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.

Guojing

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

guojing ch

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》

 

“Plums” for Your Tongue: Chinese Children’s Literature for Language Learners

One question I repeatedly hear from Chinese immigrant parents and Chinese language teachers in America is, where can they find books that children would enjoy reading at the same time as improving their Chinese. As we know about literacy acquisition and language learning, continual and active engagement with texts, through either shared reading with caregivers or voluntary independent reading, is crucial to the expansion of vocabulary, mastery of grammar, and growth in comprehension and composition skills.

An oft-cited challenge is that children who grow up in the United States have found books published in China ill-fitting for various reasons. Perhaps the language was too difficult, partly because the stories were originally intended for native Chinese speakers. Perhaps the stories were overly didactic. Embedded morals and values can bore and occasionally alienate American children. At a K-8 Chinese immersion school I visited, a teacher shared with me that her class was once puzzled and offended by a Chinese story, in which bullying happens but is never confronted as an issue as if the behavior was normal and no cause for alarm. What appealed more to her students were Chinese translations of familiar American children’s books. Two caveats follow this choice. First, the quality of Chinese translation varies; second, readers miss the opportunity of learning about China and Chinese culture, and from a Chinese perspective, in most of these American titles.

For admirable parents who unfailingly drive their kids to Chinese language schools every weekend year after year and for teachers of Chinese language as a second language, I have two good resources to recommend. Incidentally, they are both named after beloved fruits native to China.

The Pipa Magazine

The Pipa magazine

The Pipa magazine, first launched in 2013, is a Chinese-language children’s magazine designed for young learners outside China to read for pleasure. The title, “Pipa,” refers to the loquat, which is a yellow-skinned fruit also known as Chinese plum. For those of you who have not tasted the fruit, the texture of fresh loquat resembles that of an apricot but is juicier and sweeter.

loquats

The title is a playful rebellion against the slur “banana” for ethnic Chinese living in a Western country. Regarded as having lost touch with their Chinese cultural heritage, identity, and values, they are compared to the fruit banana, which is “yellow on the outside, white on the inside.” The flesh of loquat is as yellow as its skin, subtly reinforcing the magazine’s ambition of connecting Chinese American children with the culture of their ancestral land.

Each Pipa issue is neatly organized around a theme, be it a zodiac animal or Chinese art or mathematics, and offers columns that include illustrated stories, interviews, informational text, poetry, rhymes, craft, games, and children’s writings and art. All content, except for works submitted by children, is created by native Chinese writers but tailored for the limited language competency of children who are learning Chinese in an English-dominant environment. Chinese culture and the lives of Chinese in America are the main subject matter of the magazine. Still in its toddler years, Pipa has grown to publish free audio stories as well as to organize Chinese story time in multiple communities.

Bilingual Picture Books from Candied Plums

The second resource comes by way of the Chinese-English bilingual picture books published by Candied Plums, a publisher newly established in Seattle in 2016. The publisher’s name refers to candied Chinese hawthorn, a traditional snack typically sold by street vendors in Beijing. Known as bingtanghulu 冰糖葫芦, or tanghulu 糖葫芦, these are truly sweets of nostalgia! They look beautiful: like a skewer of tiny, perfectly round red apples dipped in sugar syrup. And just the thought of biting through the crisp clear sugar coating into the pleasantly sour fruit inside is enough to trigger happy memories!

candied haw berries

Candied Plums has selected some of the best new picture books by Chinese authors and artists and released bilingual or English editions for the American market. The layout of the bilingual books reflects the publisher’s sensitivity to the needs of Chinese language learners in English speaking countries. Children have been observed to skip Chinese altogether if bilingual texts are juxtaposed on the same page. With the Candied Plums books, the English translation is offered at the end of each book, alongside thumbnail illustrations. Other aids for learning the Chinese language include pinyin Romanization to guide the pronunciation of every character and a vocabulary list with English translations. Each book is assigned a proficiency level according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages guidelines.

I will highlight three titles that have been distinctly enriched by Chinese literary and artistic traditions.

1. Little Rabbit’s Questions

Little Rabbit’s Questions (小兔的问题) by Dayong Gan (甘大勇); translated by Helen Wang. Candied Plums, 2016.

Little Rabbit’s Questions is made up of a series of dialog between Mama Rabbit and Little Rabbit. Their interlocution reminds us of the loving contest between Little Nutbrown Hare and its daddy in Guess How Much I Love You, and is also a warm twist to the familiar, yet sinister Q and A between Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. Here is an excerpt from Little Rabbit’s Questions:

“Mama, why is your mouth so big?”
“So I can speak loudly.”
“Why do you need to speak loudly?”
“So I can talk to you when you leave home.”
“Won’t I hear you if you don’t speak loudly?”
“If you go far, far away, you might not hear me.” (Gan n. pag.)

Mama Rabbit explains why she has strong legs (to run after Little Rabbit when she misses the child); big eyes (to be able to see Little Rabbit when the latter grows up and “fly far away”); and other powers that will allow her to keep in touch with the child. At times Mama might have been perceived as being a tad too close to separation anxiety about a child who is growing up fast. In the era of helicopter parents and boomerang children, however, who are we to judge this loving mother? Father Rabbit is absent except appearing in family photos. The story may also reflect the exceptionally strong bond between a child and his/her single mother.

“One day you’ll grow up, but whatever you become, I will always recognize you by your scent.” Little Rabbit’s Questions.

The real treat that Little Rabbit’s Questions offers is illustrations that are influenced by the brush-pen cartoon art of Feng Zikai (丰子恺, 1898-1975), after whom the Chinese Children’s Picture Book Award is named. Feng applied Chinese brush painting to cartoon work, breathing liveliness into the tradition of high art and injecting a distinct Chinese flavor into a format that was introduced from the West. Feng’s favorite subject matter appears to be children. Portraits of Children (儿童相), a collection of cartoons first published in 1931, captures amusing and endearing moments in the lives of the artist’s own toddler children. Feng’s cartoons were so popular before World War II that, immediately after Japan’s defeat, his publisher received fervent requests to reissue Feng’s cartoon series. (His manuscripts and publisher’s printing blocks were both destroyed during the war, but luckily Feng was still in his prime years and able to re-do the drawings for the new edition.)

Feng Zikai’s depiction of his son and daughter in brush-pen cartoons, collected in Portraits of Children (儿童相).

Gan’s paintings not only conjure up Feng’s brush-pen work, but they are also deliberately set during Republican China (1912-1949), the era when Feng created his signature style. Mama Rabbit dons the qipao dress that was popular among Chinese women during the first half of the twentieth century. Little Rabbit’s room is lighted by a cone-shaped pendant lamp with a rope switch, another giveaway of the setting. It was the plainest type of lamp that urban Chinese households owned as their first electrical appliance in the past century.

Little Rabbit’s Questions is set in the Republic of China (1912-1949), the time period when Feng Zikai established his Chinese brush-pen style of cartoon drawings.

2. Borrowing a Tail

Borrowing a Tail (借尾巴) by Songying Lin (林颂英); illustrated by Le Zhang; translated by Duncan Poupard. Candied Plums, 2016.

Borrowing a Tail by Songying Lin is a story that is familiar to every Chinese school child, because it has been taught in elementary Chinese language classes for decades. Lin, a Shanghai-based children’s author who was disabled in teenage years, has been active since the 1950s and specializes in science stories. In Borrowing a Tail, a little gecko narrowly escapes a snake, but not before the predator bites off its tail for dinner. A distressed gecko asks around to see if it can borrow a tail from another animal. Nobody has a tail to spare, and instead each animal informs the gecko what important functions they are depending on their tails to perform. The cat needs its tail for balance; the woodpecker needs one for support; the fish needs a tail to push its body forward; and so on. When the gecko reaches home, sad and disappointed, it discovers that its tail has grown back! (The author conveniently neglects to tell young readers that the wandering gecko must have spent a month or two chitchatting with animal friends and soliciting tails before heading home.)

The surprising ending delights beginning readers, who easily empathize with a forlorn young fellow who has lost something and wishes to have it back. It also conveys a heartwarming message to all ages: after surviving losses and suffering rejections, you may learn something new about yourself–that you have underestimated your own capacity and resilience. Such is the enduring appeal of a simple tale, written at the level of second-grade Chinese, to generations of school kids. We could only guess if the story gave hope to the author himself, who, with disabled limbs since age sixteen, might identify with a powerless gecko searching far and wide for a replacement tail.

Chinese ink wash paintings in Borrowing a Tail.

Chinese ink wash paintings grace this fresh edition of the old story, which has rarely been offered as a stand-alone picture book. The two animals that are depicted mainly in monochrome shades–gecko and fish–best exemplify the effectiveness of minimalist ink wash painting. The big-eyed gecko looks helpless, persistent, and ultimately likable. The nimble fish has a classic look of how the subject is portrayed in Chinese painting. In fact, enamel wash basins made in China used to have fish like this painted on the inner base and gave the illusion of a live fish when water was poured in.

Borrowing a Tail is the type of story that I like most–it invites you to read twice in a row. The moment you finish, you want to flip to the beginning and start again, this time looking for the gecko’s tail on every page–how has it transformed over the course of the reptile’s quest? It is a perfect book to pair with Steve Jenkins’s visually stunning paper collage art in What Do You Do with a Tail Like This?, a nonfiction picture book on the function of animals’ tails.

What Do You Do with a Tail Like This? by Steve Jenkins and Robin Page. Houghton Mifflin, 2003.

3. Who Wants Candied Hawberries?

Who Wants Candied Hawberries? (冰糖葫芦谁买?) by Dongni Bao (保冬妮); illustrated by Di Wu; translated by Adam Lanphier. Candied Plums, 2016.

I do not know if this book inspired the publisher’s name, Candied Plums, or if it is a coincidence. The main character of the story is an old man, a peddler of candied haw berries, who tries to sell enough of the sweets so that he can pay for wife’s medicine. The peddler dozes off in an eerily quiet, narrow alley named “Cat’s Eye Lane,” where he likes to leave food scraps for cats, and wakes up to find a flock of children scrambling to buy candied fruit from him. They seem to have appeared out of nowhere, and all wear what the old man takes to be a new fashion, with a fluffy tail hanging underneath each child’s winter coat. As the happy peddler leaves the alley with an emptied rack and a pocket full of coins, (spoiler alert) he catches sight of a clowder of cats sitting on the rooftops, each munching a stick of candied haw berries.

Who Wants Candied Hawberries? adapts familiar motifs from Chinese supernatural stories about encounters between humans (typically a young scholar or a weary traveler) and fox spirits, whose identity is given away by the tails they are unable to transform very well. Numerous stories about fox spirits can be found in Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio (聊斋志异) written by Pu Songling (1640-1715) in the Qing dynasty. Fox spirits, like ghosts, are variously kind, helpful, deceitful, malicious, and vengeful in Pu’s imagination. The cat-loving old man and helpful kittens with a sweet tooth are an interesting twist to old tales, which often relate romantic or erotic relationships with fox spirits.

How many kittens do you spot in Who Wants Candied Hawberries?

The illustrations of the picture book make an excellent “spot-the-kitten” game. Images of cats and feline associations are everywhere on the pages, some straightforward, others whimsical, subtle, and occasionally requiring knowledge of the Chinese language. I have a quiz for you when you peruse the book: why are the children wearing cold weather mask over their mouths–is it solely because of the freezing day? What happens when one of them forgets to do so?!

The Pipa magazine and Candied Plums (more of its titles are listed in this post) have offered delicious “plums” for your Chinese tongue. I would highly recommend them to families who are raising young learners of Chinese as a second language, school libraries that support Chinese language classes, and public libraries which serve Chinese immigrant communities. They open a window to rich Chinese literary and artistic traditions and innovations for all young minds.

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:

9781760360351-760x634

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

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

9781760360283-760x837

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

fish-cvr

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

pear-cvr

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

house-cvr-760x790

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

lion-cvr

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

bear-cover

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

Books to look out for in the future:

9781760360382-760x959

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

9781760360405-760x812

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

9781760360368-760x972

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!

self portrait

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.

book02

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.

Silence can be beautiful_cover-C 0510

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.

封面設計

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.

zh_P5
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.

58ac0b429ad36

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.”

58b7d910183f4

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.

569da4bb2c4f2 Crocodile in Lift

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.

image cloth

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.

0037Vkjizy7at1mGQ7Ke0&690 Wenzheng Fu

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

A Tree

Ett träd 1One 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.

In very simple words and with beautiful illustrations San Zhi gives us the biography of a tree, from its “conception” as the seed sinks into the earth until the day that the tree dies and itself becomes new soil.

The illustrations are delicate, in pastel shades of green, blue-gray and brown. The tree is surrounded by animals – squirrels, foxes, birds, insects, deer, rabbits – who all benefit from it and contribute to its growth. With illustrations like these you don’t need many words to make readers see the importance of trees.

ett träd 4

ett träd 5

A Tree is a bilingual book, and it seems that the author translated the book herself. San Zhi (real name: Gan Wei 甘玮) was born in Chongqing, and studied Illustration at the University of the Arts, London. In 2015 she set up the VE Art Studio (VE艺术工作室) in Chongqing.

This book is published by Tsinghua University Press and the ISBN is 978-7-302-40421-7. You can find it on the publisher’s website, on amazon.cn and on worldcat.

 

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

theventriloquistsdaughter-600x909

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

 

 

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