After adventuring in London and Paris and city-hopping in Australia, expat mom Tania McCartney came to Beijing in 2004 and proceeded to find inspiration everywhere in the Chinese capital. When she isn’t busy chasing her children, Riley, 5, and Ella, 8, or contributing to beijingkids, the native Australian taps into her passion for writing. McCartney’s forthcoming book, Riley and the Sleeping Dragon, an illustrated story for kids up to 7 years old, grew from her observations about life in Beijing. The author sat down with us to discuss the release of her first book for children. Jessica Pan
Tell us about your book.
It’s an illustration-rich book about a boy, Riley, who flies his tin plane throughout Beijing searching for a mystical dragon. The sleeping dragon is really the Great Wall – it represents the Chinese people. I believe that China is awakening, so this kids story has an adult undercurrent to it. I wanted to do something to link the West with China. It also has black and white photographs of Beijing, so it can be a memento for families here.
Why did you decide to write a children’s book?
I absolutely adore children’s books. I used to buy them for myself before I had kids. When I had kids it was a joy to go out and buy them. The thought of doing my own book was always a dream. It’s a cliché, but I was inspired by my kids. I can’t believe I’ve actually done it.
What do you read to your kids? I started them with books from my childhood, like the Amelia Jane books by Enid Blyton – they’re just wonderful adventures. As they’ve become older, I’ve discovered more modern children’s authors. We love David Shannon.
How have children’s books changed?
They’ve become more obscure and more abstract. What I like about modern books is that they leave a lot to the imagination and are open to interpretation. One child can read the book and see something different from another child. Retro, older books tend to fill in the gaps and tell wonderful tales but they provide it all for you.
What do you think about Chinese children’s literature?
The Chinese literature market is shifting and I think it’s really going to change in five years. Right now, most Chinese children’s books are fairytales or traditional stories – few are imaginative, quirky or can spark a child’s creativity. I’d love to be able to tap into that market and reach Chinese children. If Riley and the Sleeping Dragon does well, I hope to get it printed in Chinese.
What are your favorite children’s books?
Naughty Amelia Jane! by Enid Blyton, Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak, the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis, No, David! by David Shannon, and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.