While the pop-science segment remains as popular (pun intended) as ever in China, there has been a noticeable increase in the publication of titles related to plants. This trend, says Huang Xiaoyan, founder and publisher of Everafter Books, is perhaps best explained by the country’s accelerating urbanization. “In general, the Chinese children, who tend to read more books and have better access to bookstores and libraries live in the big cities, which are growing even bigger,” Huang says. “With the concrete jungles around them rapidly expanding, these children gravitate toward titles that uncover the wonders of nature and are filled with trees, flowers, and animals. For urban parents, getting their children to experience nature through books is perhaps the next best thing to actually living near a forest or park.” Everafter Books published Katarzyna Bajerowicz’s The Amazing World of a Tree last August and recently bought the Welcome to the Museum series from Big Picture Press/Bonnier Publishing.
Everafter Books will bring out Animalium and Botanicum from the Welcome to the Museum series in April and June, respectively, and Dinosaurium and Planetarium are scheduled for simultaneous launches in September. “This is going to be one of our most important series in 2019,” says Huang, who considers “finding an expert to translate and another to double-check the translation to be the biggest challenge for the series. Then there is the matter of sourcing a high-quality printing house, because, when it comes to unique titles like these four, we want to do whatever is necessary to make them as beautiful and exquisite as possible for our young readers.”
Li Xin, v-p and general editor at Thinkingdom Children’s Books, shares Huang’s sentiments on urbanization and agrees that the resultant longing for nature is the main driver behind the rising demand for plant titles. “Finding the most distinctive titles in this special category is the biggest challenge,” Li says. “At first sight, the book has to appeal to me: I want pages that are visually attractive, that invoke the full range of emotions and imagination, and that are accompanied by artfully curated information and facts.”
When Li first flipped through Maki Arai’s picture books Dandelion, Morning Glory, and Sunflower, for instance, she was “deeply moved by the Japanese artist’s refined and meticulous illustrations,” she says. “She drew more than 100 seeds in Sunflower, each one different from the next, while in Dandelion, there are hundreds of white fluffs on the pages. These books also realistically depict the growing process of the plant.” Ruth Symons Helen Ahpornsiri’s A Year in the Wild, created entirely using hand-pressed plants, is another title that impressed Li with its poetic sense of the changing seasons and the wonders of nature and life. Li also translated Anne Möller’s Über Land und durch die Luft, which is about seed dispersal and is now a science reading textbook in many elementary schools in China; sales have exceeded 928,000 copies.
There is no shortage of good illustrators in China, Li says, “but we need more time to discover and cultivate those who are able to execute the kind of illustrations required for this type of book. They need to be more creative and possess the relevant scientific knowledge to render the art accurately. For now, we are happy to select and translate outstanding titles on plants from overseas and share them with children and illustrators across the country.”
Plenty of original works about the world of plants hail from the China Welfare Institute Publishing House, including Chen Yuhua’s Night-Blooming Flowers, Guo Zhiwu’s The Maize, Wang Zibao’s The Birth of the Forest, Xu Bin’s Bamboo and Me, and Xu Xiaosen’s Where Do the Seeds Go? The Maize and Where Do the Seeds Go? have sold upward of 50,000 copies each.
“We started publishing such books in 2013, and we have paid attention to the rising market demand in recent months,” says Yu Lan, president of China Welfare Institute Publishing House. Determining the most pertinent aspects of each subject—whether it be bamboo or maize—is one of the three main challenges in publishing titles on plants, Yu says. “Then there is the issue of how to best guide the children in their exploration of the subject: How do we develop the subject and then narrate and illustrate it to make sense to children? Lastly, there is the need to correctly identify topics that are of real interest to them. If the interest is only fleeting at best, then the information on the pages is not going to add any value at all.”
Yu and her team will bring out a major series of six picture books on plants (and animals) within the next six months. The series, The Natural Museum That You Can Take Home, has been selected as a key national publishing project, and one of the plant-specific titles is Leaves Are Crazy with Heteromorphic Forms, Too. “This is an entertaining and educational series that answers children’s curiosity about nature and their thirst for knowledge,” Yu says. “The titles can also be used as guidebooks to help parents and children explore their environment and get a deeper understanding, and appreciation, of nature and the plants around us.”
For a publisher named after a hardy and edible weed, no catalogue would be complete without plant-related titles, and Beijing Dandelion Children’s Book House does not disappoint. “Our key nature series, Tatsuhide Matsuoka and Tomomi Shimoda’s Be Friends with Nature, revolves around the world of berries, flowers, fruits, fungi, and seaweed,” says company founder and editor-in-chief Sally Yan, whose team launched the series in 2010. It has sold more than 60,000 sets thus far.
Most plant titles for children in China have lots of photographs to go with the text, Yan says. “That is the preferred format for this market. But we need to differentiate our offerings, and so we always choose to work with interesting illustrations and funny or unique narration instead. This series by Matsuoka and Shimoda provides all the information needed at that age level with beautiful, accurate, and detailed illustrations. What is there not to like?”
To create buzz for Beijing Dandelion’s plant-related titles, Yan and her team have created special activities to get children, and their parents, to venture outside and get closer to nature. “These activities include identifying some common plants and searching for the less common ones,” Yan says. “The idea is to fortify what children have learned through the search-and-find activity while forming a lasting impression of a particular plant that they are not able to find. Getting them to send in photos of the plants they managed to locate makes the activity more fun and purposeful.”
Books on plants and animals “are important to the growing-up process,” Yan says. “Children need to get closer to nature and to enjoy and appreciate what it has to offer. The accelerating pace of deforestation, the extinction of species, and global warming means that we really need to make sure that the younger generation knows—and remains aware of—the challenges facing our world and the world of flora and fauna.”