TAIPEI #20 (2020 Summer)
Step Inside the Enchanting World of Picture Books
Words by: Catherine Shih
Photos by: Yenyi Lin, Suho Memorial Paper Museum, MyTaiwanTour
Just steps away from Taipei’s MRT Guting station (捷運古亭站) lies a modest, quaint wooden shop that houses the most wondrous of surprises: rows and rows of colorful picture books from every corner of Europe, and Canada imaginable. As you step inside, the rich, vibrant book covers lining the aisles capture your eyes almost immediately. Maison Temps-Rêves (童里繪本洋行) is a rare jewel in Taipei — a bookstore that sells picture books from European countries like France, Spain, Poland, and more. Just like its name, meaning “time for dreams,” it’s a space suitable for both children and adults to dream big and let their creative juices flow.▲The rich and vibrant covers immediately catch the eyes of whomever steps inside this special shop.
ORIGINS OF MAISON OF TEMPS-RÊVES
As a French major at Tamkang University (淡江大學), owner Angélique Lin (林幸萩) is no stranger to French bookstores. “I worked for the French bookstore, Librairie Le Pigeonnier (信鴿法國書店), straight out of college for 14 years. At one point, I wanted to change industries but just couldn’t seem to leave the bookstore industry behind,” her eyes sparkle and dance as she speaks.
But why picture books? “Well, actually, I started collecting picture books about 20 years ago. They’ve always just been a personal interest of mine. To me, reading picture books is just like admiring a piece of art. I can never get enough of it.” Although most Taiwanese students grew up reading American, British, or Japanese picture books, Angélique has always stood out from the crowd. “European picture books just had a way of touching my heart,” she says. “I just couldn’t seem to get into the others [American, British, or Japanese picture books] or understand them,” she chuckles. As she developed her career at Librairie Le Pigeonnier, she would often help purchase books and attended book exhibitions in Paris yearly. “It was easy back then because I could buy whatever I wanted!” she laughs. “Now it’s more difficult because I have to plan in advance, and pick and choose carefully what I would like to showcase each month or sometimes coordinate with the seasons. And for many overseas French book publishers, there is no such thing as a ‘trial’ or ‘refund policy.’”▲Angélique displays the magic and exquisite nature of picture books.
CHAOZHOU STREET BEGINNINGS
At one point, upon leaving Librairie Le Pigeonnier, Angélique had wanted to change career paths. “The thing is, I’ve known only bookstores my whole life. But at 40, I knew I wanted something different for myself.” So instead, in 2015, she decided to take the leap and set up her own online bookstore. During that period, she also held periodical flash stores at dessert shops, design studios, or other local businesses, with her longest-running shop spanning a total of five weeks at JXJ Books (舊香居) near National Taiwan Normal University (國立台灣師範大學). Eventually, in 2018, when opportunity came knocking in the form of a friend who had a shop available for rent on Chaozhou Street (潮州街), she jumped at the chance immediately.
“Actually, I grew up around this area, Zhongzheng District. I went to school near Taipei Botanical Garden (台北植物園), and many of my junior high school classmates still live around here and come visit often,” she chuckles. “It was originally a friend’s leather handicraft shop, but they realized it was too much space for just three workers,” she smiles, “and thus Maison Temps-Rêves was born.”
THE DAILY HUSTLE & BUSTLE OF A PICTURE BOOKSTORE
“It was difficult at first to get used to working in an actual bookstore again. There are a lot of pre- and post-operations that most customers aren’t aware of. When our books arrive, we can’t just stock them on the display shelves immediately. All of them must go through a very meticulous cycle of cleaning, organizing, wrapping, taking photos, rewriting book flaps or introductions, and even translating each book into Chinese,” Angélique explains. “It’s a high-cost, low-profit industry that most business owners would shy away from,” she chuckles. Although picture books are often considered more suitable for children, Angélique emphasizes that there really is no age restriction for European picture books and, in fact, they can be enjoyed by all. “The great thing about European art and picture books is that they can really go beyond being just for children. Actually, they can even help reduce the age gap between children and adults, too!” Since picture books are multifaceted artworks, they may be enjoyed as an exquisite piece of art or an attractive storybook depending on the reader’s point of view.▲It is a profound love for picture books that gives Angélique the willpower to pursue a career in this challenging field.
Moreover, France is a unique cultural hub, as most French picture books are born out of collaboration between illustrators and writers of different nationalities. “You could have an illustrator from Spain but a writer from Italy to create this book, for example,” she says. “There really are no borders for creativity, unlike in Taiwan, where most illustrators and writers come from similar backgrounds or are both Taiwanese.” And what about her own favorite picture book? “Well, I personally love the book FRIDA, illustrated by Benjamin Lacombe and written by Sebastien Pérez. Much of Lacombe’s artwork is based off of Frida Kahlo’s original pieces, but he adds in his own style and the usage of butterflies, which is what he is known for. And it really touches on so many important chapters of her life, including difficult topics like death, love, sex, animals, and more.”
A LONE STAR IN THE INDUSTRY
As a bookstore specializing in European picture books in Taiwan, Maison Temps-Rêves is literally one of a kind. When asked how Angélique keeps up with her competitors, she exclaimed, “What competitors?! There are none!” she smiles. “But in all seriousness, it’s actually quite difficult when you work in such a niche industry.” She goes on to elaborate, “You have to spend more time than the average business in building, stimulating, and nourishing consumers’ awareness of your products. Essentially, you really are creating your own market.”▲The clean interior design, low shelves and simple exterior design give us the impression that this is no ordinary bookstore.
This is especially true in traditional Taiwanese society, where emphasis is often placed less on art and more on academic performance and exam scores. “Most of our customers are actually single or young adults — not children or families,” she says. “It’s difficult for us to reach the typical Taiwanese family since the average price of our books is quite high, and many parents just assume that visual art is not as important as acceleration at school.” Despite facing these challenges, Angélique still does everything she can to promote picture books to everyone. By holding art exhibitions with local artists or having book reading in her store, she hopes that art can one day be a part of Taiwanese people’s lives. “Sometimes I’d put a new picture book in my house intentionally, and see if my sons will pick up to read it by themselves. It feels really nice when they come to share their thoughts after reading the books, because that proves aesthetics can be cultivated from a young age in every family”.
▲The clean interior design, low shelves and simple exterior design give us the impression that this is no ordinary bookstore.
In addition, she often holds regular lectures on European picture books at her store as a way to promote this issue. “Sometimes I’ll invite distinguished lecturers to come in and discuss picture books with our readers. They are able to break down the stories and artwork for readers to better understand, and it’s also a great way to promote cultural and visual art exchange.”
TIPS FOR VISITORS
Angélique has many foreign friends and guests of her store come from countries such as France, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong and Japan. “It’s funny, a lot of them avoid places like Xinyi District because it reminds them of any other big, modern city back home. They actually prefer areas like Wanhua or Zhongzheng District for its old, classic architecture and local handicrafts, so stores like mine really draw them in as well.” Sometimes they’ll come into my shop and I’ll recommend them local eateries to try or even recommend visiting other local art venues like the Suho Memorial Paper Museum (樹火紀念紙博物館). “There is so much to see and do here. Taipei really is a cultural and artistic hub for many!” Angélique exclaims.▲The historic and atmospheric buildings in Taipei’s old town like Wanhua attract visitors from all around the world. (Photo/MyTaiwanTour)
▲As a special paper museum in Taiwan, Suho offers the chance to discover the beauty of the ordinary, as well as close-up experiences with handmade paper goods. (Photo/Suho Memorial Paper Museum)
When asked if she foresees herself promoting Taiwanese picture books overseas in the years ahead, she says, “That might be a future plan, but not as of right now. In order to create a good picture book, the storyline is just as important as the illustrations. It’s difficult to have both. Many Taiwanese students grow up not having enough access to visual art, so that when they become of age or reach college, it’s difficult to catch up — which is just one more reason why our role here in Taiwan is so important.”
Although picture books tend to be classified as something reserved only for children, Angélique emphasizes that they can be enjoyed by both adults and children alike. “I’d like our readers to consider these books as more of a piece of art — not just a picture book. This is why when I set up shop, I made sure I didn’t want high ceilings filled to the top with books. I didn’t want it to feel like a bookstore! I wanted it to be more of an art gallery, because for me, that’s essentially what this is.” And that’s exactly the enchanted feeling we get when we enter and leave this wondrous place as well.
🏠 15, Chaozhou St., Daan Dist.
🕑 12:00pm - 7:00pm (Tuesday to Friday)、11:00am - 9:00pm (Saturday & Sunday)、(Closed on Mondays)
☎️ (02) 2391-8676
Suho Memorial Paper Museum 樹火紀念紙博物館
🏠 68, Sec. 2, Changan E. Rd., Zhongshan Dist.
🕑 9:30am - 4:30pm (Closed on Sundays)
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