120. Interview with publishing consultant Solene Xie

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 Xie (Xie Fengbei 谢逢蓓)

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.

119. “Sleepy, Sleepy New Year” – Frances Weightman tells us about a new book for Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year – The Year of the Ox – will start on 12 Feb 2021. A gorgeous Chinese picture book Sleepy Sleepy New Year was published in English in September 2020, thanks to the Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing. We asked Frances Weightman, Director of the Centre to tell us more about it. Thank you, Frances!

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118. Interview with Silvia Torchio, Italian translator of Jimmy Liao

In September, we interviewed Paolo Magagnin and asked him about translations of Chinese children’s books into Italian. He said we must talk to Silvia Torchio, the Italian translator of Jimmy Liao 幾米, and kindly offered to put us in touch. How could we resist?! Almost everyone who comes across Jimmy Liao’ s books wonders why they aren’t available in every language… Thank you, Paolo, and thank you Silvia, for taking the time to talk to us!

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117. Interview with Rachel Yung-Hsin Wang

This post is published simultaneously on Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI)

Kirkus reviewer Rachel Yung-Hsin Wang has lived and worked in many parts of the world, and is something of a polyglot. Earlier this year she completed an MFA in Writing for Children at Simmons University, having won a Lee & Low and Simmons Friends Scholarship. We were keen to hear more about her time at Simmons and about her interest in children’s literature. Rachel has also recently joined the award jury for the GLLI Translated Young Adult Literature Award. Thank you, Rachel, for agreeing to this interview!

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116. CCPPG’s Sino-foreign collaborative programme on children’s books

Since 2012, CCPPG (China Children’s Press and Publication Group 中国少年儿童出版社) has developed a number of Sino-foreign collaborative picture books – matching a Chinese author with a non-Chinese illustrator, or vice versa. In this post, we present some of the books that have been produced, and quote Sun Zhu 孙柱, President of CCPPG on the impact of these collaborations. Where we know of an English edition, we have given details for that book. For further details see Teri Tan’s article in Publisher’s Weekly, 17 April 2020, and the CCPPG Catalogue 2020.

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115. The winners of the 2020 Chen Bochui International Children’s Literature Awards

The 2020 Chen Bochui International Children’s Literature Awards 陈伯吹国际儿童文学奖 were announced in Shanghai on 12 November. Congratulations to all the winners!

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113. Nicky Harman, on Huang Beijia’s novel “Flight of the Bumblebee”

In June, Nicky Harman told us about Huang Beijia’s novel I Want to Be Good. We are delighted to hear she has just finished translating another novel by Huang Beijia – Flight of the Bumblebee. Of course, we wanted to know more, and asked Nicky to tell us about it. Thank you, Nicky!

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112. Interview with Lidong Xiang, PhD student in Chinese children’s literature at Rutgers University

Lidong Xiang 项黎栋 is currently studying for her PhD in Chinese children’s literature at Rutgers University-Camden. We’re very grateful to her for taking the time to tell us more about her work. Thank you, Lidong!

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111. White Ravens – Chinese titles, 1984-2020

The 2020 White Ravens Catalogue was published today. It includes eight new Chinese titles, published in 2019 and 2020.

The White Ravens Catalogue 2020 presents 200 outstanding books in 36 languages from 56 countries, selected and published by the International Youth Library, Munich. Click here for the pdf.

The annually published White Ravens catalogue is the most important ongoing publication of the International Youth Library (IYL), in Munich. It is published each autumn to be presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair. All new White Ravens titles are introduced at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair the following year.

From the large number of reviewer’s copies and donations which are received from publishing houses, institutions, organizations and friends of the library, the IYL language specialists (Lektoren) select 200 new outstanding books from more than 50 countries in over 30 languages to be White Ravens each year. A copy of each book is held in the collection of the IYL.

A few years ago, I started to put together a list of all the Chinese titles that have been selected as White Ravens over the years, collecting data online and visiting the IYL in July 2019. Lucia Obi, the East Asian language specialist at the IYL kindly checked my work, edited it and enhanced it. Together, we can now share this impressive list of 139 Chinese White Ravens, 1984-2020:

The titles are hyperlinked to my original source of data:

The eight Chinese titles selected as White Ravens in 2020

A spirit who I call Mom — Chen, Danyan 陈丹燕 (text) and Echo Anjing Echo_安静 (illus.), 2019. Wo de mama shi jingling 我的妈妈是精灵. Fuzhou: Fujian shaonian ertong chubanshe.
Big boat — Huang, Xiaoheng黄小衡 (text) and Guituzi 贵图子 [Liu, Jing 刘静] (illus.), 2019. Da chuan 大船. Beijing: Zhongxin chubanshe.
Firework — Li, Donghua 李东华 (text) and Kongque 孔雀 [Zhao, Min 赵敏] (illus.), 2019. Yanhuo 焰火. Wuhan: Changjiang wenyi chubanshe.

Where are the tickets? — Liu, Xugong 刘旭恭 (text/illus.), 2020. Chepiao qu naer le 车票去哪儿了. Wuhan: Changjiang shaonian ertong chubanshe.

The river — Yu, Dawu 于大武 (text/illus.), 2019. Yi tiao da he 一条大河. Beijing: Zhongguo shaonian ertong chubanshe.
The little bear’s new clothes — Huwei虎威 (Francis Wong Hooe Wai) (text/illus.), 2019. Xiao xiong de xinyi 小熊的新衣. Singapore: Lingzi chuanmei siren youxian gongsi (Lingzi Media).
Is there still anybody in these rivers and lakes? — Chang, Yeou-yu [Zhang, Youyu] 張友漁 (text)  and Lin, Shain [Lin, Yixian]  林一先 (illus.), 2019. Jiang hu, hai you ren ma? 江湖, 还有人吗?Taibei: Yuanliu chuban shiye gufen youxian gongsi (Yuan-Liou Publishing).

The story of Grandma Snow Flower — Chou, Yi-Fen [Zhou, Yifen] 周逸芬 (text) and Wu mao 烏貓 [Zhang, Chao张超] (illus.), 2019. Xue ying nainai de gushi 雪英奶奶的故事. Zhubei shi: Heying wenhua shiye youxian gongsi (Heryin Books).

If you’d like to see all 139 Chinese titles selected as White Ravens, 1984-2020, click on the link below: