In recent years I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Solene Xie at the London Bookfair, the Asian Festival of Children’s Content, and the Shanghai International Book Fair (CCBC). During the pandemic it’s not so easy to attend these events. So we caught up online, and Solene kindly agreed to an interview. Thank you, Solene!
Solene, please tell us about yourself. What would you like our readers to know about you?
Hello everyone, my name is Solene Xie (Xie Fengbei 谢逢蓓). I love children’s books and I make my living from children’s books.
In 2007 after studying in France, I returned to China and started working at the Beijing Office of China’s leading professional children’s publishing organisation, Jieli Publishing House, on rights, editing and translation, and curating foreign authors’marketing events in China etc.
During those 11 years, I introduced several series of children’s books that are very popular in the Chinese market: such as the Gallimard Jeuness – My First Discovery 少儿科普《第一次发现系列》(Children’s Science “First Discovery Series”; world-famous IP [intellectual property] such as the “Smurfs” 蓝精灵 , and “Barbapapa” 巴巴爸爸 (which sold nearly 10 million copies in China); as well as works by famous authors such as David Walliams [ 大卫·威廉姆斯 ] and John Green [ 约翰·格林 ].
I also facilitated the establishment of a strategic partnership (Usborne’s imprint in China) between Jieli and Usborne, the second largest children’s book publisher in the UK, and did the preparatory work for the establishment of the Egyptian branch of Jieli.
Then, in October 2018, I moved back to my hometown of Shanghai for family reasons, and went freelance. For the last few years, I have mainly been engaged as a consultant to the Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair, doing content planning for the official professional conferences; bringing books into Chinese as an independent commissioning editor, translating children’s books, and doing exhibitions and licensing of IP. In 2021, I will re-focus on recommending Chinese original children’s books for rights sales overseas.
As commissioning editor, I brought these books into Chinese:
I delivered exhibitions and arranged authorization of rights:
My representative translation works from French into Chinese are:
- Barbapapa series 《巴巴爸爸经典图画书系列》
- Books by Claude Ponti 旁帝《小鸡布莱兹和生日蛋糕城堡》
- Books by Serge Bloch 塞吉·布洛克《我等待》《美好日酒店》
- Books by Jeanne Ashbé 让娜·阿什比《0-3岁行为习惯教养绘本》
The last time we met was at the Shanghai Children’s Book Fair (CCBF) in 2019. Did you go in 2020? What was it like? Was it different from before? What were the highlights of this year’s book fair for you?
Yes, 2020 was an extraordinary year, but we were very lucky that the Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair was able to be the only offline children’s book fair in China. Because of the corona-virus pandemic, the number of exhibitors and visitors was much reduced, but there was still a lot of energy. There were two very high-quality exhibitions at the fair: “Toddlers’ First Books” (低幼图画书的主题展) and “Commemorating Gianni Rodari‘s 100th Birthday” (罗大里百年诞辰纪念展). Also, foreign exhibitors sent all kinds of sample books instead of bringing people with the rights, and this enabled exhibitors, visitors and and professionals to browse freely the latest overseas publications. It was an unprecedented kind of experience.
You’ve been working in Chinese children’s books for over a decade. What kind of changes have you noticed?
I think the biggest change has to be the growth of online sales channels for children’s books. Dangdang, JD.com, Tmall, WeChat, Douyin, Xiaohongshu, We Media, etc. are all expanding their children’s book sales channels, and this has begun to impact on the source of publication, that is, the writers and creation, and more and more book products are being produced and customized for those channels.
In terms of content, the biggest change is the increase in the variety and quality of original children’s books, thanks to government encouragement and market demand. And these have certainly seen very good results on the bestseller lists in the last few years, especially in the children’s literature (middle grade) category.
What was/were your favourite new Chinese children’s book(s) of 2020?
My favourite picture book of 2020 was The Monkey Catches the Moon 猴子捞月, by Zhang Junjie 张俊杰, which was adapted from a poetic and Zen story that is very well-known by Chinese. This title was selected as one of “The Most Beautiful Books in China” 最美的书 2020 (which means that it will be one of candidate books sent to Leipzig for The Best Book Design From All Over the World” 世界最美的书 prize 2021.
My favourite novel of 2020 was The Secret of Page 57 第57页的秘密, by Long Xiangmei 龙向梅. The story is very impressive and special in the way it deals with family tension. In the modern Chinese family the child is usually “king”, which contradicts the Chinese tradition of respecting the elders. In this story, a boy suffers much from his elderly grandfather’s angry outbursts, until the family situation reaches crisis point and things have to change. Helped by his mother, herself caught between the generations, he learns about the family history, his grandfather’s physical and mental health issues, and, when grandfather and grandson learn to trust and love each other, the grandfather finally shares the secret of page 57.
Could you tell us a little about your own childhood reading?
As a child I was a little bookworm. I loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the stories by Hans Christian Andersen. I also read a lot of stories by Chinese authors: for example, “Pipi Lu and Lu Xixi” 皮皮鲁和鲁西西 by Zheng Yuanjie 郑渊洁. I was always reading the story magazines “King of Stories” 故事大王 and “Master of Humour” 幽默大师, and every day I listened to the children’s broadcasting platform “Little Loudspeaker” 小喇叭广播电台, but I can’t remember the names of those stories now.
Issues of “King of Stories” 故事大王 and “Master of Humour” 幽默大师 from the 1990s that Solene remembers reading (source of images: zj.zjol.com.cn)
My favourite place to read was in bed. Unfortunately, I’m part of the One-Child generation, so I didn’t have a brother or sister to read with me. When my parents were working, I was often home alone. But my books were good friends, and I’m really grateful to those books! I’m lucky that my work now revolves around children’s books. I hope that I can help more people to appreciate the pleasure that can be found in books. Children today don’t have to read books like I did when I was little; there are newer, lighter or more flexible/accessible ways to read, and that’s the general direction that I’m working towards.