A local author, Lana Sultan, successfully published a bilingual book introducing children to the delights of Beijing.
What A Place! (北京是个好地方) follows the adventures of a little girl as she discovers the city. Sultan shared her inspirations and ideas with us.
What inspired you to write the book?
I have to be inspired to write! All my books have been motivated by wanting to make a difference, by something I want to share through a story.
I’ve lived in many different cities, but Beijing really inspired me, with its rich culture. I’m a glass half-full person. People said, Lana, you should write about the pollution, but I said, no, Beijing deserves better than that. I started to observe every little thing, seeing it in a different, very positive way.
How did you meet your illustrator?
I was introduced to Wendy through a colleague at school, who knew I was looking for an illustrator. We met, we connected, and actually became friends. It was really nice working with her; it was a fun project, a good collaboration.
I wanted a style that’s suited to China, that’s not cartoonish. We paid attention to small details, like what people were drinking. We tried to fit everything in, in a way that’s artistic, not overwhelming!
Tell us about your journey to publication.
It was challenging! I really wanted to publish here in China, but it’s very competitive. I tried publishers throughout China, not just Beijing, but I got lots of rejections. I didn’t give up though, didn’t lose hope.
Then I was at a wholesale book market, looking for publishing houses which publish work by expats. I saw a book which attracted my attention because it was so beautiful, then I noticed it was illustrated by a foreigner.
I contacted the company, Daylight Publishing House (天天出版社), and they put me in touch with an English-speaking editor. Li Xiangang loved the idea, and believed in me. He’s really helped me, with all aspects of publication, including the Mandarin translation.
It was still a challenge even getting the ISBN [International Standard Book Number] though! Then we had to wait for the CIP [Cataloguing In Publication], then the green label.
Is the girl in the story based on anybody?
Yes, she’s inspired by Maria my daughter! Maria really loves Beijing, she’s so comfortable here. She always says “我是北京人…”
Who is your ideal audience for this book?
I wrote it in a way that a lot of people can relate to it: expats can connect it to their experience, Beijingers can enjoy that someone else appreciates their city and culture, other Chinese people who don’t know Beijing can learn about the city, and so can people who don’t know China at all. Even people have visited the city don’t know it like those of us who live here. I put all my passion into this book. I wrote it with love.
*Editor’s Update, May 16: Lana Sultan’s book can be bought in Beijing at The Bookworm, Baby International, Counting Sheep, UCCA Store, and That’s Mandarin. Baby International will also make this available in their Shanghai and Chengdu branches. The book is available to purchase online for the rest of China through Wei Dian (微店).
Photos: Courtesy of Lana Sultan