Help­ing chil­dren to read bet­ter

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COVER STORY - By ZHANG KUN in Shang­hai

Chil­dren made up a large pro­por­tion of the more than 400,000 vis­i­tors at the Shang­hai Book Fair which took place at Shang­hai Ex­hi­bi­tion Cen­ter from Aug 16 to 22.

The an­nual fair is the city’s largest cel­e­bra­tion of books and read­ing ev­ery Au­gust when China’s stu­dents have their sum­mer va­ca­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to the city’s pub­lish­ing and press ad­min­is­tra­tion, chil­dren’s books ac­counted for more than 40 per­cent of the to­tal sales vol­ume of books in China. In ad­di­tion, the mar­ket for chil­dren’s books has been grow­ing by 10 per­cent an­nu­ally over the past decade.

How­ever, this rapid growth has been met with crit­i­cism that the genre is be­com­ing overly com­mer­cial­ized. Some of the best-selling books were crit­i­cized for con­tain­ing con­tent that is too vi­o­lent and scary.

“There has been much anx­i­ety among par­ents as they are ea­ger to buy good read­ing ma­te­ri­als but just don’t know how to find them,” said Zhao Ping, a chil­dren’s book edi­tor with Shang­hai Trans­la­tion Pub­lish­ing House.

As such, a large num­ber of read­ing clubs have emerged in China to help par­ents find suit­able books. Many of th­ese clubs are hosted by pub­lish­ers and ed­u­ca­tors.

Zhang Hong is the founder of Magic Moth­ers’ Read­ing Club, an on­line com­mu­nity with around 100,000 reg­is­tered mem­bers. One of the ob­jec­tives of this club is to help par­ents im­part the joys of read­ing to their chil­dren. As sim­ple as such a task may seem, Zhang said that chil­dren nowa­days are more in­ter­ested in play­ing with mo­bile de­vices and games than read.

To en­cour­age read­ing, the club has in­vited par­ents to con­trib­ute voice record­ings of them­selves and their chil­dren read­ing. Since its launch in 2014, more than 16,000 fam­i­lies in Shang­hai have par­tic­i­pated in the ini­tia­tive. En­cour­aged by the suc­cess, the club launched a cam­paign to se­lect the 10 best orig­i­nal Chi­nese chil­dren’s books in 2015. Zhang said an­other rea­son for cre­at­ing this cam­paign was due to her dis­sat­is­fac­tion with pre­vi­ous best­selling lists, adding that many of

We need to bring (the chil­dren) qual­ity work that they are able to un­der­stand are res­onate with.” Feng Jian­nan,

the books she deemed to be good were not given enough recog­ni­tion.

In 2016, the club’s list of 10 rec­om­mended books re­ceived votes from more than 10,000 users. A jury panel con­sist­ing of ed­u­ca­tors and com­mu­nity lead­ers also weighed in with their opin­ions.

At the Shang­hai Book Fair, Zhang hosted the launch of the col­lec­tion of books ti­tled Chi­nese Sto­ries in Pic­tures which was pub­lished by Hu­nan Chil­dren’s Press. Fea­tur­ing tra­di­tional Chi­nese folk­tales, the se­ries of five books was cre­ated by Feng Jian­nan, a 77-year artist in Shang­hai who used to work at the Shang­hai An­i­ma­tion Film Stu­dio.

Feng’s first pic­ture book was based on the clas­sic show Nine­col­ored Deer which he di­rected in 1981.

“Books are more ac­ces­si­ble than the film,” he said. “I wanted to im­prove the draw­ings, such as back­grounds and move­ments, to ad­dress what I felt were im­per­fec­tions in the film.”

The book, which fea­tures a draw­ing style in­spired by an­cient Bud­dhism fresco art in Dun­huang in Gansu prov­ince, won the best il­lus­tra­tion award at the Bologna Chil­dren’s Book Fair in 1983.

Feng went on to turn more tra­di­tional Chi­nese tales into draw­ings, boldly bor­row­ing col­ors and paint­ing styles from China’s folk art.

“I have learned a lot from il­lus­trat­ing th­ese folk­tales,” he said.

“Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the chil­dren. They have their own aes­thet­ics. We need to bring them qual­ity work that they are able to un­der­stand and res­onate with.”

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