With the 12th anniversary of Beijing Dandelion Children’s Book House just around the corner, founder and editor-in-chief Sally Yan has embarked on a personal project to reread and reexamine her company’s bestsellers. “Over time, language changes and illustrations become outdated,” Yan says, “and these must be revised for the new editions.” The exercise also provides insights into market needs and preferences and generates new ideas for future publications, she says. “It ensures that every one of our titles is of top-notch quality all the time and that we continue to assess each title even after it has been published and continues to sell very well.”
In general, Yan’s 12 editors spend a lot of time reading and revising the titles. “Market demand changes, and that means we must reread, reedit, and redesign as needed,” Yan says. “Publishing is not static, especially when children are the target market: we must keep pace with the times, the audience, and technology.”
Beijing Dandelion’s publishing schedule has been hectic. The new edition of Aleksandra Mizielinska and Daniel Mizielinski’s Maps was released last November with a 60,000-copy print run, which sold out within three months. Nearly one million copies of the previous edition have been sold. The team also published three titles from Finnish illustrator Mauri Kunnas, all of which became immediate bestsellers.
With Scholastic relaunching The Magic School Bus series to coincide with the broadcast of its animated series in China, Beijing Dandelion is poised to see even higher sales figures than usual. Each year, the series, in various formats, sells upward of 500,000 copies, and it has remained the number one children’s series in China since its launch in 2010.
As for Granny Xiu and Peach-Blossom Fish, Peng Xuejun’s original picture book about a witch who teaches children not to judge a person by her appearance, more than 60,000 copies have been sold since November 2017. “Children are mystified by Granny Xiu, a witch who goes everywhere with her cat, and they love the rather abstract ending to the story,” says Yan.
Twelve Hound Puppies, by author Gerelchimeg Blackcrane and illustrator Jiu Er, is one of several new picture books released by Beijing Dandelion in the past six months. The story, which revolves around the birth of 11 Mongolian puppies and the death of one, conveys an understanding of life, joy, death, and grief. “On the other hand, we have Grandma Yulan’s Grass Hat by Jiu Er and Xiao Xiaolan, which offers the dreamworld of a beloved granny who has never traveled anywhere, and thus has not seen the ocean or the forest or many of the things that people and children today take for granted,” Yan says, noting that the illustrator is Jiu Er’s niece and used patchwork illustrations for the title.
Then there is Cats Living in a Tree, a story about a group of vagabond cats and their survival. “The fact is, during winter, many feral cats do not survive the cold,” Yan says, “and, sometimes, they are killed when the vehicle under which they are hiding rolls over them. Or people accidentally poison them when they are trying to exterminate rats. So this story is both factual and endearing, and more interestingly, the illustrator is Jiu Er’s younger sister. So you can say that we have uncovered a lot of talent in one family.”
The need to strengthen Beijing Dandelion’s distribution and marketing efforts led Yan to bring in Wang Yue, former head of the children’s division at China’s biggest online bookstore, Dangdang, last April. Wang, who is familiar with Beijing Dandelion’s list, has aggressively placed more titles in brick-and-mortar stores, such as Xixifu and others that offer more reading services and book-related activities. At the newly established Page One bookstore in Beijing, for instance, the team sells at least 300 copies of Maps every month.
“Our list will continue to be a mix of carefully selected translations and originals,” Yan says. “At the end of the day, before we choose to publish a title, we ask ourselves two questions: Will the story or values within it affect the child’s development positively, and will the story resonate with them? If the answers are yes, then we go ahead with it. But that does not mean that we cherry-pick only the feel-good titles. A child needs to grow and be able to handle different emotions and thoughts—beautiful and ugly, imagined and real—and our publishing program reflects that.”