By Dan Bloom
Most children's picture books published in Taiwan
never find a big audience outside local book clubs and libraries, but Guji
Guji, written and illustrated by 30-year-old Chen Chih-Yuan, has recently
been translated into Hebrew and published in Israel.
Last year, the children's book became a runaway bestseller in the USA.
Chen hit the New York Times bestseller list in 2004 with Guji Guji and
added a new perspective to Taiwan's global reach, where Israel also figures
strongly into his international reputation. While some Hebrew children's books
get translated into Chinese for the Taiwan market, few books from Taiwan reach
the Israeli market. But Chen is helping to change that one-way translation
His Taipei publisher, Hsin Yi Publications, couldn't be happier.
"It's not something that happens very often, a children's book from Taiwan
making a splash overseas, in Israel or in America or France, but this book did
it," says Eric Chen, a public relations officer at the publishing firm.
"The American publisher of Guji Guji sold 60,000 copies, and we now
have editions in Japan, France, South Korea and Israel. These books are traveling
far, and making a name for the author, and for Taiwan, too."
Hsin Yi published Guji Guji in Chinese in 2004 and brought the book to
showcase for foreign rights at the Bologna Children's Book Fair in Italy. It was
there that an astute California publisher with a flair for imported books first
saw the covers of Chen Chih-Yuan's picture books (he has produced three for Hsin
Yi so far) and knew there was something with a global appeal in them.
Published for the 5-9 year-old age group, Guji Guji is a simple, 32-page
picture book about self-esteem, family, and identity. It tells a universal
story, and reviews in the global media have been glowing, putting Taiwan on the
world publishing map in a low-key, yet impressive way. Israeli book critics have
responded positively to Chen's book, too.
"When fate rolls a crocodile egg into Mother Duck's nest (she is too busy
reading, peering down her bespectacled beak, to notice it), her three ducklings
end up with a strange sibling," Jessica Bruder wrote in the New York
Times Sunday Book Review. "Chen's vivid characters – the exuberantly
befuddled ''crocoduck'' and his adopted family, the riotously creepy crocodiles
that loom like shadows— are rendered with wit and warmth."
Elizabeth Ward, reviewing the book in the Washington Post, praised Chen's
artistry, writing: "The pictures are done in black, white, browns and
grays, with just a few splashes of color (blue-nosed crocodiles!), but their
quietness conceals a keen humor."
Publishers Weekly, a prestigious trade magazine that covers the global
book industry praised the Taiwanese book too, noting: "Chen's story of
love, acceptance and self-discovery gives every sign of becoming a well-worn
favorite (for the five-to-nine age bracket)."
Chen, who was born in Taiwan in 1975, was recently asked how he feels about the
success of his books in Japan, especially Guji Guji. He replied, through
his publisher, that he feels his books will make their own way in the world,
following their own destiny, and that he, as a creative artist, is just
concerned with writing more books, looking to the future to delve into new
stories and illustration styles.
Chen began his career as a book illustrator when he was 20, and with three
successfully published books under his belt, he is hard at work on a new book,
according to his publisher in Taipei. Although he doesn't see himself as an
international goodwill ambassador for Taiwan, his books are playing a small yet
important role in advertising Taiwan's creative talent, according to a
publishing industry source in Israel.
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