The current offerings in the Chinese children’s book market are diverse, ranging from wordless books to pictorial titles, from real-life scenarios to futuristic plots, and from fully resolved endings to abstract finales. Witty explanations, wry humor, and whimsical plots are thrown into the mix to make the pages and stories come alive.
The goal? To get children to love reading and form lifelong reading habits—because that, more than anything, will ensure the longevity and prosperity of this book segment.
In recent months, the crowded marketplace and tightening margins have pushed Chinese publishers to further differentiate and innovate their publishing programs. They must produce titles that don’t just resonate with children but also appeal to parents and educators, who are the actual buyers. Satisfying the latter group means ensuring that plots are educational, empathetic, funny, kind, and supportive for growing children. In other words, the books need to offer moral and educational values.
Finding authors who can write entertainingly while communicating a positive and encouraging tone is tough. Add the need to find illustrators capable of interpreting those compelling messages with captivating visuals to grace the covers and pages, and the task gets even more complex.
But with every additional forum, workshop, and competition that is held on creating high-quality children’s books across China, new ideas and unique talents are being discovered. Some publishers, eager to jump-start the creative process, are scouting graduating students from prestigious institutions, such as the Chinese Art Academy, and signing up their debut works.
Increasingly, Chinese children’s authors are into experimenting, blending the old (from myths, legends, or historical facts) with the new and realistic (addressing current issues such as bullying, loneliness, and single-parenting). As for illustrators, they are not shying away from using different art styles—cliff painting, collage, montage, pen and ink, paper cutting, for instance—to convey their ideas. Some of the more established illustrators are going one step further by telling their own stories and creating their own picture books.
For publishers, mining the backlist for plots that never seem to go out of style, and diving into the slush pile for ideas that may now work, is par for the course. Updating pop science titles with new experiments and introducing pinyin (romanized) editions of bestselling products are two strategies that work well with a new generation of readers. And while authors and illustrators are busy creating new stories and keeping children captivated, Chinese publishers are working overtime to fine-tune marketing ideas, leverage new sales platforms, and obtain direct feedback from book buyers and readers beyond school and bookstore walls through social media platforms. New publishing ideas, twists to old plots, and critical feedback from children themselves are helping to keep the Chinese children’s-book market fresh, innovative, and exciting.
For some time now, Chinese publishers have used award-winning and bestselling translations as benchmarks in their original publishing programs. The reason is sound: the modern Chinese children’s book market is young, with its picture book industry barely a teenager. But the current crop of original titles has indicated big leaps in quality, imagination, and execution.
Here is a sampling of noteworthy original publications on offer, with descriptions provided by the publishers.
Acre Junior Library
Energy from the Sun
This book on solar energy reminds children that most of the energy sources available today are cumulated over a long period of time. It inspires children to think about future energy sources and how to develop them sustainably. (178 characters; ages 4–6)
Nuwa Created Man
Where do people come from? Different cultures have different explanations, and the Chinese have an ancient myth to offer as well. The illustrator uses cliff painting, an ancient technique that was used for creating murals on rock faces, to narrate the story. (105 characters; ages 4–6)
The Variable Dough
In China, flour is the main ingredient in various local delicacies, and for many children, these dishes are the unforgettable taste of their hometowns. Readers are sure to think about their favorite dough-based delicacies when looking at these pages! (37 characters; ages 4–6)
Who Am I?
On the road, I am a pedestrian. In a restaurant, I am a guest. At the park, I am a...? Different occasions require different behaviors and manners. Using short and repetitive sentences, this book shows children how to behave in different settings. (61 characters; ages 4–6)
Aurora Publishing House
Chinese Children and Chinese Year
These two picture books revolve around traditional Chinese culture. The protagonists assume the characters in the respective legends and explore concepts such as love, warmth, understanding, and teamwork. The embedded AR technology enhances and enriches the reader’s experience. (Two titles; ages 5–up)
Come On, Xiaobugu!
This series shows children different ways to solve problems through Xiaobugu’s adventures. It reveals a child’s complex and sensitive inner world as well as the issues he or she encounters while growing up. (Four titles; ages 5–up)
A Selection of Chinese Animal Novels
Shen Shixi et al.
This selection of outstanding novels covers the work of 10 Chinese writers who have made a great impact on animal-themed fiction-writing in children’s literature. (10 titles; ages 9–up)
Spring Tides and Childhood Series
Liao Xiaoqin et al.
The life of children in contemporary China is reflected in this set of original novel-length children’s works. The titles explore their dreams, loves, and growth during a fast-changing time and help them cope with the new era. (10 titles; ages 9–up)
Beijing Dandelion Children’s Book House
The Button Soldier
A button fell off, was picked up by the garbage truck, and rolled off onto the roadside. One day, it was found by a boy, who needed a replacement piece for his chess set. The button then became a pawn, and mysteries unfold in this wordless picture book illustrated by Jiu-er. (Ages 3–6)
Twelve Hound Puppies
The night comes to the Mongolian grasslands and the hound mother, nestled in a warm corner, starts to give birth. One puppy emerges after another. But where does one puppy go? Illustrated by Jiu-er, this picture book is a sensitive and caring take on life and death. (Ages 3–6)
BPG Bright Technology & Culture
Let’s Draw Together: Chinese Children and 12 Zodiac Signs
Children will obtain a basic knowledge of traditional Chinese art and culture, and learn to draw the Chinese zodiac from this book. They will learn to appreciate and evaluate this art form under the guidance of the author, a graduate of the Beijing-based Central Academy of Fine Arts. (Ages 7–14)
Singing the Classics: Beautiful Poetry
This book selects 40 ancient Chinese poems that are most suitable—and enjoyable—for children. The pages are accompanied by exquisite illustrations by well-known Chinese artists, thus providing a sense of beauty and pleasure. (Ages 7–14)
China Children’s Press & Publication Group
This sci-fi series revolves around 12-year-old Mu En, who lives with his grumpy grandfather in the town’s iron dump during the AI era. He dreams of becoming the champion of the blade league competition and also of looking for his mother, who left him when he was very young. (Four titles; ages 8–up)
All over China
Cao Wenxuan et al.
Created by more than 70 Chinese authors and illustrators, this series, in the form of a diary, describes the geography, landscape, culture, and interesting historical aspects of China and its 34 provincial-level administrative regions. It is a multifaceted discovery of the country’s beauty. (35 titles; ages 5–12)
A Long River
This first-ever Yellow River–themed picture book, which is in the form of a long scroll, provides an immersive reading experience. It showcases an ancient river that has nurtured the Chinese nation as well as a grand river that is closely linked in the people’s daily lives. (Ages 9–14)
The Mysterious Express Delivery Family
This YA action/adventure series is about young Xia Yitiao, an extraordinary teenager with incredible superhuman powers. Throughout his journey, he suffers great loss and heartache but also finds friendship, hope, and a true sense of belonging with his powerful and mysterious Express Delivery family. (Nine titles; ages 9–up)
Jieli Publishing House
A General History of Chinese Science and Technology
Containing hundreds of achievements across 14 major fields, these books showcase the breadth of Chinese science and technology, spanning 5,000 years. The series allows young readers to understand and appreciate the full extent of Chinese civilization. (Six titles; ages 13–18)
Mr. Octopus Series
The two titles in this cognitive-enlightenment picture book series—Mr. Octopus Sells Umbrella and Mr. Octopus’s Birthday—teach toddlers about number-matching and picture/color recognition and entertain with stories about family, friendship, and bonding. (Two titles; ages 2–5)
White Fox Dila Series
This series presents a complex and sophisticated world of animal civilization. In it, white fox Dila and his friends pursue clues and embark on an adventure that takes them into a wonderful and imaginative world. An inspiring story about an animal dreaming of becoming a human being, this series is already available in English, French, and German. (Six titles; ages 7–12)
Wolf Cub Fenrir and I
From renowned writer Gerelchimeg Blackcrane comes a story about a captured little wolf returning to the wild. This first wolf-themed book from the writer is about debunking the “big, bad wolf” stereotype. (Ages 7–12)
PHEI (Children’s Books Division)
Chinese Architectures in 3D
There are many great ancient buildings in the vast land of China that are quite different from those in the West. Through these pages filled with complex pop-ups, children travel around China and get to know the fabulous architectural gems and learn the wisdom of the ancient Chinese. (Ages 3–6)
Humanities and Geography for Children
Gaiti Cultural and Creative Co.
This two-volume series follows China’s two most important rivers, the Yellow River and the Yangtze River. Children will read about the nature, geography, culture, and history of these river valleys. Filled with traditional Chinese paintings, this series is both artistic and informative. (Two titles; ages 7–10)
Thinkingdom Children’s Books
As Dead as a Dodo
Dodos, passenger pigeons, thylacines... they once inhabited the Earth, but now they are gone forever. The disappearance of any species is a step toward loneliness for mankind. This warm story is aimed at raising awareness of animal and environmental protection.(Ages 7–up)
The History of Chinese People, Vol. 3
This volume, subtitled Starry Sky Above the Warring States, covers the Warring States period, which was one of the most influential in Chinese history. Its scholar-officials, represented by philosophers, rose as the new political elite, and their doctrines influenced the governmental structures and cultural patterns that characterized China 2,200 years ago. (Ages 7–up)
The Song of Everlasting Sorrow
Written 1,200 years ago, this Tang Dynasty poem is a masterpiece in Chinese poetry. It narrates a tragic love story between the emperor and his noble consort during wartime. Two current Chinese painters, Wu Sheng and Yu Shui, use traditional silk painting to recreate this story. (Ages 5–up)
Wonderlands: A Magical Atlas
The author takes the reader to 10 places where beloved children’s classics were born, referencing works such as Harry Potter, The BFG, and Alice in Wonderland. Through anecdotes and stories, from inside and outside the books, the author paints a magical and enchanting fairy tale atlas for the reader. (Ages 7–up)