Beijing-native Emily Wang is an unassuming woman, but if you’re lucky enough to break through her quiet exterior you’ll be surprised by what you find. The proud mother of a 2-year-old son, Emily is the Deputy General Manager of Penguin China and has been working largely in the area of children’s publishing for the past four years. Her work with young readers of both English and Chinese language books goes hand-in-hand with her current field of study: preschool education. Managing home, work and study is just another day for this mom, but somehow she makes it work. "I may not be 24 years old physically, but mentally I am," she beams. But no matter how busy she is, Emily makes sure she’s there when her son, affectionately known as Mr. Strong, wakes up in the morning. Emily took time out of poring over manuscripts to chat with beijingkids about books, family and why she could never be a writer herself.
Why did you chose to work in children’s publising?
I have always had an unexplained passion for books; I guess it is because I am too lazy to participate in any physically activities so I read instead! Since having a baby, I have focused my passion on children’s books.
With such a demanding job, how do you unwind?
Luckily, I do not find it terribly demanding. I have found a good balance between my job and my personal life that I now rely on. Seeing my baby’s smile is the best way to relax. I travel once or twice per month, mainly for business. After I had my baby, my business trips have become my personal holidays – I get up late, stay up during the night and go shopping a lot.
What does your family think of your choice of career?
I have a traditional family. All of my family members work for state-owned companies. For years now, they have been asking me about my job (I have always worked at foreign companies). They ask things like, "Are you going to be fired tomorrow? Do foreign companies fire anyone older than 35 years old? Do you work on the weekends?"
How well do you think the local Chinese audiencerelates to Western children’s stories?
It really depends on which age group you are talking about. For preschool, children’s books are mainly about developing kids’ skills, such as touch, color, space, numeracy – it’s pretty much the same all around the world. For primary school and middle school, some categories can be shared around the world, such as science, mysteries and fantasy; but there is a huge cultural gap in fiction, especially in the literature you find middle school-age kids reading.
Is there a growing market for Chinese children’s books overseas?
Yes, but it is not very big yet. However, with more and more Chinese moving overseas, they are hungry for Chinese children’s books to remind their kids about Chinese characters and Chinese culture.
What makes a good children’s book and how do you decide which stories get published?
I focus more on preschool books [at the moment]. For preschool books, different age groups have different requirements for what is considered "good." It depends on the kid’s physical and mental development. For ages 1-2, I’m looking for touch and feel, blank backgrounds, and simple picture and sound books. For ages 2-3, [I look for] simple repeat-episode-story books. For ages 3 and up, I’m looking for sticker books, game books and slightly more complex story books.
Which stories do you read to your son?
I read a lot to my son, beginning when he was 4 months old. My baby’s books range from touch-and-feel to sound, rhyme and picture books. It is really amazing to see how good his memory is. He can remember most book titles, and more than 20 different dinosaur names. He loves any books about dinosaurs.
What were your favorite books growing up?
Greek mythology. I read quite a few when I was a kid and they made me believe that there is another world looking over me – there are heroes above shaping the world, and they urged me to explore the unknown.
How do you manage full-time work and a family?
I think I am quite good at managing the balance, so far. I normally finish my job at 5.30pm and on my way back home, I check emails on my mobile phone and make phone calls. When I am home, I give all my attention and time to my baby. When he sleeps, I read books and the newspaper. If I have a business trip, I leave home very early before my baby wakes, and [return the same day]no matter how late it is, to make sure my baby can see me the [next]morning.
Do you write yourself?
I do not write. I am a typical Gemini; talking is better and easier than writing.
Any advice for writers hoping to publish a children’s book?
Writers are mysteries to me, [but]someone once told me only those who can remember what happened in their [own]kids’ lives can write a good children’s book. I believe that is the case.