Well, I got back from my family reunion vacation to Taiwan last week, and although it was not as relaxing as I hoped it would be, I enjoyed my time there. One of the highlights of my trip, was on my last full day there where I had the opportunity to meet author/illustrator Jimmy Liao (Sound of Colors) for the first time (I wrote about the acquisition of this book here).
I had arranged the meeting with Levin Liao, the Editor-in-chief of Locus Publishing, Jimmy's main Taiwan publisher. I had met Levin when he and his colleagues were in the states a few years ago on business, and since I was going to be in Taipei for a few days at the end of our Taiwan tour, I jumped at the chance to meet with the both of them. My parents were eager to meet Jimmy as well, and so I arranged for them to come along, which was a good thing because they helped serve as the translators between my rusty Mandarin and Jimmy and Levin's halting English.
We were having coffee at Joyce Cafe, and when my parents and I walked in, I saw Jimmy already seated at a table--although I had never met him, I recognized him from his author photos. He was an adorable man, and when I walked towards him he jumped to his feet to greet us, all smiles. I felt awkward at first, and it was frustrating not to be able to communicate fluently and say everything I wanted to say, but it was still a lovely time. We talked about children's publishing in Taiwan, and I commented that when I went to a bookstore a few days before, I was surprised that there were so many American picture books there, in English, not translated. I saw very few picture books of what seemed to be original Taiwanese books. Jimmy and Levin confirmed that this was in fact the case, and that most of the children's books (picture books, at least) in Taiwan were supposed to teach children English. I guess this also explained why, when I went to the Jimmy Liao section in the store (yes, he has a whole section! About three shelves-full) I found so many copies of out edition shelved there!
I was surprised because our edition is different and very much abridged (80 pages to their 128 pages), and if you could choose between the original book in you native language and a shorter book in English, wouldn't you choose the original?
Jimmy also said that most Taiwanese kids liked more cartoony art, and as Japanese manga. He said even his own daughter (who is now 10) was not a fan of his art. As a side note, very few of Jimmy's books are actually children's books--most of them, including Sound of Colors, were created for the adult audience.
The state of children's books in Taiwan shouldn't have been surprising to me. When I was a senior in college, I wrote my senior honors thesis comparing English-language picture books with Chinese-language books, and one of the main thing I discovered is that most of the Chinese-language books seemed intent on teaching something. For example, there was a whole picture book about automatic/electric doors (elevators, stores, etc.) and why you should be careful around them!
I'm glad that they have our books available over there--including a few of Grace's books!
But at the same time, I'm sad that there aren't more that originate from Taiwan. As has been my experience growing up in the States without many Asian-American characters in the books I was reading, I would think that at least for a child growing up in an Asian country that would not be the case. At least they're seeing Asian role models on television and in movies, and of course in at least some books, but how strange to think that many of the Asian characters in the picture books they were reading were from the States.
On a somewhat related note, as I commented on my personal blog, many Taiwanese (and other Asians) consider it more beautiful to have whiter/paler skin. My aunt who lives in Taiwan, upon seeing me, commented that I was paler this time than I was when I lived there nine years ago, and therefore prettier (and, of course, why wasn't I married?!). I think many of you who have traveled to Asia can attest that there are many skin-whitener products over there. Ironic that while some cultures try to have whiter skin, so many people here try for darker skin by artificial tanners and tanning salons. I guess people will always try to be something they're not.