By Yao Minji | 2013-3-7 | NEWSPAPER EDITION
MEI Zihan spends a large percentage of his time visiting schools around the country to advise children, teachers and parents on how to read children's literature.
The university professor and children's book author has dedicated the past 13 years to promoting reading among children and helping publishers select and import both classic and contemporary foreign children's books. Many Chinese children's publishers consider him the "lamp lighter."
"Demand for good children's books has increased greatly in recent years, but there really aren't a lot of experts who know about foreign children's books and are willing to help, except for Mei," Li Yan, editor from Jiangsu Juvenile and Children's Publishing House, tells Shanghai Daily.
"Professor Mei helps many children's publishers like us to select the books and, more importantly, he writes a guiding preface for these books that helps parents, teachers and children to understand them better," Li adds.
Children's literature is one of the largest and fastest-growing markets among all books. The number of published children's books is around 10 percent of all published in China and children's books sell more quickly than any other category in bookstores. The sales peak seasons are summer vacation and around Chinese Lunar New Year, when books are purchased as gifts for children.
Though a handful of Chinese children's book authors caught the wave and are beloved by children, many more have been falling behind and have been criticized for lack of originality and imagination. Publishers eager to exploit the market turn to foreign books.
Only 10 years ago, Chinese children had little exposure to foreign stories except for a few classics like those of Han Christian Andersen or the Grimm Brothers.
Today, parents can pick from a large pool of foreign children's literature dating from the oldest to what just came out in the writer's home country.
"Chinese children, brought up in modern China that has been developing so fast and is very receptive of foreign culture, have no problem understanding these great books from other countries as long as they have a little help from the parents," Mei suggests.
"Children, those under 10 years old, don't really have to read anything beyond children's literature since good children's books have covered almost all topics one needs in a lifetime," says the professor.
Mei considers parents' role essential in nurturing the habit of reading and love of reading.
"Parents are very important, especially when their children can't read yet, when they can't pick the books for themselves yet. Parents should get the books and tell the stories in a fun way that the children can enjoy.
Children should be touched and remember the fun of reading," he adds.
The 64-year-old literature professor and children's writer says he always wanted to have children's books to read when he was little. It wasn't until he was in university that he had the chance.
"If I had read children's literature in my childhood, I would have been happier, milder, more imaginative and more romantic. And I would have been a better children's writer too," he concludes.