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Zhou Jian-Xin and Kuo Nai-Wen: The Beauty Always Remains (Part 1)

By Kiew Li Lian

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Kuo Nai-Wen (left) and Zhou Jian-Xin speaking eloquently on stage.

 

Su Shi, the renowned Song Dynasty poet also known as Su Tungpo, once wrote that joyful encounters and sorrowful separations in life are inevitable. How should we educate our children about these delicate emotions? Perhaps, picture books may do just that.

On 25 June 2017 at 2pm, Taiwanese picture book authors Zhou Jian-Xin and Kuo Nai-Wen spoke at the 12th BookFest@Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur about their picture books creation journey.

 

Zhou Jian-Xin: Beginning Again After Saying Goodbye

Inspired by life’s experiences, Zhou insists that stories must first move their authors. His first picture book, The Maroon Oriole, drew upon many of his childhood memories to render the unique natural landscapes of Taiwan’s eastern regions like cliffs, oceans, and green grassy fields in print. Featuring ink wash painting and block printing, it is stitch bound like a classical Chinese book. The illustrations on the pages of rice paper narrate the tale of how the maroon oriole overcame great difficulty to escape from its cage, only to find itself grappling with existential questions such as, “Who am I?”, “Where did I come from?”, and “Where am I going?”, during the flight to freedom. Zhou hopes this book will encourage readers to contemplate the meaning of life.

Everything in life has a beginning and an end. On a trip home once, Zhou discovered that the old banyan tree that had stood silently for hundreds of years at the Confucius Temple was sickly and dying. Death eventual came and the tree was chopped down. At the same time, his mother’s illness and imminent passing brought the fragility of life into focus, and Zhou asked himself: “As life comes to an end, how should we say goodbye?”

Though Zhou still remembers his mother’s last moments vividly, he had no regrets as he bid farewell to her eventually. Likewise, saying goodbye is the theme behind the many stories of him and his mother hidden within The Squirrel and the Banyan Tree. The old banyan tree in the book bids farewell after telling the white squirrel many stories. When the little squirrel returns to the same spot later, the tree has already turned into a withered stump. Zhou believes that life will always return, and in this book, small buds sprout anew on top of the withered tree stump.

 

About the Authors

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Zhou Jian-Xin (1973– ) graduated from the Taipei National University of the Arts. He specialises in arts education, and illustration methods like block printing and ink wash drawing. His works include The Maroon Oriole, The Squirrel and the Banyan Tree, Tiny’s Big Adventure, The Lost Cat, and Little Bai. He was awarded the 2014 Taiwan Golden Butterfly Award for Best Book Design, an International Design Awards Honourable Mention, and the top prize at the 2016 Hsin-Yi Children’s Literature Awards, for The Lost Cat and The Maroon Oriole.
P1090369Kuo Nai-Wen (1970– ) graduated from the National Taitung University Department of Early Childhood Education, and received his Masters from the Fu Jen Catholic University Institute of Child and Family Studies. He is an Artist-in-Residence of the Tainan collective Lane 321 Art Village, and currently specialises in children’s art education. His books include The Lost Cat and Little Bai, and received the top prize at the 2016 Hsin-Yi Children’s Literature Awards.
(Translated by Daryl Li)

 

Please look out for Zhou Jian-Xin and Kuo Nai-Wen: The Beauty Always Remains (Part 2)
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