying picture books for my daughter when she was only six months old. Almost all my coworkers do the same thing. I used to work at one of the large-scale publishing houses in Beijing. One of the benefits of working there were the free coupons to buy books from the bookstore affiliated to the publishing house. That’s how I got to see lots of translated picture books from Germany, the United States and the UK. Of all the books I have bought, more than 90% are translated titles.

Did you choose to read this book with your daughter? Or did she choose it herself? What attracted you/her to it?

I first heard of The Only Child from Roxanne Feldman, the publishing consultant for Candied Plums. It won the New York Times Best Illustrated Books 2015. Not long after, the Chinese edition was published and I immediately bought a copy for me and my daughter. Most Chinese parents prefer translated works to works by Chinese authors and illustrators, especially award-winning imported titles. It’s partly to do with confidence and aspiration (all parents want the best for their offspring) and partly to do with the choice of books available to them. If a title has won a prestigious award outside of China, chances are great that the Chinese edition will soon be available and immediately result in considerable sales to Chinese parents.

How did you respond to this book? How did your daughter respond? Did she respond as you imagined she might?

I was almost in tears after my first reading. It’s a heartwarming story with amazing illustrations and a little mystery. It’s wordless but the story is told through pictures in a stunning way. I particularly love the last few pages where the young child says goodbye to the stag at the end of their magical journey. The facial expressions are so vivid and exquisite that you feel you are standing right there with them, that if you stretch out your hands, you  could actually touch them and hug them. The setting of the story is not modern China as you can tell from the buildings, people’s dress and street scenes, but the China of Guojing’s childhood, as she remembers it.

My daughter was only two when she first read the book. I think she was too little to understand the strong emotions back then. She only showed interest in the funny parts. However, as she grows and her cognitive ability develops, I can see her love and appreciation of the book grow rapidly.

Both my daughter and I can easily relate ourselves to the story. She does exactly the same thing as the young child in the first few spreads, clinging to my hands every morning, begging me to stay  at home with her, dressing up – putting on my shoes and clothes to look like an adult, sometimes lipstick and cosmetics too – playing with her toys and watching TV.

As the book is wordless, when reading it to my daughter, I’ve given the main characters each a name. For example, the young child is “Emma” (my daughter’s English name), the stag “Xiaolu 小鹿” (“Little Deer”), the little buddy she ran into “Wangzai 旺仔” (a famous brand of children’s food from Taiwan). The way “Emma” interacts with Xiaolu is one of her favorite parts of the book, I guess that partially she associates it with the happiness she feels when playing with her father. She really enjoys it when they play together and says it’s the happiest time of the day. One time when I read the story , when we came to the part where Xiaolu leaves after “Emma” falls asleep (to help find her parents), my Emma suddenly burst into tears, couldn’t stop crying and refused to talk to me. I explained that Xiaolu would come back later and take her to see her Mommy and only then did she agree to move on. At the end, when “Emma” has to say goodbye to Xiaolu, my Emma couldn’t help crying again. Even seeing “Emma” falling asleep with the tag toy in her hands wouldn’t reassure her. I didn’t expect such a strong reaction from such a young child . But that’s what happened. With a wordless book,a young child  can “read” the story by simply reading the pictures. Sometimes I’ll invite my Emma to tell the story in her own words.

Although the title is “The Only Child”, I don’t think the loneliness and longing for parents’ or friends’ company is peculiar to  children without siblings. I grew up in a big family: my parents, two elder sisters and a younger brother (my parents and grandparents were desperate for a son, and paid the fines, as did many families where I grew up). My parents were busy all day long working to support the whole family, with little time to spend with us. I remember one afternoon after leaving my grandparents’ home, I held the keys in my hand but didn’t know where to go as no one was at my own home. My parents were working, my sisters were attending boarding school and only came home at weekends and my brother was staying at his friend’s home. Walking in the street, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of isolation and lack of sense of belonging.

Children who grow up during the period of Two Child Policy may also experience the same kind of feeling as well, because like it or not, we have to learn to live with loneliness at some time.

You say that you were surprised by the strength of your daughter’s response to particular scenes in the book. Are there any scenes that you responded to very strongly yourself?

I’m a very emotional person, and what touches me the most is the scene where “Emma” says goodbye to Xiaolu and holds on to her tag toy as she falls asleep,  as if Xiaolu were still with her. I don’t know whether I would offer a different answer if I had been asked this question last year. Back then, my daughter would cry every morning when she sensed that I was getting ready to work. There was nothing I could do to make the brief separation any easier. Somehow as she grows up, both she and I get used to it. She no longer cries when I leave, only asks me to buy something such as fruit or a lollipop for her after work.

In English, “Only Child” is not a neutral term. Could you share with us a few examples of Chinese expressions?  (I’m thinking that you are a Chinese mother, who grew up during the period of the One Child Policy, with a young daughter who will grow up during the Two Child Policy and that you may talk about it from time to time.)

Some Chinese expressions of “Only Child” are 独生子 [“only child (boy)”], 独生女 [“only child (girl)”], 独苗儿 [”only cat” (as in Only Cat Syndrome)] , 小皇帝 [“little emperor”], 小公主 [“little princess”], 被宠坏的一代 [“the spoilt generation”]. In fact, I seldom talk about this topic with my family or friends.

As you work in children’s publishing, have you noticed any changes in children’s books since the change in policy?

Not so much. Chinese post-80 parents, especially mothers, are still unbelievably keen on translated picture books from the States, the UK, Germany, France and many other countries. As there isn’t a policy change in those countries, I don’t expect to see any big changes in the children’s publishing industry any time soon. However, one change I’ve noticed is that when deciding which titles to import, rights managers and editors in China may have extra thoughts on books about brothers and sisters, sibling rivalry, etc.

 

The 10th National Outstanding Children’s Literature Awards, 2017

The winners of the 10th National Outstanding Children’s Literature Awards 全国优秀儿童文学奖 have just been announced. A total of 18 titles have received awards. The original Chinese announcement is here.

Congratulations to all the winners! I’ve updated the Wikipedia page for this award, and the winners of all 10 Awards are now listed there.  The chairs of the 2017 judging committee were Tie Ning  铁 凝 and Li Jingze  李敬泽, and the deputy chairs were Yan Jingming  阎晶明, Fang Weiping  方卫平 and Tang Sulan  汤素兰.

Dong Hongyou: A Hundred Children’s Chinese Dream  (two different covers)

Here are the winners (note: the English translations of the titles are very approximate, and may not be accurate):

Novels

  • Dong Hongyou: A Hundred Children’s Chinese Dream  董宏猷: 《一百个孩子的中国梦》
  • Mai Zi: Bear’s Daughter 麦 子: 《大熊的女儿》
  • Zhang Wei: Looking for the Fish King 张 炜: 《寻找鱼王》
  • Shi Lei: General’s Hutong 史 雷: 《将军胡同》
  • Xiao Ping: Muyang School Diary: I Just Love to Dsagree 萧 萍: 《沐阳上学记•我就是喜欢唱反调》
  • Zhang Zhilu: Lucky Time 张之路: 《吉祥时光》
  • Peng Xuejun: Tang Mu, the Boy by the Pontoon Bridge 彭学军: 《浮桥边的汤木》

Poetry

  • Wang Lichun: Gateway to Dreams 王立春: 《梦的门》

Young readers

  • Guo Jiangyan: The Deliveryman in Buluo Town 郭姜燕: 《布罗镇的邮递员》
  • Lu Lina: The Little Girl’s Name 吕丽娜: 《小女孩的名字》
  • Tang Tang: Water Spirit 汤 汤: 《水妖喀喀莎》
  • Zhou Jing: A Thousand Leaping Flower Buds 周 静: 《一千朵跳跃的花蕾》

Essays

  • Yin Jianling: Love – Grandma and Me 殷健灵: 《爱——外婆和我》

Reportage

  • Shu Huibo: Dreams are the Light of Life 舒辉波: 《梦想是生命里的光》

Sci-fi

  • Wang Linbo: Saving the Genius 王林柏: 《拯救天才》
  • Zhao Hua: Star-seeking in the Desert 赵 华: 《大漠寻星人》

Picture books

  • Sun Yuhu: Actually, I’m a Fish 孙玉虎: 《其实我是一条鱼》
  • Li Shabai: Dandelion Married Daughter 李少白: 《蒲公英嫁女儿》

 

Starfish Bay Children’s Books

Starfish Bay Children’s Books is an independent publishing house based in Adelaide, Australia and Auckland, New Zealand, and has published several children’s books translated from Chinese since 2015. Their website is colourful, and gives information about the authors and illustrators, and sample pages of the picture books.

Authors include Bingbo, BAI Bing, SHEN Shixi, CAI Gao and TANG Sulan. Illustrators include YU Rong, Gumi, CAI Gao, SHEN Yuanyuan, Huang Ying, JIanming ZHOU, Jiwei QIAN, Daqing, Sifan YANG, and Anne Gee Neo. The translators aren’t named, so I asked Luke Hou, Founder and Director, who said the translations are done in editorial teams.

According to their website,

We predominantly publish picture books for children aged 3 to 8. We specialise in two publishing fields:

  • We carefully select a range of translated books from around the world that are excellent stories with imaginative and intriguing illustrations. We hope teachers and parents will find these books useful in encouraging children’s cultural awareness.
  • We like to publish original creative work by both new and established authors. We publish books through a traditional process.

I found a total of 11 books translated from Chinese on their website. Here are the books translated from Chinese so far, followed by those due later in 2017 and 2018. Click on the titles to go through to the relevant webpage:

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Free As A Cloud, by BAI Bing, illustrated by YU Rong (2017)

A group of books by Bingbo, illustrated by Gumi, published 2015-2016:

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The Busy Tailor Crab, by Bingbo, illustrated by Gumi (2016)

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Two Unhappy Fish, by Bingbo, illustrated by Gumi (2015)

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The Pear Violin, by Bingbo, illustrated by Gumi (2015)

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The Moving House, by Bingbo, illustrated by Huangying (2015)

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The Cowardly Lion, by Bingbo, illustrated by Jianming ZHOU (2015)

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Little Bear’s Sunlight, by Bingbo, illustrated by Jiwei QIAN and Daqing (2015)

Books to look out for in the future:

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Where Should Grace the Witch Live?, by Sulan TANG, illustrated by Sifan Yang (2017)

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How I Came to Be Me, written and illustrated by Gao CAI (Jan 2018)

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What a Beautiful Name!, by Sulan TANG, illustrated by Ann Gee Neo (Feb 2018)

 

Author-illustrator Lipei Huang

Curious to know more the illustrator who created the cover of the new English edition of The Ventriloquist’s Daughter by LIN Man-Chiu, I tracked down Lipei HUANG 黃立佩 (it wasn’t difficult!) and asked if she’d tell us about herself and her work. Thank you, Lipei, for responding so quickly and in English!

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Lipei Huang’s logo @LipeiHuangIllustration

Hi Lipei, who are you? where are you? Please tell us about yourself! What would you like people to know about you?

Hi there! I’m a freelancing illustrator from Taiwan, currently living in Taipei. Actually, my work for The Ventriloquist’s Daughter was created when I was based in NYC, after graduating from the Illustration program at the School of Visual Arts.

I worked full-time for a publisher and a bookstore for the last couple of years. And I felt like switching my career back to freelancing this year. My most recent published work are the illustrations for an LGBT-themed novel for teens written by Man-Chiu Lin.

Now I’m working on a project about trees, and recently finished the field study. It was a great chance to see many kinds of plant, including a beautiful 200-and-something-year-old Coral Tree, and to taste various herbal beverages. That’s my favorite part of my job. I mean, travel experiences can be nice or bad, but planning these things is always exciting.

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Image by Lipei Huang – this is a still life of Li Ping-Yao’s book Plants Grow Towards the Sun 李屏瑤《向光植物》

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter has a very striking cover! It’s sweet and sinister at the same time. There are more colour illustrations in the original Chinese book. Could you tell us about your experience of working on this book? 

Thanks for your kind compliment! The character design was one of the most interesting parts to me. Like, since the Peruvian doll plays a significant role in the story, I spent a lot of time doing cultural research to figure out its appearance and what it might wear. The author Man-Chiu and my editor gave me a number of reference photos and suggestions too.

And, it was challenging to set the moods and style at the beginning. I found the story mysterious and gloomy, but also positive for young readers. So I decided to make it feel dark but not too scary. I did the work during the winter, when there was a snowstorm outside the window of my warm place. I guess the situation somehow helped me to get the balance.

 

(left) The English cover for The Ventriloquist’s Daughter (LIN Man-Chiu, tr. Helen Wang, Balestier Press, 2017); (right) illustration from the Chinese edition

Is the artwork you did for The Ventriloquist’s Daughter typical of your work now?

I think it’s typical in a way, yet not 100%. The work contains some elements that you can find in many of my paintings in the same media, like the way I use the color black, a simple composition, and a quiet atmosphere. I’ll adjust the style depending on subjects and clients’ need, or sometimes just for fun. I make art with different media as well. For example, recently I started to draw digitally and experiment with new color palettes.

I read somewhere that you also write? And that you create graphic novels? Could you tell us more?

I enjoy storytelling, no matter via images or words. I am the author and illustrator of two picture books, Silence Can Be Beautiful (2012) and Forever (2014). I also did Roots under Ashes for a graphic documentary anthology titled Frontline Z.A. about social movements in Taiwan. Besides, I’ve done book reviews & intros – that kind of writing – when I worked as an editor for a children’s book publisher.

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Silence Can Be Beautiful, written and illustrated  by Lipei Huang (Heryin Publishing, Taiwan, 2012) (untranslated)

Silence Can Be Beautiful: The story follows a deaf girl who views life from a different perspective. Her sister presents her with a clay whistle that creates sounds only she can hear, unleashing her imagination and broadening her world. The story reflects upon the idea that something invaluable can be gained through the loss of something else that is important.

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Forever, written and illustrated by Li Pei Huang (Liyan Books, Taiwan, 2014) (untranslated)

Forever: The story follows a little girl undergoing the loss of her mother, who signed the DNR order after finding out she had lung cancer. For the first time with only her father to celebrate her birthday, the girl receives a letter her mother prepared beforehand. The words from the girl’s mother are about memories they share, and the meaning of life and death.

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From Lipei Huang’s documentary comic Root Under Ashes, published in the anthology FRONTLINE Z.A. by sloworkpublishing.com (Image: supplied by Lipei Huang)

For more information and more images of the books mentioned here, see Lipei Huang’s website and Facebook page.

 

 

 

Who is Wenzheng Fu?

Wenzheng Fu 符文征 is the author and illustrator of the picture book Buddy Is So Annoying 《我真讨厌宝弟》 published in China in 2016, and now available in English, and in bilingual Chinese/English editions, thanks to Candied Plums and translator Adam Lanphier. This warm story about a little boy and his (sometimes annoying) friend Buddy, the boar, won a China Excellent Children’s Book Award in 2014.

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Buddy Is So Annoying 《我真讨厌宝弟》(Source: Candied Plums)

On the Candied Plums website (which is bilingual and full of interesting things like sample pages, audio books, reviews and information), we read that “Fu Wenzheng is an art professor as well as a picture book creator. She loves travelling on vacations. She is working on her next picture book The Messenger A Wen.” She has received the following awards: “Excellent Award for 2016 Golden Pinwheel Young Illustrators Competition, and The Best Children’s Books of the Year 2014.”

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Wenzheng FU 符文征 (Source: Candied Plums)

Fu is her family name, and Wenzheng is her given name. In China it’s more usual to put the family name first and call her Fu Wenzheng. The English style is to put the family name last, and call her Wenzheng Fu.

We wanted to know more! There’s not much information available in English (yet), but Minjie found an interesting interview in Chinese, and now we know a little bit more about her!

Wenzheng Fu teaches in the Cultural Products Department at Fujian Normal University’s Union College. In the interview on her college website, she says, “When I was little, I was quite a tomboy. I used to play with the neighbours’ children – three boys who were older than me, and a girl who was younger. We had such a crazy time, running about all over the place. We did exciting things and were so creative. We’d go up into the hills and bake sweet potatoes. We’d search for water snails in the river. We’d show off, and want to be the best. We’d copy each other’s homework. We’d stay out really late. We’d play “Don’t Cross the 38th Parallel” [drawing a line on the ground or table that the others weren’t to cross – referring to the dividing line between North and South Korea], and we’d be as cheeky and lippy as Sun Wukong [The Monkey King]! Buddy Is So Annoying is full of things from my childhood!”

It seems Wenzheng Fu was destined for a career in art. At kindergarten, she was always drawing with chalk on the ground. A turning point came when she scratched a picture on a brand new red metal door at home. It was a picture of Zhu Bajie [Pigsy, The Monkey King’s friend in Journey to the West]. Her parents’ solution was to send her to art classes.

Years later, Wenzheng Fu did her undergraduate studies at Fujian University’s College of Fine Art, then went to study Illustration at Zhejiang Science and Engineering University’s School of Art and Design. This was when she started creating picture books. One of the picture books she created at this time was published: Mr Crocodile Takes the Elevator 《鳄鱼先生坐电梯》. It also won a university prize and a regional prize.

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Mr Crocodile Takes the Elevator 《鳄鱼先生坐电梯》 (Source: www.yejychina.com – there are more images of the inside of the book)

Wenzheng Fu’s most recent book is Ah Shi and the Flower Patterned Cloth 《阿诗有块大花布》 (untranslated). Her striking artwork for this book – in red, white and grey – was exhibited at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in 2017.

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Ah Shi and the Flower Patterned Cloth 《阿诗有块大花布》 (Source: weibo)

 

Wenzheng Fu is a big name in China, especially in Fujian, where she and her books were the centre of attention for World Book Day, in April 2017.

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The banner reads: “Let’s read, Fujian!” “Reading for pleasure, that’s the way to go!” 2017 World Book Day Main Event: “You Are Unique. You Are a Treasure” – a special event to share the picture books created by Wenzheng Fu

UPDATE (19 June 2017): See more of Wenzheng Fu’s work on zcool.com.cn

Stephanie Gou on how Bronze and Sunflower opened a door to her memories

Stephanie Gou (Gou Yao 勾尧) is a freelance writer based in the UK. As the mother of a daughter of pre-school age, she is looking out for good books, and has recently started reviewing children’s books from China. Her first review was about Cao Wenxuan’s Bronze and Sunflower (which she read in Chinese: 曹文轩:《青铜葵花》). The original review is in Chinese and available on WeChat. It’s interesting to see Bronze and Sunflower from Stephanie’s perspective, and, with her help, we’ve prepared an English version of it here. Continue reading

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter – now available!

The Ventriloquist’s Daughter, by Lin Man-Chiu, translated by Helen Wang, and published by Balestier Press is now available! Details here.

Read the author’s introduction “Between Fantasy and Reality” here

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Author’s name and book-title in Chinese: 林满秋:《腹語師的女兒》

 

 

Chinese literature festival in London, 12-14 May

China in Context promises to be London’s first annual literature festival celebrating Chinese writers and writing. Lots of events for all ages, and over a 1000 books from suppliers Cypress Books!

China in Context, a UK celebration of writers and writing from and about China, will be held at China Exchange from 12-14 May.  Here’s the programme – see you there!

 

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Bilingual books from Candied Plums

Candied Plums launched its first season of books in the USA a few months ago. All of them were originally written and published in Chinese and have been translated into English. Most of the books are bilingual editions. At first sight, the bilingual editions look like Chinese picture books with Chinese text and pinyin, but turn to the back of the book and you’ll find thumbnail pictures with the English translation. Continue reading

Bronze and Sunflower – now available in the USA and Canada!

The US edition of  Bronze and Sunflower was launched on 14 March 2017, almost two years after the UK edition (2 April 2015). Both editions have the same gorgeous cover art and illustrations by Meilo SO. The UK edition is paperback; the US edition is hardback. There are also two audio books – narrated by Ming-Zhu Hii, and Emily Woo ZellerContinue reading