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2005-06-14 Guji Guji

Writers Directory 

Dan Bloom


It's tov, tov! for
Guji Guji in Israel
,  June 14, 2005

books file


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 process.

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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