Helping children to read better
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.”