China’s children’s books are enjoying a boom at home, and now publishers are looking to overseas markets. Zhang Kun reports from Shanghai.
Publishers are looking to overseas markets for China’s children’s books, which have enjoyed a boom at home.
Adults in China are reading fewer books but children are reading more. Publishers for young readers, encouraged by the success at home, are planning to launch more Chinese children’s books on the international market. Statistics from the first China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair showed that sales of children’s books have been growing at more than 10 percent every year for the past seven years, much higher than other parts of the publishing industry. The book fair took place at Shanghai Mart from Nov 7 to 9 and drew more than 150 publishing houses from all over the world bringing more than 50,000 books.
trade fair for industry insiders, it opened to the public for one day only, and attracted more than 12,000 children and their parents.
Readers and publishers were so enthusiastic, that the fair promised to double the exhibition space next year, half of which has already been booked. The fair will return to Shanghai next year from Nov 21 to 23.
Xu Jiong, director of Shanghai press and publication bureau, promised to extend the time for public access at the future sessions of the fair. “Our ambition is to build the fair into China’s equivalent of Bologna Children’s Book Fair, the largest and most successful in the world, in five to 10 years,” Xu says.
Each year, 47,000 new books for children are published in China, more than half of them are by Chinese authors. “Our market for children’s books is enjoying an unprecedented boom,” says Li Xueqian, president of China Board of Books for Young People, also president of the China Children’s Press and Publication Group. “There are almost 150,000 books on the market for young readers.”
Li says while China’s publication for young people is still less developed when compared to many other parts of the world, he believes China’s publishers have lots of books that can be enjoyed by an international readership.
“We are bringing in many more children’s books from other countries than we are offering them,” Li says. “Our children have access to outstanding books from all over the world, and we should contribute by joining the global dialogue.”
China’s publishers are making greater efforts, participating in international fairs and hiring consultants, promoters and agents for the copyright of Chinese books.
Maria Jesus Gil, president of the Hans Christian Andersen Awards jury, is an advisor to China Children’s Press and Publication Group. “She recommends good foreign books to us, and at the same time helps to promote our highquality children’s books to the rest of the world,” Li says.
China Children’s Press and Publishing Group has already dipped its toe in the international market. The Happy Piggy Joey created by Gao Hongbo, has been a best- selling series in China. More than 200,000 copies have been sold on Dangdang. com, China’s largest online book retailer, according to Wang
Yue, vice- president of Dangdang.
At the book fair, a French publisher signed a contract with China Children’s Press and Publishing Group for the series’ copyright in French.
“Illustration is particularly important in children’s books, but we Chinese publishers fall behind many other countries in this field,” Li says. “We came upon an idea of working with foreign artists, to create better picture books, and hope their new ideas will inspire China’s artists.”
A Feather is a collaboration between Chinese author Cao Wenxuan and Brazilian illustrator Roger Mello. The Chinese publisher sent Cao’s story in English to Mello, and Mello created paintings based on it. When he first met Mello at Bologna Fair, Cao was excited, saying Mello pictured the story “just like it was shown in my mind”.
A Brazilian publisher has decided to introduce A Feather to be published in Portuguese in South America.
Hou Mingliang, general manager of Children’s Fun Publishing Co Ltd, says his company has gone further than its peers in China in terms of international collaboration and exchange.
A long-term strategic partner with Disney Group, Children’s Fun provides content to the United States entertainment giant. “We pay for the license for the use of Disney cartoon characters’ images, but Disney pays us for our content — new stories, new picture books and so on.”
Children’s Fun is a joint venture with Egmont Group from Denmark that has been operating since 1994. “We publish more than 100 Disney picture books every year — all created by us in China, and sold all over the world. Our products are equal in quality to those in other countries, sometimes even better,” Hou says.
Young readers are not easily satisfied, according to Xu Xi’an, deputy director of New Era Publishing House.
“Today’s middle school students can access information from the whole world, through all kinds of digital media thanks to the Internet and electronic devices,” Xu said at a forum during the fair. “Can China’s publishers catch up with them and inspire them to read, and fall in love with reading — that’s the challenge faced by our whole industry.”
“We are in a time of unprecedented prosperity for children’s literature, but there needs to be more books addressing realistic issues for children in China,” says Li of China Children’s Press and Publications Group.
The first China Shanghai International Children’s Book Fair draws a big crowd of young readers and their parents during its one-day public opening.
AFeather is a successful example of collaboration between Chinese authors and foreign illustrators.