Jieli’s publishing program, particularly that of its original titles, embraces realism. For editor-in-chief Bai Bing, publishing is about telling stories that reflect the current lives of Chinese people and their children. “There are a lot of unique stories from this land,” Bai says, “ones that the Chinese people know and live through but that are not shared with the rest of world. For Jieli, it is time to bring out these stories.”
One such publication is the three-volume Rainbow Bird series, which is devoted to stories about children from China’s minority tribes (of which 55 are officially recognized). “There are immense differences between, say, the Miao tribe in the south, whose members rely primarily on farming for their livelihood, and the Evenki in the north, who thrive on hunting and fishing,” Bai says. “But there are also similarities in their cultures and aspirations, especially among the young people,” including issues such as relocation from traditional dwellings to public housing and even teenage angst. “This is about the social and emotional makeup of children from various tribes and their environment. In a way, it is a historical record of their unique identities and wonderful worlds, which will change with urbanization and economic development.”
Wang Luqi’s Give Me a Sun, released last December, addresses “one big discussion topic in China,” Bai says, namely, “the children left behind in rural areas while their parents work and live in the big cities, and the resulting concerns about abandonment, loss, longing, and separation anxieties.” Bai says that the author “manages to straddle the fine line between articulating the realities—mostly of the need for parents to travel far afield to find well-paying jobs to support the family and provide for their children’s education—and discussing the social and emotional issues associated with the lack of parental guidance and bonding.”
Zheng Chunhua’s A Sister and Two Little Brothers tackles divorce, two-parent households, and half-siblings. “The rising rate of divorce in China makes this an urgent topic,” Bai says. “The psychological and emotional effects of divorce and blended families are hardest on children, and yet in our polite society, there are few publications that address these issues from the children’s perspective and that are meant to be read by children. So, this title is both timely and necessary.”
While original stories about serious domestic topics are being developed, published, and tested in the market, the Jieli team is also enjoying success with past publications and new translations. Its bestselling 20-volume Monster Master series, for instance, was revised and launched last July; sales have already exceeded 15 million copies, making the series one of China’s top-grossing original works. “Children are drawn to this series because of the aspirations and dreams of its four young protagonists,” Bai says, “and because of the many life lessons on growing up strong, positive, and independent that are woven throughout the story line.”
Bear Grylls’s middle grade Mission Survival series is one of the biggest translation successes at Jieli since the series launched in 2014. Volumes 13 through 15 were published last year, and the total copies sold for the series have exceeded 8.38 million.
But while Grylls’s series continues to meet the market’s need for titles dealing with safety education, survival instinct, and courage, Bai is testing different topics and new formats. These include Lonely Planet Kids titles, specifically the four-volume Unfolding Journeys series as well as How Animals Build and How Cities Work. “The 1.8-meter-long accordion design of Unfolding Journeys, for example, is unique and resembles the scroll format of Chinese paintings—which is a great selling point,” Bai says. “Aside from that, it provides a deep look at the geographical, social, and historical aspects of four of the world’s greatest wonders, including the Great Wall of China.”
Bai’s team also published the Usborne First Sticker Books in a boxed set of six volumes. The Usborne China imprint, started by Bai in January 2017, is reaping the rewards of a market populated by discerning middle-class parents with more disposable income. Shifting market requirements have led Jieli Publishing House “to publish originals,” Bai says, “that address current and urgent issues in Chinese society—children left behind, blended families, and people with special needs, for instance—and to translate the best publications that offer children educational values and positive self-development skills.”