Clementine by Sebastian Loth and Guji-Guji by Chih-Yuan Chen were the two books I wanted to write about for “C” and failed to find in time. So they both went on fils cadet‘s Christmas list.
Guji-Guji is a bit like a Taiwanese Ugly Duckling. It begins with an egg rolling down a hill and landing in a duck’s nest. “Mother duck didn’t notice. She was reading.” (A lesson for us book-addicted parents?) When the eggs begin to hatch, the ducklings are named for their colours and patterns.
A rather odd duckling hatched from the fourth egg. “Guji-Guji,” he said, and that became his name.
Mother duck brings all her four ducklings up together and loves them all the same. Then one day, the crocodiles come to the lake. They laugh at Guji Guji for walking like a duck.
Guji Guji heard them. “I am not walking like a duck. I am a duck!” he explained.
The crocodiles laughed. “Look at yourself! No feathers, no beak, no big webbed feet! What you have is blue-grey skin, sharp claws, pointed teeth and the smell of bad crocodile. You’re just like us.”
They try to persuade him to help them catch the ducks.
Guji Guji felt terrible. He sat by the lake to think.
“Is it true? Am I a bad crocodile too?” He looked down into the lake and made a fierce face.
Guji Guji laughed. He looked ridiculous.
“I am not a bad crocodile. Of course, I’m not exactly a duck either.”
So he comes up with a plan to save his family from the crocodiles and becomes the hero of the day. He continues to live with his family and every day he becomes a stronger and happier “crocoduck”.
First published in 2003, it was published in 2006 by Gecko Press, New Zealand. Gecko also brought us Zou and The Bear and the Wildcat and aim to publish award-winning, “curiously good children’s books from around the world”. The crocodiles loom rather ominously and could be a bit scary for some children, although fils cadet didn’t have a problem with them. It’s a great story of nature vs nurture, love, family and acceptance and quite unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The translation is just right, catching the fairytale tone of the story as well as the questioning, childlike voice of Guji Guji and the meanness of the crocodiles. It is listed as copyright Kane Miller, which I initially took to be a person. It seems to be an American publishing company, however, who presumably first published the translation. If anybody can cast any further light on all this, please let me know in the comments!
I’ll keep an eye out for more of Gecko Press’s books too, and if you’re a children’s translator based in Australia or New Zealand, it might well be worth giving them a shout.