“The more words, the better” is a general truism of the Chinese children’s book market. Chinese parents and educators always want more words for children to learn and more paragraphs to relay additional information. A book’s value often is tied to the quantity of text on its pages.
But the team at Thinkingdom Children’s Books has proven that wordless books do work in China. Their success with Aaron Becker’s Journey trilogy, Mitsumasa Anno’s Anno’s Journey, Christa Holtei’s Die Strasse, and Jörg Müller’s The Changing Countryside, for instance, speaks volumes about their expertise in promoting and marketing unique works.
“The number of words is not essential to a child’s enjoyment of a picture book,” says Li Xin, v-p and general editor of the children’s books division. “Often, children perusing picture books have not started reading on their own yet. They see details in illustrations that adults may not pay attention to or notice. Through shapes, colors, or the illustrations’ sense of movement, children can unerringly figure out what the author is trying to convey. In this regard, parents, who are used to text-filled pages, are the ones less accepting of wordless picture books.”
So, the challenge, Li says, lies in making wordless titles attractive to parents, who are the buyers. “Take Becker’s Journey as an example: It is about a lonely little girl who draws a magic door on her bedroom wall and through it escapes into a world of wonder and adventure. Before our Chinese edition was published, we organized an event with a question in the title: ‘If you had a magic pen that could make your dreams come true, what would you draw?’ The goal was to fire up the participants’ imaginations, interact with readers, and announce the book launch.”
Once the book was published, this question was reused as an introduction to the title together with a cryptic tag line, “A little girl and a door…” Additional author information was shared with readers, including the inspiration behind the book, the creative process, and the advantages of wordless picture books.
Through Thinkingdom’s social media accounts and website, Li’s team also provided tips on making full use of such books. “We encouraged parents to record their narration of Journey to their children and share that recording with us and other parents,” Li says. These activities, plus an extensive promotional campaign on Dangdang, saw Journey reprinted twice within the first month.
A different approach was used for Anno’s Journey. The team provided a detailed reading guide to help parents navigate the book’s intricate paintings and visual puzzles. “For The Changing Countryside, we organized a mini exhibition to let readers view the evolving landscape for themselves,” says Li, whose team is adept at tweaking its promotional strategies to best highlight each title’s unique features for the Chinese market.