Pursuing young readers

  • Source:China Daily | Mei Jia | 2018-05-07

Publishers ink deals at this year's Bologna Children's Book Fair to sell Chinese titles abroad, Mei Jia reports.

While translating a speech by the Chinese author Gerelchimeg Blackcrane during the 55th Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy in March, Florence-based Jacopo Lasala choked up with tears, causing many audience members to also understand the emotions the writer was conveying through a story.

Blackcrane, who is from the ethnic Mongolian community in China, told the story So Round, So Red about a mother bear looking for a special fruit that would save her cub.

The story is about aging and the relationship between parents and children, and about death.

"It just touched a very deep part of me. I was trying to smile at the audience while struggling to swallow my tears," Lasala, founder of the startup Synvision, tells China Daily.

This year's book fair held from March 26 to 29 saw the largest-ever presentation of children's publishers, writers and illustrators from China at a global book fair. The Chinese delegation of 300 hosted book launches and talks, and exhibited 4,000 books at the fair, where China was the main guest country.

According to organizers, attending Chinese publishers also made more than 800 deals to sell the copyrights for Chinese titles in the international market.

"I hope the Chinese professionals' active work, positive attitude, as well as their attention to the needs of Chinese students would be inspiring for their foreign peers and give them some confidence to reignite the passion for culture and literature," Lasala says.

Audience numbers at the fair's China pavilion were big and the area was "packed with foreign publishers that were attracted by this newly discovered Chinese creativity".

Elena Pasoli, group product manager of BolognaFiere, the fair's main organizer, says: "We decided to invite China to be the guest of honor because it is one of the most interesting countries in terms of cultural heritage and attention to the new generations."


She also spoke about the development of children's publishing in China in the last 10 years.

Other than cultural exchanges, a series of events at the fair gave both exhibitors and visitors the opportunity to familiarize themselves with Chinese authors and illustrators.

During some of the symposiums held to introduce publishing trends and to boost cooperation with China, Bai Bing, the editor-in-chief of Jieli Publishing House, one of China's leading publishers of children's books, said the home market is among the world's largest.

"It is open and attractive, and is growing now," Bai says.

Whatever the changes expected to come through the application of big data or high technology in the publishing sector in the future, Bai, a celebrated writer of children's books himself, says good stories will matter.

"With the story, writers should feel for children, show their understanding of humanity and obtain a certain global perspective."

A fan of Chinese culture, who had seen a Monkey King picture book as a child, Lasala wants to respect everything in nature. "We are just passengers on this raft that drifts us into space for the limited amount of time we have," he says.

"Those are basic principles of Chinese culture, some of which we (Westerners) used to share, some of which we lost along the way. I would like to teach my children those things. If kids can imagine a different world, they can make a different world."

He would like to see a world where the newer generations grow up with less stereotyping and less prejudice.

According to Li Xueqian, veteran publisher and former president of China Children's Press and Publication Group, Chinese publishers are emphasizing original ideas. In 2016, 72 percent of the children's books published in China were created by domestic writers and illustrators, while 28 percent were translations of titles bought from abroad.

During the Bologna fair, 108 selected original titles were exhibited in 22 languages.

"Books on science and fantasy are on the rise," Li says.

A Chinese publisher tends to buy the copyrights for only classical and quality foreign titles, according to Bai.

Xu Zhengming, an official with the State Administration of Press and Publication, says at a symposium at the fair about trends in the children's book market that repetitive publishing of some titles happens in China, and the administration will support more original creations with funds and policies in the future.

"Love and life, dreams and growth-these are themes shared by writers everywhere," Xu says.

"We have a huge market in China, and what the writers need to do is to extend their imaginations and further promote quality," Qin Wenjun, a celebrated Chinese writer of children's books based in Shanghai, says.

Qin's Bear Bun series created along with six younger writers has become so popular that a mobile game was released recently.

In a market of 371 million readers, with an average annual growth rate of more than 10 percent in recent years, children's books account for a quarter of the country's publishing business.

Literature, picture books and encyclopedias are the top three genres that make up 74 percent of the books for children and teenagers in China.

"The problem is that the readers have too many choices," Li says.

His group will cut down on the number of titles to be published this year, and try to instead offer more quality works.


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