Recently an eye-catching project appeared on WeBackers, a Taiwanese crowd-funding platform. Featuring a children’s book teaching French children Chinese using Zhuyin, a system of Mandarin phonetic symbols widely used in Taiwan, the project reached 70% of its target in a week. The cross-cultural book is created by a sweet couple, Vincent Bellingard from Provence and Aries Lin from Taipei.
Like many others, Vincent chose a career path which met his parents’ expectations. Currently working for corporate finance at a French bank, he studied Finance in college, and has been working in the Finance industry for 12 years after graduation. However, what he has actually been longing to do, is art: painting, music, and handicrafts. “Every time when adults ask me to do something I don’t like to do, a quote from The Little Prince, emerges in my mind, “Grown ups are certainly very strange.” He asked himself, if one day he became a father, “how will I raise my children”? After he met Aries, they decided to create their own “ideal” stories together. Stories that don’t teach children what to do, or what kind of person they should be, but encourage them to explore their lives and enjoy the adventure.
Their first storybook “Oscar Go!” talks about the story of how Oscar met Odile. Oscar is a snail named after “escargot” (snail in French), and Odile is a butterfly, whose name sounds similar to “Hudei” (butterfly in Chinese). The snail is a symbolic ingredient for French cuisine, and butterfly represents Taiwan, which is known as the “Butterfly Kingdom”. “Oscar and Odile will face many cultural shocks between France and Taiwan. If we could develop the story into a series, maybe Oscar will go to Taiwan to eat some stinky tofu,” said Vincent smiling.
The book not only features cute characters with personality, but also bilingual content — traditional Chinese (with Zhuyin) and French. Having been teaching French for more than ten years in Taiwan, Aries said that there are few bilingual children’s books or bilingual books for primary French learners. Meanwhile, most Chinese-learning books for foreigners use the Pinyin phonetic system, which transcribes the Mandarin pronunciation of Chinese characters into the Latin alphabet. However, the pronunciation of the Latin alphabet in French is different from those in Pinyin, so it could be confusing to learn the correct pronunciation of Chinese by Pinyin. Vincent asked Aries, “How did you learn Chinese when you were little?” Vincent then found it easier for him to learn Chinese using Zhuyin, and decided to apply it in his own book.
Independent publication is not easy, of course. Vincent spent most of his off-work time visiting bookstores one by one to introduce “Oscar Go!”, hoping to acquire sales channels. In France, many distributors are connected to certain main publishers, so “most of the time, I went directly to the owners of the bookstores, and said, ‘Just give me five minutes’, and ‘How about buying 5 books first to give it a try?’ Some bookstores were interested in trying different business models and agreed to collaborate with me. What they often challenged me on was actually the Chinese characters. They asked me why I used traditional Chinese characters, instead of simplified Chinese ones.” Vincent smiled and said, “Of course I prefer traditional Chinese. Taiwan No.1!”
To create related products that go with the book, Vincent also looked for tailors who could create soft toys of Oscar and Odile. One day, a woman who went to him to apply for a business loan happened to be a home tailor. Vincent asked her excitedly, “Do you make soft toys? I have a plan….” They then started to make patterns, and stitch-by-stitch completed the toys. The tailor not only recognized the concept of “Oscar Go!”, but said that this project had helped her to retrieve her passion for tailoring, and her children have also become fans of Oscar and Odile. “So the soft toys you see on Webackers are all handmade in France!” said Aries.
The market for children’s books has become rather saturated. Especially nowadays most children are fans of Hello Kitty, Peter Rabbit, Peppa Pig, etc. “I feel that we should create a character that actually belongs to Taiwan, and one day I can proudly say, ‘Hello Kitty’ has gone out of fashion,” said Vincent confidently, holding the Oscar doll in his hands.
Vincent was born in Limoges, west-central France. Although he has been working at banks for 12 years, he still has great passion for art and history, and indulges himself in drawing and artistic creations when he has free time. Never losing the sense of curiosity, he calls himself a dreamer.
Born in Taipei, Aries has been a passionate film-lover and language-learner. Although she did try some different jobs, she still went back to the language-related jobs that suit her the most. Calling herself a “sociable geek”, she is now living in Provence with Vincent.