China Focus: Chinese picture books draw attention on global stage
WUHAN, April 2 (Xinhua) — On a Sunday morning, about 20 children aged three to six were reading picture books with their parents at a library in Wuhan, capital of central China's Hubei Province.
The book they were reading is called "Havoc in Heaven," based on the story of the legendary monkey in Chinese classic "Journey to the West."
Shu Huan, with the library, told Xinhua that the library holds up to 100 children's reading events every year, of which at least 10 percent are activities with picture books for young children. Over 20 percent of the picture book readers are foreign children.
With more attention being focused on early-childhood education in China, Chinese picture books are also emerging on the global stage.
At the just-concluded 55th Bologna Children's Book Fair, in which China was the guest of honor, a series of original picture books from Chinese publishers won the hearts of young readers.
During the fair, copyrights for two Chinese picture books were sold to publishers in Nepal and France. One of them is "Dragon Moon," co-written by Chinese writer Chen Ying and Australian illustrator Graeme Base.
"Dragon Moon" was published in 2017 by Changjiang Children's Publishing Group. It tells a story of an orphan fish named "dragon moon" who travels around the country in search of its identity. In the end, it becomes a dragon and saves its homeland.
In addition to dragons, a typical figure throughout the Chinese history, Base also included a "panda fish" — a panda that lives underwater, and scores of famous Chinese landscapes and heritage sites such as the Great Wall, the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in southwest China's Yunnan, as well as Tulou, a type of large, enclosed and fortified earth building, mostly in rectangular or circular shape, found in the mountainous areas of Fujian Province.
Base said he loves China, but the Chinese culture is sometimes too deep for foreigners to truly understand the underlying metaphors, so he needed a Chinese partner to help him finish the book.
"Dragon Moon" was brought to 10 cities across China after its publication in 2017 and sold all the 8,000 copies in just two weeks. The book has been reprinted three times and sold a total of 20,000 copies in the past two years in domestic market. An English version will be released in Australia and New Zealand next year.
Fang Fang, head of the children's department at the Wuhan library, said domestic picture books are being increasingly welcomed by children in recent years.
"Our department introduces about 40,000 new books every year, 8,000 of them are picture books. Among the picture books, about 30 to 40 percent are Chinese originals," said Fang. "Before 2015, picture books only made up about 10 to 15 percent of the new books every year."
"Our original picture books are gradually being more widely recognized in overseas markets," said Yao Lei, vice president of Changjiang Children's Publishing Group. Well-known Chinese classics and stories written by acclaimed domestic writers such as Mei Zihan and Cao Wenxuan, who won the Hans Christian Andersen Prize 2016, are especially popular.
"Another way is through collaborations with foreign illustrators," said Yao. "Writers from different backgrounds can generate sparks in storytelling and help original Chinese picture books be more suitable for global audiences," Yao added.
Major Chinese publishers are also rearranging their businesses to suit the shifting market. Changjiang Children's Publishing Group set up a picture book editorial office last year. Five editors in the office are in charge of selecting topics and writers, graphic design as well as marketing of domestic picture books.
All the picture books published by the office have been sold overseas. This year, they aim to try more new forms of picture books, for instance, pop-up books and books with sounds and smells.
"When domestic illustrators and writers were yet to be recognized globally, we catered to the market demand by importing overseas picture books. Now we have our own writers, and they have led more young people to create picture books; it will become a virtuous circle," said Liu Jiapeng, head of the editorial office.
Miya Du, born in the 1980s, is one of the most famous young illustrators in China. She also attended this year's Bologna Children Book Fair.
"Stories that appeal to children are those that care about what they want to know," said Du. "An excellent Chinese picture book is a combination of child psychology, child development, children's literature as well as some Chinese characteristics," she said.
"I have seen a growing number of domestic children's fiction writers and illustrators in recent years and also the rising significance picture books have been playing in the lives of our children. I believe more excellent Chinese original picture books will spring up to open a window for children around the world to better understand China," Du said.