Creating books for little people who have just started crawling and saying their first words or for older ones who are too preoccupied with schoolwork to read is hardly child’s play. Add the need to subtly weave in logic and reasoning skills or impart life lessons and inspiring messages, and the task becomes incredibly daunting. But it is a challenge that Chinese children’s publishers have embraced wholeheartedly.
Generally speaking, China’s children’s book industry is very young. Its experience with picture books, for instance, goes back fewer than 15 years, making it a relative newcomer compared to the American and European markets. Middle grade is a new category here, and YA titles are just starting to get noticed. There has been a lot of catching up to do, and in most parts, translations have been brought in to pick up the slack. But now, Chinese publishers, writers, and illustrators are working overtime to utilize the knowledge and inspiration gained from imported titles and overseas publishing houses to create original works that are quintessentially Chinese and yet universal and contemporary.
Their stories run the gamut, from addictively adventurous to wittily whimsical, but the cast of characters is always engaging, inspiring, and relatable, making them appealing to children both in and outside of China.
Many new voices are joining established names—Cao Wenxuan, Peng Xuejun, Yang Hongying, Shen Shixi, and Tang Sulan, for instance—to further enrich the offerings of original works from China. Talented illustrators from across the country are starting to participate in the many seminars, workshops, and competitions, both national and international, and to submit their works for publication.
The increasing presence (and creation) of single-volume picture books marks a major turning point in an industry widely known for its preference for multivolume series. More often than not, the pages deliver a moral message or educational values, which, again, is what Chinese parents and educators seek in their children’s books. This also drives the popularity of nonfiction titles in China. The educational slant is unmistakable.
Plot-wise, authors draw inspiration from the mythical, the fantastical, and the real world. Current social issues in China—such as divorce and blended families, children left behind in rural areas, and the aging population—are also addressed, often with a healthy dose of pragmatism.
On the other hand, the new styles and mediums used by young illustrators are adding variety and excitement to the traditional (and popular) Chinese watercolor and line-and-wash techniques. These trends speak of a maturing market in which publishers, authors, and illustrators are daring and confident enough to experiment and test the waters. At the end of the day, the Chinese children’s book market is becoming more diverse, in terms of both its product types and its book themes.
But it is the enthusiasm of the Chinese children’s book publishers that stands out most. Discussions of new titles or illustrators are filled with anticipation, excitement, and passion. The often arduous editorial process is taken in stride and with pride. For these publishers, the fact that they are discovering new and exceptional talent for writing and illustration is a celebration in itself.
Here is a sampling of the original publications on offer, with descriptions provided by the publishers.
Anhui Children’s Publishing House
Food for Children series
This series, based on the taste of food and the author’s childhood memories, is about going through the growing-up process with courage and a positive attitude. (Six titles; ages 3–8.)
Little Frogman’s Travel series
From one of China’s bestselling children’s authors comes a whole new world under the sea, with fantastical adventures that convey messages of courage, love, and wisdom. (Five titles; ages 7–12.)
Beijing Dandelion Children’s Book House
Cats Living in a Tree
A heartwarming story about kindness, trust,
happiness, and goodwill, this picture book explores the relationship between humans and all living creatures, including stray cats. (Ages 3–6.)
Granny Yulan’s Grass Hat
This story shows that spending time with the elderly and helping them to realize the dreams they once had are perhaps the best expressions of love for them. (Ages 3–10.)
Granny Xiu and Peach-Blossom Fish
In a small village in a big mountain, there runs a little river filled with many peach-blossom fish (that make for a delicious dish) and there lives a witch who fascinates the village children. (Ages 3–6.)
Zhu Dake’s Chinese Myth series
Based on Chinese culinary culture, history, and philosophy, these books bring to life the magical world of taste and food in ancient lands and the rise of Jiangrong, the son of a god. (Five titles; ages 6–14.)
China Children’s Press & Publication Group
The Happy Milly, Molly and Lily series
Jill Pitta and Gao Hongbo
Readers are introduced to the main characters Milly and Molly in the first 60 titles of this series; Lily, a Chinese girl, joins the cast in the last 10. Each story provides young readers with important tips on character building and developing a positive attitude. (70 titles; ages 5–8.)
The Mouse Is on the Candleholder Again
Based on a popular folk rhyme, this picture book is about a mouse climbing up onto the candleholder. It is soon followed by another mouse, and yet another… and then a cat, another cat… Then there is a dog! Squeaks, meows, and barks fill the pages. (Ages 3–6.)
Red Kangaroo’s the Thousand Whys of Physics series
This picture book series features Q&A sessions between a professor and a red kangaroo, during which physics—including classical mechanics, optics, and quantum physics—is explained through simple terms. Parents would also benefit from learning that physics is not that scary. (20 titles; ages 3–6.)
Xi Jinping Tells Stories (for Teenagers)
Edited by the People’s Daily
A collection of 47 insightful stories based on the newspaper column of the same name, this book is about helping teenagers to build confidence and self-esteem and cultivate the right moral values and perspectives on the world. (Ages 10–16.)
China Welfare Institute Publishing House
Little Rabbit’s Questions
This warm and sweet story follows Little Rabbit, who is curious about many things and asks a lot of questions. But no matter how many questions he has or how weird the questions are, Mommy Rabbit remains patient in providing the answers. (Ages 3–up.)
The author explores the depth of affection and the emotional bond between a granddaughter and her grandmother through plain but vivid riddles—about smoke, cauliflower, an earthworm, bamboo, a snail, and sunshine, for instance—accompanied by beautifully illustrated pastoral scenes. (Ages 5–up.)
Everafter Books Publishing House
24 Hours, 24 Professions, One Day
This nonfiction picture book illustrates what happens in 24 hours for 24 people with different professions. It helps children understand more about how society works and inspires them to think about what to do when they grow up. (Ages 7–10.)
Dodo and Auntie Magic series
Imagine what your life would be like if you had an aunt with magical powers? Let Dodo tell you through these stories filled with imagination, creativity, and lots of fun! (Four titles; ages 5–8.)
Ms. Snail and the Kindergartners
The author skillfully creates twists and turns using the characteristic traits of a snail and wittily integrates cognitive content into these stories, which are very creative and appealing to young readers. (Ages 2–5.)
Within Pictures and Beyond Texts
Leonard Marcus et al.
The very first professional research journal on picture books in China, this quarterly publication will explore a key theme of picture books in each volume and aims to aid those who wish to gain a better understanding of picture books. Experts from China, France, and the U.S. will contribute to this journal.
Jieli Publishing House
Set in the 1980s, this warm picture book is about a sensitive girl searching for her own identity in a completely unfamiliar environment while her father tries awkwardly to shelter and take care of her. (Ages 4–6.)
I Want Strawberry
This is a fairy tale about a brave and determined little snail who learns about a strawberry patch on the opposite side of the forest and is focused on getting there and eating one of the sweet berries. (Ages 3–5.)
When the gaming center in a small town is destroyed, a group of children is rudely cast out of their virtual world into the real world. The group splits in two and creates their own new game that gets several newcomers involved. (Ages 9–12.)
Rainbow Bird Minorities Children Literature series
Zuo Hong and Wang Yongying
This series, based on real-life stories about China’s minority children and youths, provides a glimpse of the less-known inner worlds of different indigenous groups, their attitudes toward life, and their aspirations. (Three titles; ages 9–12.)
The Last War
Shen Shixi and Marius Zavadskis
Illustrated by Marius Zavadskis, this book tells a story about an old war elephant named Gasuo, whose life will end very soon. This is a moving story about heroism and loyalty. (Ages 3–up.)
Rewritten by Kids Media
The awesome story in this Ninjago comic book series will ignite children’s reading interest! Experience wonderful animation content and appreciate the cool comic style, Ninja Go! (10 titles; ages 6–up.)
Thinkingdom Children’s Books
The Beauty of the Solar Terms
The 24 solar terms originated in China thousands of years ago. This book presents the wisdom of the ancient Chinese people and their unique understanding of time and space. It also contains the history of Chinese characters, the Song of Solar Terms, and different customs across the country. (Ages 7–up.)
Nature Notes on the 24 Solar Terms
Zhu Aichao, a famous primary school principal and Chinese language teacher, leads her students on an excursion and records their observations of nature. Combining 24 solar terms related to knowledge and a child’s perspective on the beauty of nature, the book also presents the methods of note-taking outside the classroom. (Ages 7–up.)
Only You and Me at That Time
This exquisitely illustrated picture book is full of imagination. Divided into eight parts, it covers dialogues between a girl and trees, clouds, gardens, stars, rain, rivers, and more. In a poetic narration, the girl grows up, knows the world, and understands herself. (Ages 10–up.)
Training Camp for the Talented
A group of teenagers from across China with different family backgrounds attends a bizarre training camp led by a mysterious robot. They need to hand over all electronic and communication devices to enter a game. Which one of them will become the most talented? (Ages 10–up.)