Shanghai, January 2018.
During the knowledge-exchange program for the Visiting Publishers Fellowship at the Shanghai International Children Book Fair, in November 2017, I spent an inspiring afternoon at the China Welfare Institute Publishing House’s picture book publishing department. The Publishing House has developed into a comprehensive one from a magazine house which was founded in 1950 by the formidable visionary and philanthropist, President Soong Ching Ling, guided by her philosophy: “Giving Children the Most Valuable Things”.
Located in a designated Heritage Building, in a lovely part of the city, the Institute’s dedicated editorial team (led by Yu Lan) is the power-house behind a range of beautifully produced picture books portraying contemporary Chinese family life. The Love and Beauty list is part of the range marketed for independent readers.  The Publishing House has won many honours for its books and the team is committed to engaging with young Chinese writers and illustrators and to make their work available to a wider readership.
A number of their fiction and non-fiction titles are available in other languages. For example, I Have a Little Lantern by author and illustrator, Gan Dayong, is a very charming story about a little girl’s long journey to school in the dark of the early morning. On the way, she meets many anxious animals but her lantern, and the knowledge that her teacher is watching out for her, lights up the dawn for them all. This title is available in Mandarin, English and Mandarin, and French and it is excellent.
Two very engaging titles by the young artist, Liu Xun, Tooth, Tooth, Throw it on the Roof, and Riddles, use time-honoured Chinese cultural practices to gently illuminate the transformative developments in contemporary China’s urban and rural regions. Tooth, Tooth, visually and thematically links the loss of a little girl’s front tooth with the changes proposed for her neighbourhood. The ritual of throwing the lost tooth onto her Grandfather’s roof, so that she will grow tall, is reassuring. The roof has protected the family for generations and the child is propelled out of her bed and through the welcoming neighbourhood to find her Grandfather. A symbol painted on the walls of the little shops and homes indicate that these alleyways are scheduled for demolition. But the signs are faded and the atmosphere of the neighbourhood is happy, safe and joyful and so there is a suggestion that the inevitable changes will not be so destructive or, perhaps, as imminent.
Riddles, uses the Qingming Festival – Tomb Sweeping Day – to reunite a child and her loving grandmother, who appears in a fluffy cloud, for a happy day of play and stories. The illustrations portray the emotional strength that cultural festivals can bring even to the challenges of remembering the beloved dead. Though I could not fully understand the text, I was very moved by both these titles. As a recent, and very happy, resident in Shanghai I have been regularly confronted by my own ignorance and unacknowledged prejudices about contemporary Chinese life. This story and its richly detailed, representational illustrations gave me an insight into family life in the city and would, I’m sure, have a general appeal were its text to be accessible to non-Chinese readers.
It is hard for independent Chinese publishers to promote books in other languages, particularly in English where there seems to be an almost overwhelming offering already. But, there are some really outstanding titles being published here. For example, while I was in the editorial offices, we looked at a picture book in preparation and I felt the excitement book people feel when they see something very special. I can say no more (yet) but the man with the soup van who feeds the city’s night workers and some hungry cats, is a brilliant creation and I’m sure I’ve met him, more than once, coming home after a late night.
I am looking forward to discussing with CWI ways in which these and other titles can be shared with a wider range of readers.
The Visiting Publishers Fellowship is a six-day programme offering a small group of children’s book specialists insights into China’s publishing landscape and the opportunity to visit the Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair. Helen Limon will be presenting her findings from Shanghai at the upcoming European Literacy Network Winterthur Conference and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair at which China is the 2018 Guest of Honour.
 In the UK, I would see these being books that were read to or with children of a younger age group.