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Stone Soup Happy Reading Alliance – Review of the Fengzikai Authors Visit Schools

To celebrate the “4·23 World Book Day” in 2023, Feng Zikai Children’s Picture Book Award winning works authors Ms. Jiu’er and Mr. Li Xingming traveled to Hefei to visit the Stone Soup Happy Reading Alliance “SSHRA” schools from April 18th to 20th. Everyone was delighted that the authors were able to communicate face-to-face with teachers and students after Covid restrictions prevented the opportunity for travel. The author/illustrators shared their views of the “fantastic ideas” of picture book creation, giving our SSHRA teachers and students an insight into understanding the creative process, stimulating students’ interest in reading and creation, and better connecting picture books with campus reading promotion activities.

“Sudan’s Rhino Horn” is a picture book about animal protection painted by Mr. Li Xingming. Through the complementary color and text of the picture, it presents the tragic fate of the last male North White Rhinoceros in the world, which is now functionally extinct due to human greed. From visual composition to on-site sketching, Mr. Li went to Africa in 2016 to observe and sketch rhinoceroses, and ultimately portrayed Sudan’s life in three tones: childhood (Sudan), youth (Czech Republic), and old age (Kenya). The author hopes that this story conveys the love and care for the most precious people and things around us, as well as nature, which is closely related to the survival of each and every one of us. Mr. Li also brought the picture book “Mr. Otter’s New Neighbor”, which tells the story of the new neighbor bringing different gifts and blessings connect with his new community. However, due to an unexpected episode, Mr. Otter and his neighbors renovate and decorate the house together, and everyone celebrates until the sun sets. Finally, Mr. Otter enjoys a peaceful time alone. The story personifies animals and presents the need for friends to learn to share and accept.

In addition to the sharing of the picture books, the school art teacher also discussed with Mr. Li Xingming the methods between art classroom and creation, further enriching the connotation of art teaching.

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Ms. Jiu’er first featured her picture only book “Button Soldier”, using a small button to tell a strange and interesting story. It is a wordless book rich in images, leaving a wealth of information for the reader to discover and to tell their own version of the story. Ms. Jiu’er asks students to predict the plot of the story by hinting at picture clues. It also showcases vivid and interesting images from the perspective of “buttons”, which is captivating. This picture book also contains the kinship between grandparents and grandchildren, as well as the innocence and friendship of children’s games, adding warmth to the story and comforting readers’ hearts. Ms. Jiu’er also brought another minimalist style wordless book, “Mr. Blake and His Dog,” in which the two characters shuttle through different scenes of the city, from black, white, gray to color, symbolizing Mr. Black’s psychological changes from depression and disappointment to positivity and happiness. This book provides inspiration for teachers and students on how to resolve negative emotions and find a path to a better mindset. At the end of the activity, the author led the students to create more colorful images for Mr. Blake in real-time.

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SSHRA Schools welcomed the arrival of these two authors/illustrators with its own enthusiasm and professionalism. Some schools have launched a student “Wordless Book Creation” initiative, adopting the creative style of author. Their collection of works have received high praise from the author. Some schools have also rehearsed situational plays, and the vivid performances thoroughly captivated the entire audience. These activities are well prepared by the school, and the power of parent volunteers is also utilized to assist children in painting activities, exchange parent-child reading with writers, all which have reaped rich rewards for all involved.

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