Beijing Yutian Hanfeng’s full-color 222-page catalogue is a testament to the company’s dedication to design and art: every page, highlighting a particular series of books, is beautifully illustrated and meticulously designed.
“When it comes to books, content is important. But the aesthetic aspect is no less crucial,” president An Hongmin says. “Good quality illustrations and masterful rendering of important details add immense value to a picture book. Low-quality and inaccurate illustrations can create misinformation and confusion in children.” Furthermore, An says, children are never too young to develop an appreciation for quality art and illustrations. “An appreciation for art encourages imagination, creativity, exploration, self-expression, and logical thinking. If we want to nurture good illustrators, then art training should begin as early as possible, and it starts by making sure the illustrations that we have in our titles right now are accurate and of the highest quality possible.”
An’s passion for illustration runs deep. “I dreamed of being an illustrator when I was a kid,” An says. “But there was no proper guidance or professional certification for such a career during that time. The next best thing was to be a children’s book publisher, nurture talented illustrators, and provide them with a platform to promote their work. I have been doing just that for the past 18 years through Beijing Yutian Hanfeng.”
The slow and steady growth of the company, with its wide-ranging products for kids up to age 18, reflects An’s temperament and personality. He believes in “no peaks and valleys and in working totally within [the company’s] own means and resources”: “We have around 110 people in this company, and nearly half of them are illustrators and editors. The whole team works together to select a specific topic for the publishing program and then to find the best books—originals or translations—within that topic. In selecting a title, we ask ourselves, What message does this book convey to children? And how should it be presented?”
Some titles, An says, require more effort. “Take Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again as an example: the verse format was something new to the market, and the moving story on war, immigration, family, and politics was not exactly a feel-good read for children. But our editors were adamant on translating and presenting it as a ‘looking-forward-to-a-better-future’ title. The book was well-received by parents, educators, and children, with many schools recommending it as part of the reading list.”
Lai’s book is one of the 50 titles in Beijing Yutian Hanfeng’s award-winning children’s literature series, which has sold about 10.1 million copies. The plan, says An, is to have 100 titles in total. “We are known for several bestselling multiseries programs. For instance, in 2012, we launched one picture book program targeting 3-to-6-year-olds, with each series containing six titles. It is now in its 10th series with sales upward of 10 million copies. Another program featuring 20 titles with stories by classic and popular Chinese authors has sold 8.1 million copies.”
The company’s current catalogue offers around 3,000 titles, with about 250 new ones added annually. Translated titles include Tony Abbott’s The Secrets of Droon, Colleen Houck’s Tiger’s Curse, H. I. Larry’s Zac Power, Jedda Robaard’s beautiful lift-the-flap boardbook series, and Sam Swope’s I Am a Pencil. An says, “Working on translations and with international authors, illustrators, and publishers gives us the opportunity to further improve our editorial and publishing expertise and helps us understand different markets. This lays the foundation that we need to develop high-quality original titles for export.”
In recent years, An has also ventured into animation. “It is a great opportunity to learn a new industry and explore the possibilities,” An says. “Furthermore, as we continue to develop original titles, we will have more content that can cross over and be transformed into animation and multimedia products.” Mojo Spy is broadcast on China Central Television and various domestic TV stations, and Monster Family Adventure is available through iQiyi, one of China’s largest online video sites with more than 500 million monthly active users. The sequel to Mojo Spy was showcased at the 2010 Annecy International Animation Film Festival in France.
An says, “Publishing is an ever-evolving industry, shaped by ongoing creativity, changing consumer demands, and new technologies. This means that we—as publishers, editors, or marketing staff—must continue to learn and evolve, be prepared to tackle challenges head-on, and grab opportunities as they come along.”