At the "2017 Sino-Foreign Literature Translation & Publishing Workshop”, I spotted Andrea Petrlik Huseinović and her husband, wearing matching shirts with cartoon illustrations on them. Andrea had a friendly and approachable manner, as well as a youthful energy and appearance that made it difficult to believe that she is in her fifties. As she held the illustrated book that she created with her husband in her hands and chatted with Chinese publishers, her warm smile put the entire room at ease. The famous Croatian illustrator, author and publisher has, to this day, created more than 60 children's books. When asked by a journalist why she chose to forge a career in children's books, she responded with a smile that these books are the best possible gift that she could give to mothers and their children around the world.
"My mother had the greatest influence on me"
Andrea Petrlik Huseinović was born in Zagreb in 1966. Her mother was a painter, editor and illustrator. At a very early age, Andrea had already begun to show signs that she had inherited her mother's talents. As a little girl, she was constantly immersed in the world of picture books. From a young age, she has enjoyed drawing, reading, writing poetry and coming up with stories. "Owing to my mother's influence, I had already read many picture books when I was still very small, and I began to create my own illustrations soon after. I would write captions for my drawings that expanded on what I wanted them to convey. In this way, I was able to express my innermost thoughts and feelings. How I longed to live within the world of my illustrations… My mother was the one who inspired me to create children's books. She influenced me enormously."
After completing an undergraduate program at the School of Applied Arts, she continued her studies at the Zagreb School of Fine arts. At the age of 17, Andrea was hired as an illustrator by what was then the largest children's magazine in Croatia, thus launching her illustrious career in children's publishing. In 1995, Andrea became a member of HDLU (the Croatian initialism for the Croatia Artists' Association). In 2006, she and her husband founded the Croatian children's publishing house Djecja Knjiga. Their works are internationally acclaimed and have been translated into 13 languages, including Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Korean, French, Italian and Spanish. She has published over 60 children's books, which have received a number of prestigious prizes and awards, including: the BIB Plaque at the 19th Biennial of Illustrations in Bratislava, the White Ravens label from the International Children's Library in Germany, a prize at the Biennial Illustration Exposition in Oita, as well as the Grigor Vitez Award.
"I wrote The Blue Sky in honour of my mother"
In the story The Blue Sky, Andrea fully exploits the emotional symbolism of the colour blue — its sadness, but also its beauty. The story's protagonist, a young girl, sifts through her memories, trying to remember anything and everything about her mother, who she recently lost. However, nothing can bring her mother back to her. Life must go on: unlike in the story, there is no magical staircase that leads back to lost loved ones, and the blue birds that comfort the protagonist only exist in her dreams. When a young girl grows into a sad woman and becomes the mother of her own little girl, her past feelings of love, hope, disappointment and nostalgia come together to form a boundless blue sky.
When Andrea was only 10 years old, she lost her mother. As a result, she suffered for a long period of time from depression and became increasingly reclusive. However, she didn't allow herself to be defeated by life's hardships; on the contrary, her loss only made her stronger. Many years later, when she became the mother of own little girl, her greatest desire was still to write and illustrate her own children's book. In the fall of 2001, Andrea came up with the basic concept for The Blue Sky, a story in which she was the protagonist. In this illustrated book, a little girl lives alone in a tower, talking to herself. Every day, all she does is stare at the sky, searching for her mother. Between the white clouds, she finds fragmentary memories of the happy times she spent with her mother. One day, a strange blue bird appears. With its help, the little girl climbs into the sky and returns to her mother's side. "I put all of my memories of my mother into the story. The Blue Sky is dedicated to my mother. I got my passion for colours and drawing from her, and the story is my way of continuing her incomplete work."
Perhaps growth is a process of continual loss. In loss, we constantly evolve into stronger, more mature people. "I believe that books and our own imaginations allow us to feel and see the beauty of life."
"I hope all children will grow into happy adults"
Currently, eight of Andrea's children's books (including The Blue Sky, Love, The White Stalk, Imaginative Ian and Melanie) have been translated from Croatian into Chinese and published in China.
"As an author, I'm delighted to see that my books have so many readers in China. I often contact my readers in China — whether they're small children, parents, librarians, or teachers — to share stories about children growing up," Andrea says. "Every mother in the world hopes that their child will get the best education — that they will learn more and their potential will be completely exploited. But what is most important is that your child becomes a happy person. I hope that my work will convey this message to my readers."
When asked about the children's book markets of different nations, Andrea replied: "Every artist's culture is reflected in their picture books, so in that sense, every nation's picture books are a reflection of that nation's culture. If the author is a Chinese person, then you will be able to discover Chinese culture in their books. The culture that one can discover in a book is very important to its sales overseas and throughout the globe."
Where the purpose of her journey was concerned, Andrea expressed that, by participating in the "2017 Sino-Foreign Literature Translation & Publishing Workshop", she hoped to gain a better understanding of Chinese literature. "When I return to Croatia, I will collaborate with my Chinese partners in order to open a children's bookstore that I hope will become a window for Europeans into the world of Chinese children's books and Chinese literature. This window will allow Europeans to get to know more outstanding Chinese works of literature."
"Joining the CCTSS will not only help me; it will also help to introduce high-quality Chinese works of literature to the people of my home country, Croatia. This workshop is an excellent opportunity as well as a platform for outstanding writers, translators and publishers from all over the world to learn and communicate with one another."