Rejected fairy tale transformed into a tale of success
A Chinese illustrator’s debut book inspired by her experience as an only child has been named as one of the best children’s books of 2015.
The Only Child by Guo Jing has received critical acclaim and was selected from thousands of titles for best-of lists published by The New York Times and the Washington Post.
Published in the United States in December, the book sold out on Amazon within two weeks, although as the author explained, “That’s partly because only 10,000 books were printed for the first edition. A second edition will be printed soon.”
The pencil-drawn story follows the adventures of a young girl who falls asleep on a bus and gets lost in a forest, where she meets a flying deer, a whale and a seal that help her to return home.
“It’s not just a tale of fantasy; it also reflects the lonely life of an only child in China in the 1980s,” said Guo, 32, who based the story on her experience growing up in Taiyuan, Shanxi province.
One day, she recalled, her father had been in a rush to get to work and left her at a bus stop to travel to her grandparents’ home. Like her character in The Only Child, Guo fell asleep on the way. When she awoke and got off the bus, she was in an unfamiliar forest.
“I felt scared and extremely lonely,” she said.
Guo started to draw the book three years ago while working in Singapore as an illustrator. To complete it, she quit her job and moved back to her hometown.
China’s one-child policy, which was scrapped with effect from Jan 1, had been in place since the late 1970s. According to estimates by demographer Yi Fuxian, the policy has meant that more than 200 million people grew up as the only child in their family.
However, even though many Chinese would likely empathize with the main character, Chinese publishers originally rejected The Only Child when Guo sent out her sketches in 2014.
Eventually, she was offered a deal by Schwartz and Wade, an arm of the publisher Random House. The company also nominated the work for The New York Times children’s book list, which is used as a reading guide by many parents.
The work has been compared with that of ChineseAustralian painter Chen Zhiyong, as well as Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman.
After seeing the response in the United States, Guo said about 20 Chinese companies contacted her and offered to publish her work. As a result, The Only Child will soon be published in her homeland through China Citic Press.
Although busy with media interviews and e-mails from readers, the artist is now working on her second book, which is about a “bigmouthed girl”.
Guo said she is now more confident about expressing herself and creating her own unique artistic language.
“I used to think art is what you do for the audience, but I finally understand now that art is what you express out of your heart,” she said.
Contact the writers through yandongjie@chinadaily. com.cn
An illustration in TheOnlyChild.