Miffy-inspired children’s book development for early child development in China with the Beijing Design Week
Play and Learn with Miffy is a learning concept for children age 0-5, based on the miffy (nijntje) stories. Dick Bruna (the creator of miffy) was obsessed by simplicity. The simple rabbit turned out to be perfect for young children as they cannot yet distinguish complex shapes. The rhythmic rhyming text, almost as a song, helps to remember and repeat the story. Inspired by the educational potential, Butterfly Works started Play and Learn with Miffy to create new characters for children who grow up in less privileged environments. Books and educational products address different themes for children and their families. The project ran in Venezuela, Pakistan and Uganda, before heading to China. With the Beijing Design Week and a colleague from Butterfly Works, I co-facilitated the workshop for a Chinese creative team. We developed a new character and a first book and I co-wrote the book’s English translation.
Children like a story when they feel at home in it. That is why it needs to fit with Chinese culture. It is not only a creative process, it is one of capturing a culture in a children’s story. The first book is always about the birth of the animal. It talks about how families express their anticipation and how the whole community expresses the joy once the baby is there. To tell and show a story that fits the lived experiences of young kids, we started with a children’s workshop. Kids are masters of simplicity; for them two circles are a bear, three lines are a hand. The creative team was triggered to get into the same mindset.
The animal, its name, the colours and the story are based on long discussions with the group about what it really means to be Chinese. We constantly checked the drawings with children playing around the studio in Beijing. What really distinguishes a tiger from a cat and a panda from a bear, especially if you remove all features for the sake of simplicity? Eventually the new baby panda was born.
In China the name is chosen after birth, often by the uncle in the family. It was ‘wise uncle tiger’ who decided that the baby’s birth was the best news in the Long family, therefore Daxi (pronounced dashi) – big happiness – should be the baby’s name. The book goes through a few significant moments and rituals in the baby’s first year. Eventually the book comes to an end when baby Daxi gets tired and goes to sleep. The last page is part of a Chinese lullaby, so that parents end up singing the last words of the book.
The co-design workshop has been exhibited at the Beijing Design Week in 2015. The book has been launched during the Kids Design Week in 2017 in Sichuan and Beijing focussing on Slow Food – especially suitable as Daxi’s parents own a restaurant.