Sunday, December 03, 2006

Jimmy Liao, and Children's Books in Taiwan

me, Jimmy Liao, and Locus Editor-in-Chief Levin Liao (no relation)

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!

One is a Drummer, Fortune Cookie Fortunes, and I think Kite Flying was tucked in there somewhere.

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.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for that posting Alvina...I was wracking my brain trying to recall this book (and author!)- now I can get it for Christmas! I wish more of his books were available here.

alvinaling said...

We're working on it! I know it seems so far away, but THE BLUE STONE (tentative title) will be out in Spring 2008, and then another to be determined will be out the following year.

Anonymous said... first "real" book is coming out in Spring 2008, too- and it DOES seem so far away! But that's great to hear that more are planned- post more about them when you can.

Anonymous said...

The Sound of Colors was created for an adult audience.

It is my opinion that American pbs have been getting shorter and geared toward younger and younger kids recently, while at the same time, some pbs are being used as part of the curriculum in middle and high schools.

With the increasing interest in graphic novels, do you think it's possible we'll start to see pbs geared toward older kids and even an "all ages" audience? How about graphic novellas, 32-pages long, with full-color fine art in a hard cover?


alvinaling said...

Jen, I think all of that is possible. I'll just quickly add that our edition of SOUND OF COLORS was categorized as ALL AGES--we made sure that it worked for the picture book audience on one level, but also for older readers, including adults, and it was cross-cataloged in our adult catalog.

I agree that it seems like picture books have been getting shorter and younger--1,000 words used to be the rule when I first started, and some people are even saying just 500 words now. But I think more and more publishers are interested in graphic novels, and also I've been seeing more of a range of picture books in the last few years.

John Shelley said...

Very interesting Alivina!
Taiwan has a dynamic children's publishing market. From what I've seen at the Tokyo Book Fair there are some fabulous picture books coming from there, I know several Japanese illustrators who've produced books for Taiwan-based publishers. Here's a site (in Japanese I'm afraid) listing a great many Taiwanese picturebooks:


Anonymous said...

Hello! I came across your blog while doing a search for Jimmy Liao--so glad you've made it your personal mission to get more of his books published in English! I've only read (and own) A Chance of Sunshine, and was wondering whether you could help me! I belong to a fledgling group of amateur film makers in Edinburgh, Scotland, and I want to make a short film based on A Chance of Sunshine. It's a tiny project, and is not a commercial venture, but still, I'd like to get in touch with Liao if possible to let him know. If I wrote to Liao c/o of your company, would it be passed on to him? Any advice you might have would be gratefully received!

alvinaling said...

John, thanks for the link. I couldn't read the site, but the books look wonderful. I thought I recognized many as originating from Japan, though? But I could definitely be mistaken. This was all anecdotal, and obviously I haven't done any real research into the issue.

Padmini, if you give me your email address (you can email it to bluerosegirls at gmail dot com), we can discuss getting a message to Jimmy. Thanks for visiting! And I love CHANCE OF SUNSHINE. Wong Kar-Wai made a movie of that, too--right?

iRead Taiwan and Beyond said...

Hi, this is Irene from Taiwan. Here we are holding a chapter of SCBWI(Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators)! And I'm wondering if you have interest to give us a talk about children's book in the States when you come to Taiwan next time? Jimmy Liao is one of our friends, but he did not tell us of having an editor friend like you!! If you are interested, would you like to write back to me at: irenedechen{at} ? Thanks a lot! Oh! And our website is here: ^^ See ya!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the up-close and personal look at your trip! It's so fun to read about things like this. I think most picture books really are for all ages. I read them all the time and I'm 40... something! "The Sound of Colors" is on my Christmas wish list.


Marjorie said...

Just got back from the Bologna Book Fair, where the stand for Taiwanese publishers had a special exhibit of Liao's books - I wished I'd had time (and the linguistic ability) to sit down and read them all - oh how wonderful it would be to have more of them available in English. The huge one on the placard ( came from a stunning book called "One More Day with You" What a feast of colours they are! I've enjoyed reading about your meeting with him, even if it was a few years ago now!