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Children’s Books in Translation to Kick Off the School Year

It’s no secret that many of the classics of children’s literature are in translation. The Little Prince was translated from French. Pippi Longstocking is Swedish. The stories of the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen are German and Danish, respectively.

Where are today’s international children’s books? New children’s books published in English translation are difficult to find, and those coming from languages other than French and German are few and far between. According to Daniel Hahn, translator and editor of the Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature, “what we see as our ‘world of children’s literature’… actually has so very little of the world in it. We still have some way to go.”

But we’re on our way. Elsewhere Editions, a new children’s imprint from Archipelago Books, is devoted to translating imaginative works of children’s literature from all corners of the world. Tiny Owl, established in 2015 in the UK, has published a number of Iranian children’s books in English. And Pushkin Press has been publishing some of the world’s best stories for children since 1997.

In honor of #WorldKidLit month, here are a few more recently published children’s books in translation to add to your bedtime (or any time) story routine.

My Valley by Claude Ponti, translated from French by Alyson Waters

Ponti leads us on a journey through the enchanted world of the Twims (tiny, extremely lovable, monkey-like creatures), a universe where uprooted buildings soar through the sky, trees keep the secrets you whisper to them, magic seeds grow into huge ships, and singing stones make children’s wishes come true.

Kuma-Kuma Chan, The Little Bear by Kazue Takahashi, translated from Japanese

With sparse text and a deceptively simple, beautiful design, Japanese author/illustrator Kazue Takahashi brings to life the world of Kuma-Kuma Chan, which loosely translates from Japanese as “cute little bear.” Daily chores and seasonal activities become infused with special meaning when they are performed by this adorable creature.

The Snowman and the Sun by Susan Taghdis, illustrated by Ali Mafakheri, and translated from Persian/Farsi by Azita Rassi

A snowman might seem an improbably topic for Iranian literature, but this charming picture book, told from a snowman’s point of view, is filled with tiny beautiful touches as it explains what happens to a snowman when the sun comes out.

Walk With Me by Jairo Buitrago, illustrated by Rafael Yockteng, and translated from Spanish by Elisa Amado

A deceptively simple, imaginative story depicting the complex emotional reality of a girl whose father no longer lives at home. The girl conjures up an imaginary companion, a lion, who will come with her on the long walk home from school. He will always come back when she needs him, unlike the father whom she sees only in a photograph — a photograph in which he clearly resembles a lion.

You Can’t Be Too Careful by Roger Mello, translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn

Mello explores an idea he had as a child: that one small action can have marvelous consequences. Through wordplay, dreamlike images, and a playful lightness of touch, You Can’t Be Too Careful! expresses serious questions about the dangers of greed and the importance of kindness.

The Adventures of Shola by Bernardo Atxaga, illustrated by Mikel Valverde, and translated from Spanish (originally written in Euskera) by Margaret Jull Costa

Shola is a little dog with attitude. Frustratingly for her, she loves both comfort (mainly in the form of food) and adventure, and spends much of her time trying to decide between the two. These four stories in one volume are sheer amusement whether Shola is faced with the possibility that she may really be a lion, the prospect of a boar hunt, or eccentric American visitors.

Join us next month, October 18, for an event celebrating children’s literature in translation with Roger Mello and Daniel Hahn.