Every Saturday there are always surprises in store for me in the Stone Soup study club. My ignorance for Taiwanese children's literature writers results in my immense bliss now. I always end up feeling like I've discovered a new continent every weekend.
The guest speaker today is Mr. Shi-jen Lin, who is a renowned writer in the children's literature in Taiwan. He instantly reminds me of Daddy-Long-Legs. When he talks, I feel his sincere and communicative personalities, right like sunny spring days. However, when asked how writing has influenced him, Mr. Lin says that he was an outgoing kid before 10. He even participated in speech contests, but in his teens, he became introvert and withdrawn. Through writing, he has managed to return to the young self before 10 and stay physically and mentally young.
Though Mr. Lin is a writer, his background in art history also plays a crucial part in his works. In the talk today, he keeps sharing the process in which he and the illustrators cooperate, which really offers an insight into how writers and illustrators work. Take his latest work My Dear Animals for example. It is a collection of 50 poems inspired by Shel Silverstein's book Don't Bump the Glump!: and Other Fantasies. Though he tends to be a slow writer, he was inspired one night and wrote about 15 poems about animals that he created. Despite so, he didn't get to have the book published until five years later. Something most special about the book is that he got to work with several illustrators. In fact, he was really looking forward to how they might interpret his imagination pictorially. Apart from the illustrators' viewpoints, Mr. Lin had his own idea regarding the images. Meanwhile, the editor and art editor also assisted by providing their suggestions. Thus, there are many interesting visual presentations in the book.
The book includes fifty poems about fifty kinds of non-existing monsters. While Mr. Lin was writing, he didn't think about the meaning of every monster. It was not until the editor advised him to categorize the monsters for the reader to breathe when reading that Mr. Lin realized that these animals actually symbolize human beings' weaknesses. Though the animals are fictional, they are more real than the reality and exist in each of us. Mr. Lin goes on to connect his creation with life, and I can't help nodding in agreement all along.
Mr. Lin has said many great quotes which are very helpful to potential writers and artists. And I hear the same words while attending another speech by the famous writer Hsiao Yeh.
"There are many ways to make a book."
("The same story can be told differently." by Hsiao Yeh)
"There's meaning behind a 'happy' story. Stories with educational significance aren't necessarily good stories, but good stories must have certain significance."
"About how to illustrate, when you are sure, you can illustrate directly what's said in a quote, but if you are not, you can illustrate the moment before the story happens."
"Every creator is God in his/her own way."
"It takes a child's heart and an adult's eye to write books for children."
"A really good book for children can be read for people from 8 to 88 years old because there is something that touches everyone. The part about core human value will warm our hearts. Growth is the process of expansion. We expand what we've already known, but with time passing by, we are preoccupied with worries and anxiety and forget what's really important."
Mr. Lin also guides children to write poems. He will first make them read some poems and look at some pictures, and after that, he'll let them create freely. He usually asks them to do collage of a monster first, then name it, think about its personalities, and make these part of their poems. Interestingly, children will thus reveal their weaknesses automatically and turn their emotions into the monsters. Mr. Lin says instead of "teaching," he actually accompanies them to record their feelings of the moment.
Mr. Lin introduces another newly-printed old book of his: Fourteen Windows. The title derived from his writing each story in front of different windows. The illustrator for the old version of the book took the elements in each story to illustrate, but the artist of the new version based his concept on how Mr. Lin created the story and designed each illustration by using the objects found in front of the windows. The young artist named 69 can't hear, so Mr. Lin thinks that's why he is especially sensitive. His drawing style is literary.
In the end Mr. Lin shares another book of his: The Magic Printer of the Universe. It is a book that explores his idea on books, discussing in what forms books can exist and the meanings of books. The famous Chinese writer Shen Congwen said: I read a small book and a big book at the same time. My life goal is: I write a small book and a big book.