In the Chinese children’s book market, “the more words, the better” is a general truism. But now that the country is adding around 15 million newborns per year, publishers are looking beyond educational and illustrated titles. Publishing for infants and toddlers, however, are not as simple as A, B, C, or one, two, three.
“We encountered a major issue while working on Shuntaro Tanikawa’s MokoMokoMoko (Bloup! Bloup!), which uses abstract imagery to teach sounds, shapes, and colors,” says Li Xin, v-p and general editor at Thinkingdom Children’s Books, whose team also published titles for this age group by another Japanese author (Katsumi Komagata). “It stems from the language itself. The Japanese language is polysyllabic, and its basic writing system, hiragana, is a phonetic script. This is in direct contrast with Chinese characters, where each logogram is an entire sound, or monosyllabic. This means that while you can write out and imitate the sounds of wind blowing (‘pouf, pouf’) or of bubbling bubbles (‘bloup, bloup’) in hiragana, there is no such character or its equivalent in the Chinese language.”
Finding the best way to translate simple sounds or expressive interjections such as “ooooh” and “aaaah” into Chinese was alternately interesting, funny, and sometimes frustrating to Li and her team. “We get to understand even more about our own language and its uniqueness while appreciating the beauty and the less apparent aspects of other languages at the same time,” she says. “So while we are trying to publish in order to educate infants and toddlers, we are also educating ourselves in a different way,” Li adds, while pointing out that “the infant and toddler years are a time of great cognitive, emotional, and social development, and we see this space as one that is currently under-published in China.”
Even though there have been more titles for those ages three and below in the Chinese book market in recent years, most are novelty products and higher-priced foam or bath books, Li says.
“In order to differentiate our offerings, we are publishing innovative paper-and-ink titles that promote imaginative and lateral thinking in the young. It is never too early to start the learning process, and what better way than to deconstruct our language at the same time.”