My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder is a charming, whimsical graphic novel for readers ages 7-11. Illustrated with beautiful watercolors, the book consists of four heartwarming tales about a young disabled girl named Yu’er and her beloved, quirky grandfather by renowned Chinese author-illustrator, Nie Jun. My Beijing introduces English readers to Nie’s East-meets-West art and to his Beijing with a much-deserved, multiply awarded bang…although bang is the wrong word for Nie’s gentle, gorgeous style.
All four stories feature a magical world in which the boundary between fantasy and reality is thin at best. In the first, “Yu’er’s Dream,” Yu’er wants to compete in the Special Olympics but the local pool won’t let her swim there. Her imaginative grandfather dreams up an amazing contraption to let her practice in the air. The second story, “Bug Paradise,” deals with bullies, a butterfly with a damaged wing and a concert by musical bugs. The third, “The Letter,” is about Yu’er’s deceased grandmother and communicating with the past via an old mailbox. The final sweet tale, “Kids at Heart,” is ostensibly about a grouchy old artist named Pumpkin but really also about the value of dreams and redemption. Along the way, Nie deals with universal themes of relationships, family, injustice, and exclusion without being heavy-handed in his treatment.
As My Beijing comes to a close, Nie gives us a further glimpse of his and Yu’er’s world with a series of black and white sketches. There is also a short but fascinating page of back matter about the city and its traditional neighborhoods.
Surprisingly often, a graphic novel or children’s book will arrive in English via another language with little explanation of its linguistic journey. My Beijing is a prime example. Since I really do prefer to see translators credited, was puzzled about how the book got into French from Chinese, and wondered which language it was in when it reached translator Edward Gauvin, I queried the publisher. I found out that the original Chinese was translated into French by a dynamic duo of Qingyuan Zhao and Nicolas Grivel (uncredited in the English edition) for publication in France, and then the French version was passed on to Gauvin to translate into English. Mystery solved! A bit of a whirlwind tour for one children’s book to travel, but not an atypical one.
In an inspiring interview about what he hopes children will take away from his book, Nie writes, “Do not treat people with disabilities with exclusion or pity. Step past your differences, learn from each other’s heart…” He goes on to say, “Although we are in different cultures, I believe that readers could feel lots of common emotions from the story, and I hope… that through the story of an ordinary family in the old street, we can see those unchanging feelings and love for dreams.”
Indeed, we can.
My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder
Written and illustrated by Nie Jun
Translated from the French by Edward Gauvin
2018, Lerner/ Graphic Universe
Compare sketches with a few photos of the original places and see a photo of Jie Nun: https://lernerbooks.blog/2018/09/my-beijing-nie-jun.html
Awards: 2019 Mildred L. Batchelder Honor Book; Junior Library Guild Selection; Association for Library Services to Children (ALSC) Notable Children’s Books, 2019; New York Public Library Best Books for Kids, 2018
Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of over 50 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, and German into English, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels. Two of her latest translations, Luisa: Now and Then (Humanoids, 2018) and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas (First Second, 2017) were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens. Her most recent translations are Who Killed Kenny (NBM Publishing, 2019) and The Sisters, vol 5: M.Y.O.B (Papercutz, 2019).