Putting a new spin on ordinary stories—about annual festivals, childhood rituals, and traditional games and snacks, for instance—to appeal to a new generation of readers keeps the China Welfare Institute Publishing House (CWIPH) busy. Founded by Soong Ching-ling (aka Madame Sun Yat-sen) in 1950 with the goal of “giving what is most precious to children,” the publishing house now offers more than 1,000 titles and publishes about 200 new titles annually.
“We want to tell good stories about China that go beyond great illustrations and feel-good plots,” explains CWIPH president Yu Lan. “While there is a lot of content out there, more work, and time, is needed to elevate the quality of both the illustrations and the plot.”
For Yu, who constantly looks to improve a title, the work is not done even after the book is published. “Some illustrations in Summer Comes, one of the titles in our bestselling Seasons series, for example, are being redrawn because I feel that they need to be more vivid than what is actually seen in nature, which unfolds less conspicuously over time,” Yu says. “We need a high degree of ‘oomph’ and ‘wow’ factors to draw in young readers and hold their attention, and all illustrations and story lines must reflect these requirements.”
Multilayered plots are the norm at CWIPH. Take Wei Jie’s Home for Chinese New Year, which follows a construction worker’s tedious journey (via train, bus, motorbike, and ferry) home to his family in a little village. “This story is not just about the world’s biggest human migration during China’s most important holiday,” says Yu, who has produced the English edition and is selling it in the U.S. “It also explores the emotional aspects before, during, and after the annual family reunion.” Liu Xun’s Tooth, Tooth, Throw It onto the Roof, on the other hand, depicts an old childhood ritual of throwing one’s baby tooth onto the roof while examining the effect of urbanization on architecture and lifestyle; more than 100,000 copies have been sold.
“Our stories often strike a chord with members of the older generation, who are keen to preserve their childhood memories and share them with their children or grandchildren,” says Yu. CWIPH plans “to continue developing such stories for Chinese children and to share them with readers worldwide.”