A girl from a small town in China spends a day visiting her aunt in Shanghai in I See the Sun in China, a paperback released this month by Satya House Publications. Written by Dedie King and illustrated by Judith Inglese, this is the inaugural title in a series of picture books portraying the daily lives of children from various countries. Written in the voice of a child, each bilingual book translates the English text into the protagonist’s native language. The second title in the series, I See the Sun in Nepal, is due in November.
King explains that the series had a rather organic beginning: she first wrote an earlier version of the book that is set in Nepal, where she was a Peace Corps volunteer in the mid-1960s and now visits regularly. “I have a good friend in Nepal who started an after-school learning center for lower-caste children, and she told me that it is important for them to learn English so that they can get into better schools,” she says. “So I decided to write a very simple story about daily life in Nepal from a child’s point of view, and present it in both Nepali and English to help those children learn the language.”
Working with photographs, King’s longtime friend Inglese created collage art to illustrate that story, the original edition of which had limited distribution in Nepal only. Author and illustrator, who have both traveled extensively, saw the potential for creating a series of books set in other parts of the world. “We decided to use as a guiding theme the idea that people all over the world live their lives by the sun—we get up with the sun and go to be with the sun,” King observes. “And in all countries, no matter how different the cultures and traditions, a child’s daily routine is basically the same. There are chores, school, and, most importantly, the closeness of family.”
Inglese, who has illustrated books for her own children, notes that she and King work closely together to create the I See the Sun books. “Ours is not the typical process of an author writing a text and an artist then illustrating it,” she says. “We spend a lot of time communicating ideas. I might tell Dedie that I have an idea for a picture I’d like in a book and she’ll write that in, so we accommodate each other. It’s been a wonderful collaboration.”
The illustrator chose to create the books’ art from photos, cut paper, and drawings in hopes of better connecting young readers to the settings. “I also do ceramic murals, which almost have the quality of collage,” she says. “So I had the idea of starting with photographs to give a sense of reality, and then adding the drawing and cut paper to make it more accessible to children, so they could put themselves more easily into the picture and become involved with it.”
The text of the second language included in the books (in I See the Sun in China, it is Mandarin Chinese) is hand-lettered, which King and Inglese both say enhances the art. “The calligraphy is in essence another form of art, and it is great to expose readers to these different alphabets and give them a chance to see how they are written,” Inglese notes.
King and Inglese, who both live in central Massachusetts, where Satya House is located, submitted the proposal for their series to Julie Murkette, president and publisher of the company. Founded in 2003, Satya House primarily publishes nonfiction for adults (the company also has a separate book and Web site design arm). “I initially didn’t intend to publish children’s books at all, but this project was so compelling that I wanted to take it on,” she says. “As I started talking to Dedie and Judith, we realized all the possibilities for a series like this. We reworked the original Nepal book for the American market and then started talking about other settings.”
I See the Sun installments set in Afghanistan, India, and Israel and Palestine (the last two in a single volume) are due in 2011; and titles set in Indonesia, Russia, Korea, and Brazil are scheduled for 2012. Murkette, who is marketing the series to institutional outlets as well as to the trade, emphasizes that the books are entirely apolitical. “The books may be set in countries that are very much in the news today, but there are no political issues involved,” she explains. “Though politics may be swirling around kids, their basic needs are still family, friends, shelter, and play. This is true in every country. Children are children no matter where they live.”
I See the Sun in China and I See the Sun in Nepal by Dedie King, illus. by Judith Inglese. Satya House Publications (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, dist.), $12.95 paper Oct.; Nov. ISBN 978-0-9818720-5-6; -9-4