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Minhós Martins x Xiong Liang: Creating a Space where Adults and Children Engage

At 5:00 p.m. on November 28th, 2020, the seventeenth event of the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival was held online. The Portuguese writer Isabel Minhós Martins, together with the Chinese writer and artist Xiong Liang, had a discussion under the topic of “Creating a Space where Adults and Children Engage”.


Isabel Minhós Martins was born in Lisbon in 1974. Words, what we can do with words and what words can do with us, were always her favourite mystery. She has won the Author Awards for children’s literature SPA/RTP (2015), the Gustav-Heinemann Friedenspreis (2017) and the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis (2017), and she has also won an Honourable Mention in the 1st International Prize for Picture Books of Compostela and has been selected for White Ravens Catalogue. Most of her works were published in several countries by Planeta Tangerina.


Xiong Liang is a writer, painter and pioneering Chinese illustrator. His works draw on the best of China’s long artistic tradition, depicting unique scenes and characters in drawings brimming with visual poetry, emotion, and expressiveness. His works span a number of fields, including children’s books, illustrated novels for adults, plays, novels, and modern ink wash painting. They unite a variety of influences, both deep and broad, to produce a style all Xiong’s own. His representative works including include The Little Stone Lion, The Beijing Opera Cats series, Wandering with the Wind, The Solar Terms and Little MuKe. In 2014, Xiong was nominated for International Andersen illustrator Award. In 2018, he became the first Chinese artist chosen in the shortlist of International Andersen illustrator Award.


This conversation was held under the topic of how to create a space where artists, writers and books engaged. Isabel first emphasized that both children and adults shared the same world, the same challenges and the same difficulties, but children’s understanding to the world was unique. Although children’s understanding to the story may be different, books and poems still provide a good imaginary space where adults and children, parents and kids engaged.


Xiong Liang started with the introduction of the book market in China. In his mind, there is a huge demand of chidren’s books and picture books in China, and that is what is lacking here. Sometimes, for example, adults like teachers or parents will not consider the issues from a child’s perspective. Children think differently from adults, and they always have some creative considerations. And what we lack of is to stand on children’s aspect.


At present, the book market in China can be divided into two parts – one is personalized type, the other is traditional books totally from the perspective of adults. He thought that Isabel had given him a good inspiration that we should renew the tradition, transforming it into a contemporary topic and continuing to stretch it visually and creatively.


When asked about multiple identities of artists by the moderator, Xiong Liang shared his own concept of “graded creation”. For example, he will consider the cognitive characteristics, their concerned topics and cognitive boundaries to find their unique voices and perspectives in different age stage. “His voice should break something. It should tell the adults his own opinions or stay away from the adults’ perspective.” Most importantly, inside the story must include children’s voices.


Isabel thought that the creator should have a frame at the beginning – no matter a textual one or an overall vision. If it is a picture book or the book with illustrations, the genre and the artistic construction can be more free. For herself, “when I am dealing with those picture books, I pay more attention to the expression of my inner feelings because I want to extend my voices to my little readers.” During this process, the communication between the illustrator and the writer is very important because both of them are the creators and the masters of the book.


Besides, Isabel emphasized that we should let children enrich knowledge on their own through different creative ideas and themes. Just as we cannot only eat hamburgers or pizza every day, but we need to adjust our tastes, take in different nutrient and broaden our thinking.


How do artists, writers and painters work effectively? Isabel thought that the most effective way is to combine illustration and the text together. “one of the aims of literature creation is to let children know more about the outside world.” Many people thinks that children’s books are too simple, both on contents and themes. However, for Isabel, the illustrations and the texts shared the same context. Only if we understand both of them can we say that we fully know the book well. And this process is not easy.


Xiong Liang emphasized that when creating fiction, the writer paid more attention to the description instead of the relation between the image and the text. However, creating a picture book with both images and words needs a translating process, which contains one’s consideration and observation. “I think both of them are powerful, especially when the words are in the front and the image is followed. The text is not only the words, but a world constructed by those words and images help him create such world.”


During the Q&A session, someone asked the two writers about their expectations to the children’s literature market and to both adult and young readers. Isabel said that she was very confident books for children would continue to have an active place in the global book market. For the future market, she thought books should bring more diversified elements – with different themes and ideas and in different countries. For example, in English countries, there might not have too many children’s books in other languages. So, Isabel expressed her expectations that “let our children, from diversified perspectives in their childhood, to know people from different countries and understand the differences in their mind, and let them to learn deeper about human beings.”


The China-Europe International Literary Festival has been hold for 4 years so far. Every year, the Chinese writers, together with the writers from Europe, discussed a variety of topics on life and society. Once more, in the 5th China-Europe International Literary Festival, excellent Chinese writers and the writers from 27 European countries will continue the literary conversation between China and Europe.


At the end of the conversation, both of the writers extended their gratitude to the hosts f China-Europe Literary Festival, and wished that the literature journey could go further and made more readers to appreciate the charm of the literature.


By Xiao Yao

Translated into English by Sarah Sa