Interview: Ursula Pelt and David Kay share inspirations behind their new bilingual children’s books

From Beijing to Shanghai, the Pepe in China series takes kids on beautifully illustrated adventures across the country

Photographs: courtesy The Commercial Press
In delightful bilingual series Pepe in China, illustrated and penned by Beijing-based Ursula Pelt and David Kay, each book brings young readers to a new destination across the Middle Kingdom with Pepe the poodle leading the way. Follow along as he takes kids through Beijing, Hangzhou, Shanghai and the sprawling countryside with charming illustrations, lighthearted stories, the series’ theme song and audio recordings just a QR code scan away. Co-author Pelt shares inspiration for the series, getting the series made and where Pepe might be headed next.

How did you come up with the series?
In 2011, months after my husband and I moved to Hangzhou, we had a poodle who we treated like our baby. That’s Pepe. Years later, we had two human babies and Pepe. One day, he ran off and we couldn’t find him. We looked all day, put posters up, talked to people but still couldn’t find him. Our then two-year-old daughter knew and understood that Pepe was gone. Instead of telling her a negative story, my husband and I decided
to tell stories about Pepe as if he went on a journey – his own holiday through China. After so many stories, we thought why not turn them into a book?

How did Pepe’s adventures begin?
We told the girls that Pepe probably went to Shanghai and became a movie star dog. He likes to explore and go to different cities, so we also thought of Hong Kong, Beijing and the countryside. We chose Hong Kong because it’s famous and we knew more about it. My drawings are based on pictures from our visits. But after these books, our kids asked, ‘Where do you think Pepe is now?’

1.use-Pepe David and Ursula

What inspired you to add the audiobook and music?
The song was my husband’s idea. My husband is a musician and loves music, so he wanted to make a Pepe theme song with the kids. So they sang it together to make it more fun. The books are in English and in Chinese because we thought of Chinese children learning English. With the audiobook, they can listen to the text as spoken by a native English speaker.

Are your children bilingual as well?
Our children are trilingual. They speak Dutch, English and Mandarin. And so was Pepe.

How long did it take you to write and illustrate the books?
It took us six months to do the first book, Pepe in Beijing, which I illustrated and my husband wrote. When we got in contact with Commercial Press they said, ‘Let’s do four more books within two months.’ I was like, oh wow!

Because we already had the idea, I was able to finish it in two to three months. I could have finished it sooner if I had the whole day to draw. But with two kids and a job, it’s always busy, right? But we made sure we made time. I really wanted it to be a memory of Pepe.

Where is Pepe off to next?
Maybe Chengdu!

The Pepe in China four-book set is available on amazon.com for 108.8RMB.

By Jackie Park

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