• A True Team Effort
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Chang Yu-Jung ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    During the period at the end of 2019 when people still weren’t sure what was happening, COVID-19 quietly entered our lives before violently spreading to every corner of the world. What followed was panic, derision, and anxiety for a lot of people, while at the same time each country’s government and public health organizations started working together to put epidemic prevention measures in place.

    Our lives completely changed. Suddenly, everyone was paying attention to their own hygiene habits, and health-related information about disease prevention was repeated constantly across the news, adverts, and online videos. For example, there were stories about wearing a mask to protect yourself and others, or how to wash your hands to make sure they were clean, or what concentration of alcohol to use to disinfect your surroundings and so on. We also discovered that even though the necessary actions were very simple and easy, there were still a lot of people who fundamentally questioned why we were taking these measures. At the same time, there was also a lot of disinformation flooding the internet, with people spreading fake news on social media because they were worried that their friends and relatives would miss out on important information.

    This was all happening in the adult world, and surely if we grown-ups couldn’t understand it, then children would have absolutely no idea what was going on. Those of us in book publishing quietly continued working but we also wondered whether there was anything we could do. We wanted children to know that countries all over the world were changing, and now everyone needed to follow compulsory regulations which were based on science and were there to protect everyone’s lives. We wanted children to know why we needed to wear masks and stay socially distanced from other people, why we needed to isolate if we caught the disease, and why we definitely needed to get vaccinated even if we felt uncomfortable. Furthermore, we also hoped that in this era of information overload, children would slowly develop the ability to interpret evidence.

    We started by looking to see if any other countries had written suitable books that we could publish. We discovered a lot of single-issue books that introduced subjects such as what a virus was, what bacteria were; or other books that were basic introductions to understanding health or discussed the history of how humans have fought pandemics in the past. There weren’t any children’s titles we could find that were a comprehensive overview of the past, present, and future, so we decided to publish the book ourselves. We approached internationally renowned epidemiologist Chen Chien-Jen (who was also Vice President of Taiwan between 2016 and 2020) and the extremely popular children’s science writer Ami Hu, to collaborate on what we believed would be an excellent book for children to read.

    In terms of division of labor, Chen Chien-Jen provided the knowledge, content, and framework, then Ami Hu “translated” it into a writing style that would be fun for children to read. Inevitably, there was a lot of back and forth between the authors and the editor, whether it was about drafting the outline or writing the text for each page: How can we present this point in a way that’s easier for children to understand? This concept is important but is it something children need to know at this stage? This point needs to be written in short, simple text but have we lost some of the accuracy? There were a lot of details that we needed to consider so we took the reader as the starting point and ensured that they would be able to fully absorb the information.

    Of course, there was another vital contributor to the book: our exceptional illustrator, Hui. After the authors had agreed on the final text and sent it to the editor, it was then down to the editor to finalize the text and communicate the image brief and initial ideas to the illustrator, which is a moment that is seared into Hui’s brain! An illustrator needs to be like a preliminary reader and absorb the author’s text and before reading around on the topic to get a comprehensive understanding of it. Then, she needs to examine the image brief from the authors and the editor, consider the scope of the text and illustrations, check the accuracy of the scientific images, etc. Even within these various limitations, Hui used her creativity to draw beautiful, entertaining images that could be understood by adults and children alike. The authors’ warm words and the artist’s rich, varied illustrations come together to convey the ideas to reader in a way that is multi-faceted and three-dimensional.

    Over the last ten years, there has been a lot of progress in children’s non-fiction both at home and abroad, but due to the pandemic, creativity seems to have stalled in the last couple of years which is something that the publishing industry needs to be aware of. I hope that as an industry we will all continue to strive and that I can be a small linchpin as we continue to provide children with high-quality non-fiction books.

  • A Journey Towards Self-Discovery
    Dec 27, 2022 / by Huang Yachun ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    This is a book where the author has consciously made it her mission to write a children’s novel that also serves as a form of feminist literature. The story begins with the disappearance of a group of grandmothers and is narrated by eleven-year-old Kai-ting (granddaughter of Su-ying) who accompanies them on their journey towards self-discovery. We see the whole thing unfold through Kai-ting’s precocious but childish perspective and her witty, eccentric descriptions.


    Let’s Hit the Road!

    For Eastern women, the process of individualization is extremely challenging because a lot of women absorb the cultural values recognized by their families and societies as they grow up, so their appearance and sense of self is built on the idea of being a “good woman”. Once a woman begins to listen to her inner voice, she starts to face resistance from her family and society, experiencing a mixture of inner conflict and self-doubt. In this book, the author draws on female consciousness and considerations about life to create a story about a group of grandmothers who run away for nine days, and I personally see it as a journey of self-discovery with Su-ying’s transformation at its core.

    While each of the four grandmothers might have their own reasons for joining the secret plan to visit Taitung, the main cause is that Achu has discovered something bad in her breasts. This news shocks the group of elderly female friends and the leader, Granny Ten Yuan, thinks to herself that she’s turning seventy and isn’t sure if she’ll live another decade, so she decides to put her innermost thoughts into action. Achu’s life-threatening news is what gives the whole group the chance to change.


    Breasts: Thank You and Farewell

    From a narrative standpoint, the story involving Achu’s suspected breast cancer isn’t just the catalyst for the plot development but also serves as the core function of the text. How women perceive their breasts can hold a lot of psychological meaning in terms of how they perceive their own value. The characters in the novel range from a young girl going through puberty to a group of elderly married women, which the author deliberately uses to explore the physical experience of being a woman.

    At the end of the book, the grandmothers are all wearing bikinis as they perform a “Thank You and Farewell Ceremony” for Achu’s breasts on the beach in Taitung and the ritual symbolizes how the women have freed themselves from their inner prejudices. Kai-ting helps Achu write a letter to her breasts thanking them for a lifetime together. In the letter, Achu expresses how her breasts once represented love and her ability to nurture, but now that they’re sick it’s time to say goodbye. Then they burn the letter in a fire on the beach.

    While Achu is melancholy on the eve of her mastectomy and there’s a sense of regret at the loss of her female body, from here on she can let go of the attachment she feels towards the “beautiful, God-given gifts” of her breasts. The ceremony marks the women’s rediscovery of their own inner strength as it allows them let go of their identities as mothers and wives.

    The bikinis in the title of the novel are also an important symbol in the book. Different clothes can often represent different identities, and we can use them to decorate or hide ourselves. Fearless under the gaze of others, they no longer hide their bodies which have become stout over the years, instead they wear the most revealing item of clothing possible: bikinis. This can be seen as a brave declaration that they have peeled away their outer selves and faced their true selves.

    The group of women relinquish their attachment to the idea of a perfect female body and let go of their old roles and identities as they run wildly towards the vast ocean together, brimming with the joy of rebirth and also symbolizing the freedom of spiritual liberation. That moment shows the grandmothers becoming the people they didn’t get to be and that they now finally get to become themselves.


    We Are Not Alone on the Road to Growth

    The main characters in the book all have certain traits that we might see reflected in our own personalities. Maybe we’re like the young girl Kai-ting who’s embarrassed about her round figure and well-developed breasts; or her grandmother Su-ying who is always making sure that her husband and family are satisfied but suppressing her own true inner voice in the process; or Achu who has to play the role of mother and wife to find the central core of her life; or the elegant grandma Shu-nu who places too much value on her image and physique, hiding her lonely, hollow heart behind a veil of bravado; or maybe we’re like the seemingly confident, decisive and sharp-tongued Granny Ten Yuan who’s actually holding onto some complicated unresolved issues. In this way, these women’s stories become our stories, as different readers apply the characters’ insights and realizations to their own life experiences.

    Through these characters, I can see that we’re all still just stumbling along the road crying, laughing, feeling frightened but continuing to grow. We make mistakes and constantly doubt ourselves or feel useless or occasionally even hurt other people. While these might not be traits that we are fond of, they are part of our true selves and I am willing to cherish and accept them. Even if we grieve and blame ourselves, we still need to be willing to welcome life’s challenges and let our wounded souls choose to live a second life.

    The real, three-dimensional female characters in books like this make us see that we are not alone, that we have so many sisters with us as we embark on the journey towards becoming ourselves.

  • A Landmark for Sinophone Children’s Fantasy Fiction
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Duh Ming-Cheng ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Ever since Harry Potter first took the book world by storm, there’s been a huge surge in Western fantasy novels which have been able to further dominate children’s literature and popular fiction through screen adaptations. First, we saw a spectacular resurgence of the classics such as J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series, then a dizzying array of new works like His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, the Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer, Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan, and so on.

    We’ve had wave after wave of these tomes, but the subject keeps shifting. We’ve had books set in imaginary versions of the Middle Ages, or in the kingdom of Christ, or on distant islands, or in dystopian futures, as well as others that draw on traditional lore involving vampires, while others turned to Greek gods and Ancient Egypt.


    A Wide-Open Creative Landscape

    Given all the above, we couldn’t help but wonder whether our own literary and cultural traditions might have a similar wealth of fantasy novels brewing somewhere beneath the surface. First, Attack of the Sinograph Army by Chang Chih-lu garnered a lot of attention, then readers were even more enthusiastic about Record of the Tomb Pen by Ma Boyong, but both books seemed to be anomalies among those writers’ other works. It wasn’t until Chen Yu-Ju came along that we finally got a taste of fantasy novels that were built on Chinese cultural traditions, it was as if she’d woven various patchwork pieces together into an ornate dress.

    Chen’s works have emerged to really satisfy the inner demands of sinophone readers who found that no matter how great Western fantasy novels might be, there was always a slight language barrier, whereas books about distant, ancient China like Record of Heretofore Lost Works and The Classic of Mountains and Seas still always felt familiar.

    Chen is extremely good at drawing on different materials, as can be seen in her young adult series Cultivation which is visibly influenced by Western fantasy novels but expertly blends Chinese cultural elements in a way that quickly drew in readers and immediately became a sensation among people of all ages. It was followed by the Legend of the Immortals series where you can see the full breadth and depth of Chen’s creative landscape across the four books: The Soul of Poetry, The Guardian of Poems, The Immortal Painter and The Demon Among Pottery. Her works feel so familiar and don’t go out of their way to seem highbrow, making them fun and engaging for children. She’s constantly innovating when it comes to the subject matters for her books, and it seems like she has an endless supply of creative inspiration.


    Continuously Evolving Artistic Expression

    Chen doesn’t just set the tone for the fantasy genre but is also a pioneer, demonstrating how artistic expression can continuously evolve.

    Guardian of the Everlasting Stone undoubtedly surpasses all of Chen’s previous works and is far more elaborate but natural in terms of plot. Her imagination leads us through a collection of Bronze Age relics in the National Palace Museum from the Shang Dynasty, shuttling between past and present without feeling the slightest bit far-fetched. One moment we’re searching for things on Google, the next we’re in a mythical era of dueling sorcerers. As readers solve the antiques’ various riddles, they are drawn layer by layer into the core of the story in a way that’s like an engrossing mystery novel. The foreshadowing leaves even less of a trace here than it did in her previous novels. It is clear when reading Chen’s books that she does extensive research before putting pen to paper. The historical knowledge enriches the plot in the reader’s imagination, which is a reflection of how Chen’s writing is entertaining and educational at the same time.

    In my opinion, Guardian of the Everlasting Stone is a new milestone for Chen’s work, and it has left me eagerly anticipating what she does next as an author, I am convinced that further stages of artistic evolution are in the works. Who knows, perhaps her book series will become a catalyst and spark a literary sensation of fantasy novels rooted in Chinese culture.

  • The Art of Saying Farewell
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Bei Lynn ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    There are so many different aspects and feelings involved in final farewells, so in Practicing Goodbye I wanted to tell the story of two experiences: one where there was no chance to say goodbye, and one where it was possible to say a proper farewell.

    If separation is inevitable but there’s no chance to say goodbye, even though over time we reframe our emotions and get used to the changes in our lives until eventually we just hope that the other party is doing well, it can still weigh heavily on our hearts if we were the one left behind.

    This is a story about a person and a dog called Bibi who are separated then reunited, as well as all the various feelings they experience along the way. Why do we feel such regret and how does it fade with time? And if you’re lucky enough to be given a second chance to meet again and say a proper goodbye, you can turn that regret into a journey and move forward with your life.

    Often when I’ve got an idea and I’m creating a new story for it, I’ll be immersed enough in it that I’ll have a eureka moment with the characters where I suddenly realize something. In this story’s case, I had a few scattered thoughts while I was writing and illustrating, but when everything came together I realized that the first time the characters separate would feel like a practice run. After they’re reunited, if they had the chance to say a proper goodbye before separating again, it would still feel like a heavy blow but that cathartic moment when the rain clears to reveal a blue sky would come a little bit earlier.

    Practicing Goodbye is a story based on a real experience. The second section is different from the other parts of the book with its own tones and color palate to represent how I imagine Bibi’s life was during the time he was lost. When Bibi crosses the physical centerline of the book, he reaches a parallel world where he stays until a voice calls out to him, and he has to cross the line back to his previous owner’s world (where the book continues into the third section). I portrayed it this way because I wanted to give Bibi some initiative in the decision to leave rather than just depicting him as lost. For all we know, it’s a possibility that’s out there.    

    The idea that “disappearing is its own kind of existence” was something that I came to realize over the course of illustrating this book. I planned to use basic pencil sketches to illustrate the story because I thought there was a certain purity to it, like they were the handwritten notes of someone who’d actually been through this experience. Erasers are useful for removing mistakes and redrawing lines, but this story helped me realize that an eraser can also be like a white brush that varies the depth of pencil drawings depending on how tightly you grasp it. As a result, on the book cover we can see Bibi disappearing in a way that makes his existence even more prominent.

    Just as the protagonist is lucky to have a second chance to say goodbye to Bibi, I also feel extremely fortunate to have had the chance to tell this story about a “proper goodbye”.

  • Granting a Midnight Wish
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Lin Ssu-Chen, Lesley Liu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Author-Illustrator Lin Ssu-Chen: Creating Beauty and Loneliness

    I actually came up with the story for The Moon Wants to Sleep by chance after seeing a photograph. It was a picture of the moon looking big and round on a dark night, shining very brightly but in a way that seemed lonely and stirred something within me, so since then I’d wanted to write a story based on that image. Then, one night I was out walking my puppy beside the river when I saw the moon and suddenly thought, what if the moon was like a person and wanted to go to sleep at night in the same way everyone else does? That was how naturally the story came up.

    The moon in the story is always hanging alone in the dark night sky, it wants to fall fast asleep at night like everyone else but that won’t work because its light is just too bright against the darkness, in the same way that anyone who has ever experienced loneliness knows how it feels to look on enviously at the beauty and warmth of everyday life around them. By trying to be like everyone else, the moon ends up forgetting its own beauty and how even though sometimes the silence can be lonely, there’s also a lot of beauty in that silence.

    I chose to use charcoal and graphite pencils to create illustrations that were a blend of black, white, and gray. Since there were no other colors, the possibilities between black and white felt endless and there was a gentleness to the shading which was perfect for portraying the soft halo of light around the moon.


    Judge and Author-Illustrator Lesley Liu: The Moon’s Midnight Wish

    “Moon, what’s the matter with you? Isn’t it time for you to go to work? Why do you want to sleep?”

    Doesn’t seeing these questions make you want to ask: “What’s the moon doing out in broad daylight?”

    When the sun is out during the day, the moon is in pitch darkness. Given that the moon’s only friends are the millions of planets and stars who stay fast sleep all year round, what can the moon do during the day besides sleep? Could you imagine if you had to sleep until it was time for work, only to roll out of bed and look down on a cloud-filled sky to see that everyone else was already asleep? It makes total sense for the moon to want to sleep at night! It would even sleep better in the cold, solitary night sky bathed in a soft halo of light! The moon coming out can also symbolize being awake at night when you’re tired and want to sleep, which could make this a good book for people suffering with insomnia.  

     For the book’s illustrations, the image design and composition are all well thought out and skillfully drawn. Although Lin Ssu-Chen only uses variations of black and white, the images still feel warm and the full moon is a soft, plump sphere which feels so cozy that the reader can imagine it snuggling in bed. Lin gives it just the right amount of expressiveness and has added a pair of hands which work well for dramatic purposes. Even better still, when we see the moon from behind as it scuttles between buildings in the city, we discover it has butt cheeks! Never underestimate the power of a single brushstroke! Children really love this kind of humor and it can leave them feeling happier and more relaxed. Believe me, that single brushstroke might just have an influence on how they see the world. I’m someone who absolutely loved funny drawings as a child and that humor ended up shaping my personality to a certain extent.

    Doesn’t the moon always seem aloof in a way that makes you want to approach but you don’t want to disturb it? Lin’s book captures this feeling too. Between the moonlight in the starry sky, the reflections in the water, the shadows and brilliant rays of light rendered solely in black and white, this is a rich picture book filled with a sense of anticipation that makes it a truly enchanting read.

  • A Fun-Filled Story Packed with Surprises
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Wu Jia-Lian ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    What’s in your fridge? By phrasing the title as a question, Who’s in the Fridge? tells the reader right from the get-go that there isn’t just food in this refrigerator! Who could possibly be hiding in there? Readers who have picked up the book are probably just as confused as the little boy on the cover. However, as soon as they turn the page, the midnight adventure of opening the fridge starts to unfold!


    A Story Written from a Child’s Perspective

    The earliest version of the story for Who’s in the Fridge? started to take shape around the time that author-illustrator Severus Lian was in high school, but the concept was based on her real childhood experience of sneaking to the fridge in the middle of the night. Could she make it to the fridge without being discovered? Who would she meet along the way? And what magical creatures would be waiting for her in the fridge? Who’s in the Fridge? combines the thrill of not knowing if you’ll be discovered and the anticipation of not knowing what’s waiting for you in the fridge, which creates a story that the reader can participate in wholeheartedly from start to finish.

    Lian has always loved to draw and was inspired to study illustration by Gaston Klein who was her art teacher while she was on exchange at Fontys University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands. From there, she set foot on the path to creating picture books and has never looked back. When it comes to material for her illustrations, Lian likes to combine different themes and try a range of artistic mediums. She is an expert in zany humor and taps into the little details and fun of everyday life. While she was creating Who’s in the Fridge?, Lian held onto the childish innocence of her original concept and deliberately set up lots of scenes that young children could interact with so that they don’t just enjoy the story but also open each page and find it filled with fun surprises.


    Paying Attention to the Humor in Everything

    Who’s in the Fridge? tells the magical story of a little boy who sneaks out in the middle of the night to steal pudding but when he opens the fridge, he’s shocked to find that it contains a seal and a polar bear. The story begins by announcing one rule: you shouldn’t go to the fridge after 10 pm. However, the protagonist has already broken that rule on the title page by tiptoeing to open the kitchen door and starting the chain of events. The text uses different colors to distinguish between the characters which makes things clear on first glance and also lets the reader naturally immerse themselves in the plot and illustrations without being distracted by the narration.

    At first glance, Who’s in the Fridge? is a happy, light-hearted story but it cleverly changes tone into a narrative about protecting the environment and caring for animals. The seal and polar bear eventually escape without a hitch but the happy ending also leaves the reader with a sense of suspense. We might ask young readers: why are the animals hiding in the fridge? Since the earth’s environment is becoming more extreme and the animals don’t have a home or enough to eat, where will they go when they leave the fridge? The author takes the fun, humorous story and ingeniously weaves this mindset of caring for living things in amongst the pages.


    Spreading Laughter Across the World Through a Picture Book

    Lian has created a vivid and hilarious story by combining a simple concept with freeform line drawings and snapshots that feel as though they’re brimming with rhythm. Although Who’s in the Fridge? is written by a Taiwanese author-illustrator, the subject matter isn’t hindered by national boundaries as most households across the world have a refrigerator and the story closely corresponds with children’s mindsets. Lian believes that the book can successfully cross language and cultural barriers to be a hit with readers around the world.

  • Sketching Animals from Life
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Huang Yi-Wen ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    When I go to the zoo to sketch, my eyes and hands are focused on watching and drawing the animals, but my ears often pick up on the conversations of the tourists around me. Something I find interesting is that parents who are there with their children often ask, “how many animals are there?” and the child looks around and counts at the same time. Is that an animal hiding in a cave or climbing up a tree? Is that a tail swaying in the shadows or just some undergrowth that’s caught in the wind?

    Once, I was sat in front of the flamingo area for a long time and heard several families play the “count the animals” game, but in the end no two families came up with the same number. Why? In reality, there might have been some animals hidden among the others, but in the world of storytelling I thought maybe it could be magic, so I imagined an animal who secretly darted in and out, sneaking up on the crowd and watching their every move. Wouldn’t that be a lot of fun? The tourists at the zoo are all so focused on the animals in the enclosures even though there’s actually an animal much closer to them on their side of the fence.

    Although it would be faster and more convenient to take photos, I prefer to go to the zoo with my paintbrush to capture the scenes in front of me. Painting might not be as realistic as a photograph, but I feel it’s better at conveying the subjective way we perceive things. It’s that moment when we see an object and it stirs something within us that makes us want to paint. The pure happiness of that feeling reminds me of the joy I experienced as a child when I saw animals for the first time. For children, the rich diversity of the animal kingdom can spark all kinds of questions and curiosity. It can also stop children in their tracks and make them observe things with care, so in the story I had the child embark on a fantastical journey to discover the animal behind him.

    There is a quote from The Little Prince which says: “It is only in the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” This line reminds me of how I selfishly hope that people never get tired of visiting the zoo and that it’s a place where they can keep discovering new things.

    Creating picture books can be like running a marathon but I never felt lonely because even though the road was long, I had help from lots of people along the way. I’m grateful to my creative illustration teacher and mentor Liu Hsu-Kung for his guidance in the early days that helped my fragment of an idea gradually become a finished book. In 2020, my story was fortunate enough to receive a Picture Book Sprouting Award from the Kaohsiung Public Library, and with the help and support from the team I was able to work freely on it. At the same time, I would also like to thank my guidance professor on the Sprouting program, Shih Ching-ting, whose words I would often think of whenever I was struggling with a draft: “Don’t worry if your painting isn’t very good, just get it down on paper, and we can talk about it afterwards.” Those words gave me the confidence to keep trying. Finally, a special thank you to the editorial team at Yuan-Liou Publishing Co. Ltd. who ensured that the publication process went smoothly. I am grateful for their perseverance and professional input on the words and illustrations, as well as for their patience in our many conversations which helped ensure that readers would get to enjoy the best possible version of Secrets at the Zoo.

  • Recreating a Child’s Perspective
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Rena Tsung ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    We tend to forget a lot of things as we grow up. We forget how something sugary was often all it took to make us happy, or how overjoyed we felt when we found a four-leaf clover. Our eyes no longer have that pure way of looking at the world, instead we see things through a veil of maturity and the weight of everything we’ve seen. While children might have limited life experience, the clarity with which they see things and their observational approach to life mean that their eyes can shine with genuine excitement. For those of us adults who have long since lost that childlike innocence and forgotten to hold onto our old passions and aspirations, we envy their untainted happiness and yearn for that fearless simplicity. It reminds us to “live like a child” and how learning from that childhood innocence could lead us to different choices and life experiences.

    Higo Wu and Chen Pei-Hsiu are two creators from very different fields who came together to collaborate on Still Young, Still New, a picture book that lets readers contemplate different points of view on a deeper level.

    Wu’s words give us a sense of how we can view ourselves and others so that rather than just drawing blind comparisons, we know that the way we see the world and the way we face ourselves are far more important. Not being easily satisfied is human nature and perhaps that’s what urges us to strive towards progress, but we can’t ignore the significance of grasping the moment and cherishing every second of life. Even within the same job, different people achieve different results and a lot of it comes down to our behavior and the mindset we bring to the table. If we let ourselves hold onto a learning-based mentality filled with curiosity and a thirst for knowledge, then the person we are today can be even better than the person we were yesterday, and we’ll stay on the path to eternal youth rather than being shackled to the numbers on our identity cards.

    Chen’s illustrations lead us into a virtual world that blends imagination with reality. The world she creates through her pictures captures different life stages and learning experiences, showing us common items from childhood and scenes from various phases of life, so that as we work our way through them, we rediscover the beautiful memories we’ve forgotten and each of us can reawaken our own inner child.

    The journey of life has never been an easy topic in the same way that life itself isn’t easy. The book uses a method that imitates silk screen printing, a traditional Chinese folk art which uses one light and one dark color, here yellow is overlaid onto a specific shade of blue. The illustrator uses this blue in an intuitive way that makes large parts of the pictures seem slightly impenetrable, as though the reader is a child coming across something new for the first time, while the yellow lines and brush strokes help give a sense of liberation and hope. If Chen had only used blue then the scenes would all have been too dark and heavy, or if she had only used yellow then the images would have felt vague and superficial, but together I think she captures the feeling of what it’s like to be alive and learn through experience.

    Life is packed with all kinds of highs and lows, it’s a journey filled with uncertainties but that’s also what makes it an adventure. It won’t be plain sailing, but the most important thing is to stay childlike at heart and hold onto our curiosity to explore new things. We need this kind of courage and ambition to allow ourselves to keep our childlike mindset as we face life’s various difficulties and challenges, giving ourselves the freedom to reflect on our setbacks and accept our own shortcomings so that we can appreciate the joy and importance of staying curious about the world.

  • A Long, Unrequited Search
    Dec 27, 2022 / By Ping Chang ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    A lot of stories begin with some kind of pursuit, whether it’s trying to find a lost manuscript, a missing person, or a lingering memory. If there’s any single place where the most numerous, meaningful, and profound pursuits are all collected, it’s undoubtedly a museum.

    Page Tsou is an artist who frequently wins international awards and whose work has been selected five times for the Bologna Illustrators Exhibition. He is also a huge fan of museums. The mechanical factory in his hometown made him particularly fond of the precision and rationality behind machinery, and he believes that museums are similarly specialized, conscientious places. However, when he received an invitation from the National Taiwan Museum to create a picture book on the theme of Formosan clouded leopards, Tsou was faced with a stack of cryptic, stilted historical documents that gave him a huge headache.

    “My works tend to be quite different from those of other illustrators, as I often branch out into different fields and draw on other art forms as well,” says Tsou. Living as a graphic designer, illustrator, curator, and even an interior designer, he’s extremely familiar with business language and knows exactly what the market likes, but picture books are different. He sees creating picture books as a kind of fate, so he only wants to work on projects that he finds interesting and feels strongly about.

    “You can easily find information about Formosan clouded leopards on the internet. What I wanted to do was give the reader something that sparked their interest.”

    Just as Tsou was getting worried, a member of staff at the museum introduced him to a painting of the leopard and uttered a sentence which touched him deeply. In that moment, Tsou immediately knew: “This is the story I want to draw.”


    “Although the Formosan clouded leopard hasn’t been found, it still lives on in paintings.”

    The Formosan clouded leopard, which belonged to the same big-cat family as tigers and lions, was Taiwan’s largest and most ferocious wild animal but it typically stayed hidden in the forest, and its image as a brave, mysterious animal has made it a sacred symbol in some indigenous cultures.

    A staff member at the museum showed Tsou a scientific illustration of the leopard by Robert Swinhoe, a British diplomat who was stationed in Taiwan during the nineteenth century. Swinhoe was a naturalist as well as a diplomat, and during his tenure he discovered and recorded a large number of local Taiwanese species. He longed to find a Formosan clouded leopard but it continued to elude him, so he had no choice but to entrust someone to draw this illustration according to the fur he collected.

    More than a hundred years later, an employee at a technology company called Chiang Po-jen happened to see an adventive leopard at the zoo and joined the ranks of those who were actively looking for the animal in the wild. Even with the help of his modern technology, humans still haven’t been able to see the leopards with their own eyes.

    The two men might have been from different eras, but it was the same pursuit and the same failure. However, in Tsou’s eyes none of it was in vain. Instead, it created a dramatic “needle in a haystack” search that spanned multiple time periods which added a romantic sense of destiny to the serious subject matter. Tsou took the Formosan clouded leopard as the main basis of the book and then used the two failed pursuits as parallel stories, which was how he managed to pull an emotional core out of the cold historical data.

    Although the Formosan clouded leopard hasn’t revealed itself in real life or in the picture book, Tsou transformed the sense of regret into hope by using an absent protagonist to create space for imagination and bring a stagnant period of history to life, sparking the reader’s curiosity and getting them to contemplate it in a way that may even spur them into action.


    Tsou’s Rationality for Planting Easter Eggs  

    In addition to his unique perspectives, the main thing that makes international brands like Gucci, Disney, Michelin Guides, etc. line up to work with Tsou is his meticulous and undeniably exquisite illustration style.

    In this book, the game of hide and seek doesn’t just relate to the concept of finding the leopard but is also part of the reading process itself. From the black and white photos of the restored museum exhibits and the feathers of the bird specimens inside, to the design of the locks on the windows and the structure of the buildings and vehicles, his paintings are almost like precision scanners where every detail is so realistic that you feel like you’re in the scene, while the nostalgic tones and brushstrokes add an enchanting sense of mystery.

    “I like to include Easter Eggs in my work where I hide messages in the picture that can be understood without being explained,” says Tsou.

    It is hard for readers to look at his books and illustrations only once. He uses so many details to build such vivid worlds in each of his illustrations that readers keep coming back to the same images again and again because they want to play detective by comparing the different pages and worlds to try and decipher the hidden clues in the pictures.

    Tsou was in constant contact with the team at the museum during the revision process to ensure that the information in the book was still accurate when he changed certain details for plot purposes. For example, it would actually be impossible to have a transmission tower on the mountain where the camera is installed, but it was important for visual flow to have these man-made constructions gradually appear in the lush mountain forests. Meticulous design like this allows the reader to discover the real reason that the leopard disappeared for themselves without explicitly stating it: mankind.


    Using Hide-and-Seek to Convey a Larger Message

    Although the book tells the story of a species losing its habitat due to human exploitation, Tsou didn’t want it to be too on the nose. Instead, he chose a game that people of all ages and nationalities could understand so the story’s universal message could be conveyed in a way that children could genuinely enjoy.

    “It’s a local issue, but really it’s a global problem,” says Tsou.

    The moment when the staff member at the museum told him that the leopard “lives on in paintings” was a creative spark for Tsou. In turn, Tsou might not have expected that his picture book would come to play the same role as the original scientific illustration: that by using a paint brush to capture the legend and elegance of the Formosan clouded leopard, he has inspired people to keep searching. 

    Maybe one day, this endless game of hide-and-seek will eventually end in a surprising grand finale. After all, what could be more haunting than unfinished business?