• Notes from a Fishing Village Residency
    Dec 17, 2021 / By HOM ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Before I had the chance to visit the Zhengbin Fishing Harbor, I was quite unfamiliar with Keelung and like most people I just held the preconceived notion that it was an “overcast, rainy mountain town”. When I came here in mid-May, I left Keelung Station and saw several black kites circling overhead in the gloomy gray sky which matched the image of the place in my mind. The misty, overcast sky continued for about a week and then the weather gradually turned, becoming more summery as the sky over the harbor steadily turned to blue. The veil of my initial impression of Keelung lifted and the harbor’s beautiful scenery appeared before me.

    During the month I lived in the village, I often walked to the harbor. It was a small, secluded space where fishermen gathered. I quietly looked out at the dark green sea and followed the path beside the harbor before coming to the colorful buildings now known as the “Rainbow Houses”. I frowned, I didn’t really like bright colors. Later when I searched online, I found some old photos of the harbor and saw that the Rainbow Houses had previously been a row of buildings that alternated between white and light blue in a way that was simple but elegant. As well as feeling it was a shame, I began to use my own perception of beauty to size up these heavily-painted buildings. Pretty much every day, there were tourists who came to the Rainbow Houses specifically to take photos and you could even see newlyweds doing wedding photoshoots. Clearly the Rainbow Houses were a powerful form of publicity and had already become important to the local area.



    As I passed the Rainbow Houses every day, I looked at them from the same angle as all the tourists taking photos. The colors reflected on the water and the light of the sky varied at different times of the day, together they magically transformed the surface of the water and every day I took lots of photos of the harbor. The sky, whether it was blue, violet, pink, or gray, embellished the colors of the Rainbow Houses and made them feel even more fleeting and ever-changing. I don’t know when it started but my gaze gradually became drawn to them.

     After carefully thinking it through, I realized it didn’t have anything to do with the colors of the houses but rather that the history and geography of Zhengbin Fishing Harbor were what gave the place its charming retro appearance and made the scenery what it is today.

    This residency has given me the chance to get to know more places in Taiwan. Thank you very much to the team at Zhengbin Art for inviting me to the residency, it gave me plenty of time to discover so much of the fascinating scenery that Zhengbin Fishing Harbor has to offer.   



    Read more:
    - HOM: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=151
    - Watching the Sea: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=377

  • As Deep as the Ocean
    Dec 17, 2021 / By Sung Pei ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    A vast expanse of blue-green water unfurls in front of you as if lit from behind, enveloping you in a fantasy-like atmosphere where fish large and small swim beside you and come up close to meet you.…

    The pictures in A Place Like the Sea evoked memories of the dazzling and unforgettable experience I had the first time I entered an aquarium. The pictures don’t just portray the underwater world separated by a curtain of glass, but also the penguin exhibit and the theater where the dolphins perform. These small human-made oceans are teaming with marine life, some of the species were moved here while others were raised within its walls, all to be exhibited before our very eyes.



    Lin Po-Ting uses a drawing technique that makes his illustrations feel reminiscent of printmaking, he draws silhouette-like figures whose black outlines contrast with the dappled light of the brightly colored seawater, creating a unique atmosphere in the space. The book is filled with illustrated double-page spreads which feel like movie screens, they have an immediate emotional impact and go far beyond what the text describes. There are very few words in the book and they are only used to state the boy’s inner thoughts. When the boy walks into the huge aquarium with his parents, we see his initial amazement and curiosity turn to fear and then panic as he gets separated from his family, then the nervousness and anticipation that set in when he’s on his own. These various emotions form the content of the text.

    The first-person narrative mostly conveys they boy’s subjective experience, while the illustrations usually take an omniscient perspective to objectively depict the environment around him. Sometimes the words and illustrations are not completely consistent, and at times even go so far as to contradict one another, which lets the reader discover another layer of hidden meanings in these small gaps and contradictions. There are also places where there aren’t any contradictions but the text and illustrations create a play on words, where the text is describing the boy’s subjective experience but at the same time is also conveying the thoughts of other characters in the pictures.

    A Place Like the Sea uses these puns between the text and illustrations to cleverly tie the characters and setting to the marine life as the young boy’s inner thoughts and feelings can become those of the aquatic creatures themselves. By expressing their situation from the boy’s perspective, the book prompts readers to think about it from the creatures’ point of view and raises the question: Do aquariums force marine animals to leave their homes forever?

    Moreover, comparing the front and back endpapers raises an additional question: If we take the sea creatures who have lived in captivity and return them to their natural habitats, will they even still be able to live in an ocean which has been so heavily polluted by humans? What a profound question for the author to hide in amongst the book’s beautiful illustrations and missing-child plot! 



    Read more:
    - Lin Po-Ting: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=256
    - A Place Like the Sea: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=376

  • Exploring the Depths of Taiwan’s Forests
    Dec 17, 2021 / By Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Every single one of us has our own set of skills, no matter how big or small we might be.

    Award-winning author-illustrator Chang Che-ming’s picture book series The Three Little Moles uses exquisite hand-painted watercolors to bring the magic of Taiwan’s forests to life and tell the story of two young moles as they discover the world with the help of their knowledgeable grandfather.

    The first book in the series, A Special Gift, sees the three protagonists set out from their cosy home in a tunnel beneath a tree stump and encounter a mother duck whose baby is stuck in a deep, well-like hole. The three moles use their digging skills to make a tunnel and rescue the duckling. The mother duck is thrilled and later returns the favor by rescuing the moles from a huge fish while they’re crossing a river on a raft.

    The second two books, Let’s Roast Sweet Potatoes and Adventure in the Forest, build on the themes of the first story but can be read as standalone books as well. The three moles use their digging skills to unearth some delicious sweet potatoes only to find that as they pull the roots from below, a family of chipmunks is pulling the potatoes up from above! The moles use a kiln to roast the sweet potatoes and the chipmunks declare that the potatoes are absolutely delicious, so the moles offer to teach the chipmunks how to roast them. Adventure in the Forest sees the three moles go out in the fog and stumble across two baby birds and an egg. An owl swoops overhead preying on the moles and baby birds, so the moles quickly dig a hole for them all to hide in. The egg hatches while they’re in the hole and then the birds’ parents arrive, a pair of beautiful Mikado pheasants (the unofficial national bird of Taiwan).



    All three books have the same fundamental themes of self-affirmation, learning from ones’ elders and the importance of sharing. The moles expressive faces and gestures create a focal point against the beautifully rendered forest landscapes in the background. Most of the illustrations are sweeping double-page spreads that capture the scale of the forest and the tininess of the protagonists, although occasionally the pages are divided into smaller scenes which work especially well when the moles are hiding underground with the baby birds while the owl flies overhead. Chang’s delicate use of watercolors and fine brush strokes gives the illustrations a timelessness which still feels fresh and original. Captivatingly depicting Taiwan’s local culture and customs is a priority for Chang, as seen in his previous works Food Market and Night Market, and it’s a joy to see him apply a new blend of scale and attention to detail in his portrayal of Taiwan’s flora and fauna in The Three Little Moles.

    Set against the backdrop of Taiwan’s deep mountain forests, The Three Little Moles is a series about universal values that already feels like a classic.



    Read more:
    - Chang Che-ming: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=362
    - The Three Little Moles Series: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=375


  • The Inspiration Behind SOMBRITA
    Dec 17, 2021 / By Lee Jo-Shin ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Where did the inspiration for the story come from? Is it based on personal experience?

    The initial inspiration for Sombrita came from a true story about a friend’s child. One summer, they accidentally ended up raising a stag beetle and, as a friend of the father, I was there to see the child confront the reality of death for the first time. The child’s calm and collected response made it feel like they had their own way of dealing with it even though they’d never had this experience before.

    After we talked it over, I felt that the whole thing had been an interesting experience in itself and I found the delicate emotions at play deeply moving. Some scenes appeared in my mind and I hoped that I could develop them into a picture book. To create the story for Sombrita, I linked the incident with some of my own childhood memories of our family home in the mountains where my brother and I would play games together on the steep terraced fields.


    Why did you choose to make the protagonist a stag beetle rather than a cat or a dog, or maybe another animal that humans encounter more often in the modern world?

    I envisioned the scenes from the book taking place in the mountains and forests, but most pets today are kept at home which is far from the natural world of plants and external environments that I wanted to portray in the story. I hoped it would feel like leaving the city behind. Thus, I didn’t give much consideration to replacing the stag beetle with another animal. Part of me also hoped that I could encourage children to understand and care about animals other than cats and dogs. However, once the book was published I got some feedback from readers who said that the book reminded them of their own relationships with their dogs or other pets and it made me really happy to hear them share these feelings.


    What is the significance of the “dad” character in the story?

    After I started creating picture books, I often heard people mention that most of the adult characters in children’s books were mothers, and a lot of fathers really felt that disparity when they were reading books aloud to their children. I didn’t have a set stance on it when I was writing the story and I believed that whether the parent was a mother or a father wouldn’t have an effect on the development of the plot. Given the vast number of picture books in the world, I thought perhaps it would be good to give fathers a chance to see themselves in a picture book as they read it aloud.



    Which is your favorite illustration in the book? 

    Personally, I really like the page where the young protagonist is surrounded by various plants, insects and butterflies. It was a deep memory from childhood when I was very young and instantly felt the atmospheric rhythm of nature, the tranquillity felt wonderous to me as a child from the city and I tried to capture this feeling in the illustration.

    When I was playing tag in the mountain field terraces that had been left to lie fallow, I noticed all sorts of creatures and sometimes I came across tadpoles or strange insects in the small pools of water. I remember one time just as I was about to jump over a ridge between the fields, I discovered a fat green caterpillar happily munching away on some leaves about ten centimetres in front of me. I had no choice but to hold onto that fear and it was only after I leapt steadily over the ridge that the feeling started to ferment within me.



    Read more:
    - Lee Jo-Shin: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=361
    - Sombrita: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=374

  • Finding Friendship in Dance
    Dec 17, 2021 / By Chang Ting-Yu ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    I came up with the story for Fred and Ginger during graduate school when I met my roommate from South America. She was from a country whose cultural background was completely different from Taiwan’s: Colombia. Her love of dance and her uninhibited personality were a huge culture shock for me at the time. We clearly had different ways of life and personal preferences, but we also had a lot of incidents involving cultural differences while we shared a room together but of course a certain amount of disagreement is inevitable. Colombia is the birthplace of salsa and my roommate had always loved dancing since she was small, she introduced me to so many Latin dances and it was a totally new life experience for someone like me who had no background in dance. This was why I chose to use dance as a subject to bring out the friendship between the two characters. 

    The story was initially conceived in English, so when I was naming the characters I researched famous dancers from history and came across two celebrities who had been renowned dance partners during the 1930s and 40s: Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. By chance, the English word for an orange cat is “ginger”, so I decided there and then to call the two characters “Fred” and “Ginger”. However, the hardest part was choosing a title for the book, it was a huge challenge for me as a someone who is not a native English speaker. I considered so many dance-related titles but none of them were quite right, until I gave a talk at the end of term and mentioned the concept behind naming “Fred” and “Ginger”. Various teachers and classmates who had grown up in the West immediately picked up on the names and the dance connection, then they went on to suggest that there couldn’t be a more fitting title for the book than Fred and Ginger. I decided on that for the title, and when it came to translating it into Chinese I made the names more local and decided that instead of directly translating the English names, I would use the homophones “fu” (meaning “luck”) for Fred and “jin” (meaning “gold”) for Ginger.



    Also, the dance studio that appears in the story is called “Dansa” which combines the English word “dance” with “casa”, the Spanish word for home. The general idea is: as long as you like to dance, this is your home! 

    Lastly, what I really want to say is that in a lot of cases the end result isn’t the most important thing. What matters most is how we feel during the process and I hope that during these difficult times we can all cherish one another because there’s really nothing more important than each other’s company.  



    Read more:
    - Chang Ting-Yu: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=360
    - Fred and Ginger: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=373

  • When Life and Art Intertwine
    Dec 17, 2021 / By Chang Shu-Chiung ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    It is clear from Liu Ching-Yen’s previous works that he has a specific fondness for character-driven narratives, which he says derives from his background in journalism. Interviewing people and finding out their stories was a daily exercise for Liu as a reporter and he developed a particular passion for human-interest stories.


    A Boy as the Black Swan

    Liu based the story of I Am the Black Swan on three people he had encountered. The first was a teenaged boy he met in church who was dancing one of the lead roles in his high school’s production of Swan Lake. Next was a young girl who Liu met while hosting his children’s TV show My Reading Bakery. She studied ballet and her passion for dance was immediately evident in every moment of her life. Lastly, during his university days Liu had interviewed the famous Taiwanese dancer and choreographer Lin Hwai-min, as well as Lin’s roommate at the time who’d said: “If you see someone leaping instead of walking down the street, that’s Lin Hwai-min.”

    Thus, Liu tied the figure of Lin Hwai-min together with the story of the boy who danced the Black Swan and the little girl who loved to dance so much she skipped across the street, to create a narrative about gender roles, pursuing your dreams and how art merges with life.


    Connecting with the Stirring Topic of Gender

    When she first read I Am the Black Swan, illustrator Chang Pei-Yu said she was immediately drawn to the part on gender roles. She remembered her own childhood experience of being forced to use a pink schoolbag even though she really liked the color blue. Later, when she studied early German literature at university, she realized that the field was solely occupied by male writers. In I Am the Black Swan, she was particularly interested in Amin’s character and was extremely curious about how gender roles would be handled in a children’s book.



    Naturally Curly Hair and a Red Dance Costume

    When Chang contemplated how to lay the groundwork for Amin as a character, she kept debating whether to emphasize his artistic nature and make him stand out from the crowd, or to depict him as an ordinary child. She also felt that Amin’s slight rebelliousness and stubborn perseverance were typical childhood traits. In the end, she decided to do a combination of the two: she gave Amin naturally conspicuous curly hair but a very simple dance costume to show the side of him that is just an ordinary child.

    However, when it came to the color of his clothes, Chang decided to use bright red to represent Amin’s inner-life and to show his strength. This red appears constantly throughout the illustrations and is crucial to the book. Finally, Chang decided to use a combination of colored pencils and collage which she hoped would convey the effortless feeling of agility that comes with dancing.


    Chang and Liu’s Key Hopes for the Reader

    Chang says she hopes readers will enjoy the simple pleasure of the illustrations and that children will get a sense of the more relaxed, happy side of art. She hopes that the dynamic artwork will let children experience the movement and rhythm of dance and gain a sense of its beauty.

    Liu hopes that children can understand: “No matter what your parents demand that you learn, the most important thing is that you know whether or not you like it, because you are going to need passion if you want to master it. You can do anything you want regardless of gender, but you must embrace it and pursue it with a burning passion.”



    Read more:
    - Liu Ching-Yen: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=30
    - Chang Pei-Yu: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=359
    - I Am the Black Swan: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=372

  • The Birth of A MILLION KISSES
    Dec 17, 2021 / By Chen Shu-Ting & Deer Jan ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    Love from Parents (Author)

    From the day after my son was born, I discovered one key thing: The happy days we have now will always fly by but it’s such a busy time that we don’t get to feel much of it, until one day we look back and discover that there is no way for us to do it all again.

    I have watched my child grow taller each day as his body gradually lost its roundness. He is less dependent on me today than he was yesterday, and tomorrow he will be even less dependent still. Where I once enjoyed the sweetness of taking care of him as a newborn baby, in the last few years I have started to worry that I am always one day closer to the time he will eventually let go of my hand.



    The most common mood I’ve felt since becoming a mother is a mixture of irritability and guilt. I feel tired of doting on my son and I wish he would give me a bit more time to myself, but sometimes I’m elated by how much he clings to me. Now and then, he’ll sense my impatience and conflicting feelings. He will try and please me by asking whether he’s been well-behaved and I will repeatedly reassure him that I love him so much, regardless of whether he’s been good or not. No matter how many times I say it he never seems to be completely convinced, just as I secretly doubt whether I am the center of his world in the same way I was during those pre-school days. In the end it doesn’t really matter, we still love each other very much.

    This is how A Million Kisses came into being. When my son was born, he was so soft with that sweet newborn baby smell and I couldn’t bear to leave him even for a minute. Every time I picked him up I would kiss him. In the years that followed, I would just hold him close and kiss him when he threw afternoon tantrums or couldn’t sleep late at night, when he fell down or was angry at something. Even now, he’s in primary school and I still often hold my arms out wide for a hug and give him a kiss.

    I hope I hold fast to the beautiful memories I have of this time. Every morning, when I see him come out of his bedroom bleary-eyed and just waking up, I immediately get ready to give him a hug and a kiss. I know that an entire day spent together is about to begin and that we’ll never have these days again.


    A Happy Time for You and Me (Illustrator)

    When illustrating this story, I struggled with the ending for a long time.

    When exactly is the one millionth kiss?

    Is it when your child gets married? Or when they have children of their own?

    Or is it when they leave and say goodbye?

    I believe that you should always treat “right now” as the final moment to love with all your strength.

    Not a single moment should be missed!

    This is my interpretation of A Million Kisses.

    Thank you for this story that reminded me how I grew up surrounded by love.

    And I hope that this book will make readers feel a little bit of that same warmth.



    Read more:
    - Chen Shu-Ting: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=357
    - Deer Jan: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=358
    - A Million Kisses: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=371

  • I Am Monster Mum
    Dec 17, 2021 / By Chiang Meng-Yun ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver

    “I’m dead on my feet, I wish I could stuff you back in my belly!” I’ve shouted this deep down in my core more times than I can count during these years of learning to be a mother. Naturally, before I’m even done shouting I’m back to running around after my kids, but when I see their sleeping faces I understand the sheer boundlessness of love.

    I love my children dearly as all mothers do, even though it often feels futile. I wish I could love them as tenderly as the hare does in Guess How Much I Love You. Unfortunately, more often than not I’m like a mother penguin who’s always screaming and running around manically scooping up her children after scaring them by flying into a rage. It feels extremely therapeutic to read stories like this in picture books about parent-child relationships, they give you space to relax and reflect on your own circumstances. I feel deeply influenced by books like this and they have made me want to accurately portray the conflicting emotions that I’ve perceived in parent-child relationships.



    Monster Mum is the first picture book I have ever written. It tackles several subjects that have always been tremendously important to me: the possession of love, the sense of security, the way we both need and fear relationships, and how we should place these feelings and respond to them. What is love? How do we love? These age-old questions are still issues I contemplate every day. The entertaining anecdotes that crop up in daily life when you’re interacting with children have provided a never-ending stream of inspiration and creative motivation. People are moved by stories that are rooted in real life and I strongly believe that storytelling allows adults and children to better understand one another and gain a deeper sense of how their lives are closely connected.

    I am a “monster mum” and I’m in the process of learning how to love without being anxious. I think adults often pretend to understand, they pretend to know more than children when in reality adults are just children with more experience. Growing up makes us recognize the harshness of the real world but we also lose our sense of courage in the face of adversity. I believe that when adults are willing to let go of the fact they’ve grown older and taller, they can go back to seeing the world through a child’s eyes and this doesn’t just give them the courage to face the world but also lets them return to a beautiful kind of simplicity. The world really is so big, it’s large enough that we can set ourselves free. We can unleash our courage on the world and know that love may bring unconditional happiness.

    I hope that my fellow monsters like this story and that all the baby monsters can go through the world knowing true freedom and happiness. 



    Read more: 
    - Chiang Meng-Yun: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=194
    - Monster Mum: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=370


  • Nativist Literature: the Wish to Know Oneself (II)
    Dec 14, 2021 / By Chu Yuhsun ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer

    Read Previous Part: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/latest_info.php?id=138


    In 1977, debates erupted between officially sanctioned writers who supported the Oppose Communism/Remember the Motherland policy and outsider writers who yearned for a nativist Taiwan literature. This Nativist Literature Debate, the single most important debate in the history of Taiwan literature, validated the nativist writers as an important cultural force, and deeply impacted politics and society in ways that foreshadowed the end of martial law a decade later. During the debates, one of the official writers, Chu Hsi-Ning, made an argument which caused an uproar amongst Taiwanese writers because it made evident the degree to which nativist literature was officially suppressed. “What can be said of loyalty to, or the purity of, national culture after this patch of ‘native soil’ was occupied and managed by Japan for half a century?” Chu asked.


    The meaning behind this utterance was clear. As far as the government of the time was concerned, Taiwan was a polluted land, a lowly “patch” of “native soil” not worthy of being written about.


    It was only after the lifting of martial law in 1987 that this disdain for nativist culture began to slowly recede. This does not mean, however, that nativist writing was immediately embraced. That would have to wait until the first democratic transition of power took place in 2000, handing the reigns of power to the Democratic Progressive Party. With a more native-conscious political party in power, nativist cultural expression gradually emerged in all artistic fields.


    In keeping with these political trends, contemporary nativist works in Taiwan have primarily adopted the third definition of nativist literature, with the first and second definitions being of secondary importance. At least some of the concepts of nativist literature can be identified in most literary works of the past 20 years, including Wu Ming-Yi’s (吳明益) The Stolen Bicycle (單車失竊記), Kan Yao-Ming’s (甘耀明) Killing Ghosts (殺鬼), Tung Wei-Ko’s (童偉格) Summer Downpour (西北雨), Yang Shuang-Tzu’s (楊双子) Blossom Season (花開時節), Xiao Xiang Shen’s (瀟湘神) Yokai Dominate Old Taipei (台北城裡妖魔跋扈), Lien Ming-Wei’s (連明偉) Copper Beetle (青蚨子), and Hung Ming-Tao’s (洪明道) Visitors Bearing Gifts (等路). The aesthetics of these novels differ greatly, spanning modernist experimental, social realist, popular historical fiction, and an increasing number of works that seek to recreate the aesthetics of local language use. But despite these differences there can be no doubt that they are all works that address Taiwanese society in the language of Taiwan.

    The Stolen Bicycle 


    “Know thyself” is a famous Greek maxim. However, for most of the first century of modern Taiwan literature, Taiwanese were forbidden from knowing themselves. All too often the price of writing in a native voice was banishment from literary circles and political censure. The culmination of these 100 years of modern literature is that finally we can write our own stories openly and with dignity. Over the course of this century, nativist literature, our most powerful means of “knowing ourselves,” went from being an impossibly remote hope to a fully recognized school of literary practice.


    The better we understand the immense difficulty of “knowing ourselves” that informs the background of all works of nativist literature, the better we can appreciate the profound depths of emotion that reside within these distinctively Taiwanese books.