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A Fuse #8 Production
Inside A Fuse #8 Production

31 Days, 31 Lists: 2021 Translated Books for Kids

If there’s any kind of children’s book that gets short shrift here in America then it has got to be the translated title. They can’t win most of the ALA accredited awards, with the occasional exception of the Batchelder Award and others with looser guidelines. But for the major medals, translations are verboten! And yet, often they’re the books our kids need to see just as often on their shelves. Translated books take risks that traditionally published American titles might not be able to. They’re sometimes strange, sometimes funny, but always open up our worldview and remind us that our little country isn’t the only one on this great big spinning ball o’ blue. Today, I celebrate not just the translated picture books that I’ve done in the past, but also translated board books, nonfiction, poetry, and more. Enjoy!


Translated Board Books

Hide-and-Seek by Shasha Lv

[Translation – Chinese]

[Previously Seen on the Board Books List]

Board books are tricksy. On the surface they seem like such easy objects to produce. You just slap some simple words and bright colors together and bind the whole thing in thick cardboard. Batta boom, batta bing, you’ve got yourself a board book, right? Wrong. The best board books are the ones that appeal to their target audience (not a given), have simple words that convey the story efficiently and well, and are illustrated with art that doesn’t make the adult reader want to gouge out their own eyes Gloucester-style after a fortieth read. Shasha Lv uses only three colors in this book: yellow, blue, and white. Occasionally you’ll get a slightly lighter blue but that’s the extent of the excitement in the color department. Yet as the bear searches for its hiding friends, many times children reading this book (once they’ve caught on) can try to find the animals as well. When you read it to kids, I highly recommend that you do the thing where you say, “Now wait. Where’s the snail at the end?” and the kid shows you. “Right right right, I’ve got it. I’ve got it . . . . wait. Where’s the snail again?” I bet you could keep that patter up for a long time, making this a highly sought out book. Just a thought. 

Moimoi Look at Me! by Jun Ichihara, edited by Dr. Kazuo Hiraki

[Translation – Japanese]

[Previously Seen on the Board Books List]

Because who doesn’t like the idea of handing a baby a book from a company called (cue the lightning) The Experiment? And boy, when it comes to experimental board books, this is the one to beat. First off, if you’re like me and you grew up watching Miss Piggy, followed by high school French, you’re probably not pronouncing this “Moi” as in “Koi”. Try saying “moimoi” like “koikoi” and suddenly it is a lot more fun. Filled with what look to be benign, psychedelic tadpoles, this book promises, right there on the cover itself, that its “shapes, colors, and sounds… will soothe your crying baby.” Tall order, but I do think it’s fair to say that babies will find the images and sounds this book engenders fascinating. Remember how B.J. Novak’s The Book With No Pictures makes the adult reader read a series of ridiculous sounds? This book does that too but the sounds are far more controlled. My favorite part is when they devolve into “mai mai” and “mui mui”. Now I just need to get my hands on a baby so I can try it out in the real world!

Picture Books

Agnes’s Place by Marit Larsen, ill. Jenny Lovlie, translated by Kari Dickson

[Translation – Norwegian]

Surprisingly few Norwegian picture books grace our shores, and fewer still look and sound quite as American as this. I suppose that once you’re in the know, the look of the town and proliferation of lusekofte sweaters (and particularly the tchotchke-laden endpapers) would be a dead giveaway. But Dickson’s translation here is on fire. This is a sweet but mildly melancholy story of a girl trying to make a friend in the most roundabout way possible. As someone who was a similar kid in her youth (I would have definitely left someone cryptic anonymous notes and then despaired when they didn’t get my meaning) this one hit home hard. Come for the sweaters. Stay for the conclusion.

Bear Against Time by Jean-Luc Fromental, ill. Joelle Jolivet

[Translation – French]

[Previously Seen on the Math List]

Yeah, they sort of had me at the Harold Lloyd reference on the cover. This book is a fairly fascinating exploration of both the importance of maintaining a sense of making use of your time, but not going overboard with it. A bear (simply named Bear) has a terrible time getting where he needs to go. If he’s not sleeping in he’s missing the bus. If he’s not late for gym then he’s missing dinner. At last the family he lives with (humans one and all) decides to teach Bear how to tell time. At first the lessons are tricky but after a while Bear catches on. Suddenly he’s not only on time, he’s ahead of it. And in all his spare moments he’s filled himself up with a plethora of extracurricular activities. Naturally, this leads to burnout and in the end Bear goes on vacation, meets a beautiful bear that doesn’t wear a watch, and we are told that “For bears, just like for people, happiness is taking your time and listening to your heartbeat.” So essentially this is a book about making time in your day for “your heartbeat” while at the same time teaching you how to tell time. That odd duality is peculiar, and I could see some Americans finding it hard to grasp. Even so, listen to this book. Time is important. Taking time? Just as important.

The Big Bad Wolf In My House by Valérie Fontaine, ill. Nathalie Dion, translated by Shelley Tanaka

[Translation – French]

[Previously Seen on the Message List]

I can already tell that this one’s going to be a shocker for some people. They’ll probably expect some cheeky play on the Wolf/Red Riding Hood dichotomy. Maybe a story about a more contemporary girl outsmarting the Wolf, but in her own way. The clue that this book isn’t that, and would never be that, can actually be spotted on this cover. Notice the rose in the center of the table and the single petal that has fallen. This book is about living with an abuser, and though the little girl is the narrator, she’s not the protagonist. That would be the mom, who has to leave with her child and very little else. For all that it’s beautifully illustrated and pretty metaphorical, this book packs a hard punch. To read it requires thought and patience and concentration. It’s unfortunate that there’s no helpful backmatter at the end. In any case, it’s a hard book, but a necessary addition.

The Big House and the Little House by Yoshi Ueno, ill. Emiko Fujishima, translated by the Japan Foreign-Rights Centre with Arthur Levine

[Translation – Japanese]

The word “charming” is often in danger of being overused. I like to keep mine in reserve and only bring it out for just the right book. And today, at long last, is the day I finally get to bring it out, into the light. This Japanese import is a slight, sweet, spare little creation. All that it’s really about is a bear and a mouse that are lonely. They would each like to meet a friend but circumstances intervene . . . until they don’t. Something about the opening shot reminded me a bit of the work of Mitsumasa Anno and the translation is just perfect. You know the other word I don’t like to bring out too often? “Classic”. And yet this book feels like one. A beautiful charming classic.

The Caiman by María Eugenia Manrique, ill. Ramón París, translated by Amy Brill

[Translation – Spanish]

A Venezulan import! I’ll give Amazon Crossing Kids this much. They consistently bring in interesting international picture books for public viewing. Based ostensibly on a true story (both the author and illustrator either visited or heard of the caiman), this book is a love tale between a man and his adopted alligator. A tiny baby caiman is orphaned when it’s just days old, so a kindly jeweler/clockmaker takes it in. Named Night for its color, the alligator proves itself to be docile as a lamb and deeply connected to the man that saved its life. Years pass and the children all play with the caiman. The man marries and his wife bonds with the creature. Alas, one day the man dies and Night despairs. Only the voice of the man’s wife is capable of coaxing it out of its loneliness at last. The story reads like a fairy tale, right down to Night’s gold set fangs, but there appears to be at least some truth to it in there. A lovely companion to Crictor or any other story of a wild reptile with a heart.

The Capybaras by Alfredo Soderguit, translated by Elisa Amado

[Translation – Spanish]

[Previously Seen on Both the Caldenotts and Message Lists]

“No one knew them, no one expected them.” But when a family of capybaras comes to a farmyard for safety, they not only win the local chickens’ love but show them how to seek freedom. Who knew that if you just added capybaras to a book chock full o’ chickens you could come up with a pretty good story about prejudices and assumptions without a single anthropomorphized facial expression? Looks like this little Spanish import knows how to tell a tale with universal appeal. I keep thinking about how this is a pretty brilliant metaphor for how accepting immigrants can lead to a new understanding of your own oppressive government. Or am I reading too much into it? Dunno, but those hunters with the red caps sure look like MAGA guys to me.

Coffee Rabbit Snowdrop Lost by Betina Birkjær, ill. Anna Magrethe Kjærgaard, translated by Sinéad Quirke Køngerskov

[Translation – Danish]

[Previously Seen On the Message List]

As it turns out, Americans don’t totally get Danish art all that often. At least not when it’s done in the style of Lilian Brøgger (and, by extension, Dorte Karrebæk, Kim Fupz Aakeson, etc.). But Kjærgaard? That’s someone who makes a little more sense to our Yankee eyeballs. This art we can’t help but like (the woman makes a mean chrysanthemum). This is a story of losing a grandparent you love to dementia. What makes it interesting is what separates it from other similar titles already on the market. In this story the grandfather’s decline is heartbreaking, and also completely misunderstood by his wife, who appears to be in some kind of denial. When things almost get too out of hand (he wanders into the snow without proper dress) that’s the turnaround point. The granddaughter appears to be perfectly aware of what is happening, as she silently gathers up the words that he has lost from where they’ve fallen on the ground. The colors are primarily roses, pinks, and blues. There is also, I should note, a very good bit of backmatter on “Dementia and Memory” from Ove Dahl, the historian and head of the Danish Center for Reminiscence (a marvelous title). As with some of the best imports, this book transcends countries. Beautifully rendered.

Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest by Ole Könnecke, translated by Shelley Tanaka

[Translation – German]

Do my eyes deceive me? Is that an Ole Könnecke book come to American shores once more? It’s been years, but I was such a huge Könnecke fan back, uh, 15 years ago. Seriously, if you haven’t read Anthony and the Girls then you’re missing out. What brings one of my favorite Germans back? A strange and gentle original fairy tale, of course. Translator Shelley Tanaka captures just the right voice with this story of a slightly bossy girl that must rescue her father and defeat a witch (not necessarily in that order). The simplicity of the lines here are key to the enjoyment. Ditto the witch with her distinctly Blue Meanie-esque mouth. Should you be looking for a new tale of a girl going into the woods and out of the woods and home before dark, this book has your number.

I Am the Subway by Kim Hyo-eun, translated by Deborah Smith

[Translation – Korean]

[Previously Seen on the Caldenott List]

Wow. Kim Hyo-eun has managed to capture beauty in subway use that one rarely finds in tales of public transport. I mean, I’m sorry, but just look at that cover. Do you see how the light slants through the windows? The book captures that expression you put on your face when you travel by subway. It highlights characters that spend only the briefest amounts of time in one another’s presence before exiting into their own lives. There’s happiness and sadness here but it’s not a downer of a book. If anything it glorifies our existence by showing us at our most mundane. I utterly love this title and extra point to Deborah Smith’s translation. The book is told from the point of view of the subway itself and there’s this wistful melancholy to its voice that must have been so hard to capture in English. I love lines like “The sour smell of sweat on the long way home; a gentle afternoon light that washes over everything – old shoes, new shoes, clean and dull shoes. The unique lives of strangers you might never meet again.”

In the Meadow of Fantasies by Hadi Mohammadi, ill. Nooshin Safakhoo, translated by Sarah Khalili

[Translation – Iranian]

[Previously Seen on the Message List]

I love many things about Iranian picture books, but one of the things I love the most is how different one book always is from another. In 2019 I wrote a blog post about four Iranian picture books coming out that year, each one worlds different from the others. Now I have been introduced to Hadi Mohammadi and Nooshin Safakhoo for the first time and all that I can say is that I wish I’d met them sooner. Mohammadi utilizes a marvelous understanding of the role of repetition in a children’s picture book text with this tale. In it, a girl daydreams about seven horses. Six of them have their act together. They’re able to receive colors, choose where they live, have their own dreams and fantasies, and have their own foals. What comes easily to them, however, does not come easily to the seventh horse. And so, the other horses share their colors, and the seventh horse receives them all. They share their living spaces, and it can live anywhere. They share their dreams, and it can dream so many different things. And these gifts it passes on to its own foal who, in turn, passes everything on to the girl dreaming all this up. Safakhoo’s art is sublime. I absolutely adored the facial expressions of the seventh horse (which has, and I mean this in the best possible way, a kind of Berkeley Breathed quality). The book also contains a subtle bit of messaging if ever I heard of it. Interestingly the copy sent along with this book doesn’t stress what it means all that much, but one cannot help but notice that this book was selected for IBBY’s Collection for Young People with Disabilities. Draw your own conclusions as to why.

Infinity by Pablo Bernasconi, translated by Evelia Romano

[Translation – Spanish]

Initially I mistook this book for a work of poetry, and even after I finished reading it through, I wasn’t wholly convinced that I was wrong. This little Argentinian import attempts to define the infinite via the mundane. Thus you end up with little conundrums like “It’s a carpenter waiting for the love of his life in the wrong life.” Each phrase is accompanied by an illustration that’s this amazing mix of models, photography, paint, digital tinkering, and more. With a hat tip to mathematicians, some of the pages have equations in their corners that “capture and represent a take on the concept of infinity”. It is overwhelmingly an import and not of American make or design. Why do I say that? Because it’s so incredibly original. A lot of Americans won’t get what it’s doing, but some might. I think the dreamy kids, the dreamy teens, the dreamy college students, and beyond will get a lot out of this title. Or, at the very least, they’ll stretch their minds to their fullest as they attempt to figure out riddles like, “It’s the formula for happiness hidden in a cow’s hide. But on the inside.”

Inside the Suitcase by Clotilde Perrin, translated by Daniel Hahn

[Translation – French]

I do truly believe that Clotilde Perrin elevates the lift-the-flap aspects of her titles to another level. In some books such flaps are novelty elements. For Perrin, they are integral to the plots themselves. For all its magical realism elements, however, this book is perhaps one of Perrin’s more realistic titles. A child packs a suitcase and embarks upon a journey. Along the way different elements from the suitcase are removed and used, while others are added to its contents. The flaps sometimes blend so seamlessly into the art that you have a hard time spotting them. Nonetheless, each one, like the songs in a musical, forwards the story. A lovely and strange little journey, gentler than anything Perrin’s done before.

It Could Be Worse by Einat Tsarfati, translated by Annette Appel

[Translation – Hebrew]

A pessimistic realist and an optimistic idealist are stuck together on what remains of their once glorious ship. Things look bad, but whenever the realistic Albertini mentions their sorry lot, George, the idealist, will point out that things “could be worse…” Unfortunately, those exact words seem to attract precisely that: the worst. And if you don’t think it can get worse than diarrhoeal flying fish, mermaids singing earworms on concertina, and pirate/viking ghosts, have we got a surprise for you! Tsarfati blew a lot of us away last year with the quietly impressive Sandcastle, so I’ve started to watch for her work whenever it comes out. This book reminded me a lot of It Could Always Be Worse by Margot Zemach except, of course, without the cow and a lot more gross fish.

The Lost Soul by Olga Tokarczuk, ill. Joanna Concejo, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones

[Translation – Polish]

The one and only time I made it to the Bologna Book Festival I was awed by the plethora of massive, beautiful, and strange (to my eyes) art that was submitted from countries whose books never make it to American shores. And while I am sure that this isn’t the first Polish picture book I’ve ever encountered, I certainly won’t be able to forget it. I suppose I should have been warned when the blurbs on the back were from folks like Annie Proulx. You know. Novelists.  But that’s just because Olga Tokarczuk is, herself, a professional writer for adults. I do believe I once purchased her novel Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead (good title) for my library. This particular book already received a special mention of the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2018. To read it is to feel as if you’ve fallen into a work that is equal parts Shaun Tan and Sebastian Meschenmoser. The story is one we’ve seen many times here in America, however. The message is to slow down and enjoy life. Why? Because if you move too fast you’ll leave your soul behind you and it may take a while to catch up. A reread of this title rewards the reader since you can catch glimpses of the hero’s soul long before you realize that that’s what it is. It has a surreal touch and an interesting use of color. It’s also a very soothing book. Odd. But soothing. Recommended indeed.

Magic Candies by Heena Baek, translated by Sophie Bowman

[Translation – South Korea]

[Previously Seen on the Caldenott Lists]

When Tong Tong purchases a bag of strange round candies, he discovers that each one allows him to hear the hidden speech of someone or some thing. Marvelous models bring this kooky story to life. Lemme cut off those objections at the pass. The people in this book aren’t attractive? Who cares! I love their imperfections. The book is weird? No question! Strange and original and wonderful. I love books that use models and photography and this South Korean import is skilled in that department. The only elements that leaves me a little uncertain is when our hero apparently is talking to his dead grandma. Not sure what to make of that one. But the rest of it is really fun. I particularly love the message behind the dad’s haranguing.  And I’ll be sure to treat my couch nicer from now on.

Moon Pops by Heena Baek, translated by Jieun Kier

[Translation – Korean]

[Previously Seen on the Caldenott List]

Generally I don’t like to include two of the same author on my lists, but for Heena Baek, recent winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award, I will certainly make an exception. Though I saw Baek’s Magic Candies first in galley form, technically Moon Pops was the first brought to American shores. Here Baek uses a cut paper technique to relay her storytelling. And what storytelling it is too! When a night becomes so hot that the moon itself melts, Granny runs out, collects the drippings, and freezes them into delicious moon pops. That’s neat, but it’s the glimpses into people’s homes in this single apartment complex that blew my particular mind. You get all the voyeuristic thrill of Rear Window, peeking into the lives of these various clothed animals. She’s even added some lights within the pops for an extra thrill. I was amused by a note at the beginning that was clearly put in there for American readers too. It explains that in Korean folklore it is said that you can look at the moon and see a rabbit there with a mortar and pestle. If you didn’t know that, the ending of this book would be a true headscratcher. Gorgeous.

Never, Not Ever by Beatrice Alemagna, translated by Jill Davis

[Translation – French] 

[Previously Seen on the Message List]

Every year I’m able to find one First Day of School book that really bowls me over. In the past that honor has fallen to School’s First Day of School, King of Kindergarten, and We Don’t Eat Our Classmates. This year, my heart was stolen by a naughty little bat in a penchant for pink. Her name is Pascaline and her response to her parents, upon being informed that she must attend school, is “Never, not ever.” When a particularly loud yelling of this phrase shrinks her parents down, she tucks them safely under her wings and is able to take them to school with her. What follows is a disappointing day for Pascaline as she comes to realize that it would be much more fun at school by herself than having to cater to two naughty, tiny parental units. It’s such a bold, ridiculous premise that it works fantastically, and no one can top Alemagna when it comes to petulant bat eyelids. My sole regret? That I don’t have a kid of my own going to a first day of Kindergarten anymore. I’d love to read them this.

New Year by Mei Zihan, ill. Qin Leng, translation copyright by Yan Yan

[Translation – Chinese]

[Previously Seen on the Holiday List]

“Every New Year’s Eve, I miss my daughter. My child has become an adult so quickly.” Well you may as well just roll a tub of tissues up to my chin, for all that I’m going to be able to resist the “Cat’s Cradle” aspects of this particular picture book. Mei Zihan keeps the focus squarely within the mind and emotions of a father in China desperately missing the adult daughter that moved to France. He completely understands not only why she went but also the difficulties she’d face in visiting as well as how lonely she must feel when Chinese New Year’s rolls around. And while I would not necessarily call this the most cheerful Chinese New Year title, nowhere else (except maybe a Grace Lin novel) will you see such a loving recounting of foodstuffs. There is this shot of the cold appetizers, spring rolls dipped in vinegar, egg dumplings, tofu skin rolls, spinach in a casserole and this full FISH that had me drooling (and I was already eating my own lunch at the time). Still what stays with you long after you’ve put the book down is the melancholy. It’s the melancholy parents feel for their absent grown children and it’s rendered exquisitely here. Qin Leng is in top form. This is utterly realistic, nothing cartoonish about it, and you ache at the end. An unusual holiday title, but a beautiful one.

No One Is Angry Today by Toon Tellegen, ill. Marc Boutavant, translated by David Colmer

[Translation – Dutch]

There goes Toon Tellegen again. Writing in his inimitable style. Confusing Americans everywhere. Don’t get me wrong, because I really like the weirdness in his tales. And when you combine such words with the art of Marc Boutavant (who is clearly giving this book 100% of his attention) then you’re bound to end up with a pretty product. But the same guy that brought us The Squirrel’s Birthday and Other Parties back in 2009 is now going full on wackadoodle here. There is no better way of showing this than you give to you the first and last stories in his latest collection No One Is Angry Today. The first story The Firebelly Toad and the Hedgehog has a lot less to do with the hedgehog in question than it does with the toad. In the story the toad abuses a number of his neighbors, questioning whether or not they’re really angry. In the end, they all come to the conclusion that maybe the toad’s right. Maybe none of them can even hold a candle to how angry he is. How can you ever know what another person is truly feeling? The last story is the strangest of the book. Called “The Scarab”, consider this the anti-epistolary story. In it, you watch a scarab and a dung beetle write one another letters. You never hear what is in these letters. You just see how they react to them. The last image is of the dung beetle’s letter ot the scarab sitting in the snow, forlorn and unread, while the dung beetle waits in vain for a response that will never come. Americans like myself are used to happy endings. Hand this book to the child that isn’t afraid of a book to end a little mournfully once in a while too.

Off the Beaten Track by Maylis de Kerangal, ill. Tom Haugomat, translated by Helen Mixter

[Translation – French]

Here’s the thing about the publisher Greystone Kids: That’s a company that isn’t afraid to take a risk once in a while. Some publishers of overseas picture books want a guaranteed win and sell. Greystone? They aren’t afraid to get a little weird once in a while. Case in point, this book. I read it cover to cover but it wasn’t until I read the “How this book was made” section at the end that things started to fall into place. Apparently artist Tom Haugomat was given free reign to just make his art without the impediment of pesky things like words or a plot. Once he’d finished the images for this book it was up to Maylis de Kerangal to construct a story. What could have been a rote tale of a boy’s heroism when his adult friend is injured becomes something much more dreamlike and strange in her hands. There are many mysteries to the story. What happened to the boy’s parents? With whom does he live now? And how do things go so wrong so quickly for the mountaineers? The use of negative space on the pages is almost as fascinating as the boy’s interior life, hope, dreams, and fears. It’s not just the art that uses negative space either. The text does as well. You have to read around the missing facts. A truly captivating title. Hand it to slightly older readers (the ones who feel they’re too old for picture books) to get their take on it.

Olwen Finds Her Wings by Nora Surojegin, ill. Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin

[Translation – Finnish]

[Previously Seen on the Caldenott List]

Boy, they’re not advertising that this is a Finnish title much, I gotta say. No word on who the translator is (if there is one). But this is just one of the loveliest little books I’ve seen this year, that’s for sure. The plot is rote. Baby owl doesn’t know what it’s good at and attempts to mimic a hare, a bear, and a squirrel in turn. Then, at last, mama shows him that the thing she’s good at after all this is flying. The art, though. Man. Pirkko-Liisa Surojegin has mastered the petulent own. I was hooked from the moment I saw its bored little face as it sat in a tree. These aren’t screech owls but they’re not far off. Surojegin’s linework is just so incredibly delicate. Occasionally you’ll catch glimpses of her signature in the lower right-hand corners of each piece, which isn’t something you see often these days. I also cannot even fathom how hard it is to draw fluffy snow falling. Textures and expressions are the name of the game with this book, and while kids are going to identify like crazy with Olwen, I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to identify the pinecones and critters on display. Definitely one of the best new winter setting picture books of 2021.

Once Upon a Time There Was and Will Be So Much More by Johanna Schaible

[Translation – Swedish]

[Previously Seen on the Caldenott List]

I’ll confess that I knew that this book was an import when first I saw it. Why? Because it feels like a Bruno Munari redux, baby! Schaible is doing something particularly keen and original with this title. This is a book that pulls back right at the start, zooms in, and then pulls back again. The first page shows the early Earth. “Billions of years ago, land took shape.”. We see this gorgeous spread of thick paints that look like volcanic rocks as well as the splatter of lava as it surges on the page. These acrylics, mixed with the cut paper technique, are truly beautiful, evocative of Ed Young. But what’s cool is that as you turn the pages the time period shrinks. Now we look at images from “millions of years ago”. Then it’s “hundreds of thousands”, right on down until you get to “A minute ago” and then “Now!”. As the time shrinks, so too do the pages. Then (and this is particularly cool) it expands. We look to the future. To a minute from now, a day, a week, a year. And the pages expand as well until the child is considering what it is that they’ll look back on when they’re old. “What do you wish for the future?” We don’t always expect our books to become quite so philosophical and vast. This one is a wonder that makes you wonder.

189 Canaries by Dieter Böge, ill. Elsa Klever, translated by Laura Watkinson

[Translation – German]

The canary in the coal mine has its day in the sun. In the nineteenth-century, people all over the world were just crazy for canaries. Specifically canaries from the Harz Mountains, where they would learn rolling trills. The story of one “Harz Roller” canary plays out on the pages of this book. After living amongst the silver miners that would breed canaries for extra cash, our hero is taken by a bird dealer alongside 188 other birds. Together the birds, each in their own little traveling cage, fastened to the dealer’s back, travel not simply across Germany but across the ocean to America. There the little canary finds a new home. One already inhabited by a bird that sings exactly the same way that it does! Artist Anne Vasko imbues this book with finely detailed drawings filled with rich, lush colors. The canary is never anthropomorphized, which aids the tale’s nonfiction element. Honestly, this is practically a nonfiction text. The only thing that prevents it from ending up in your 500s is the fact that Böge has wrapped a story around the proceedings. This is a subtle charmer and a real window into a part of our history we simply never knew before.

Orange Is an Apricot, Green Is a Tree Frog: Explore the Natural World Through Color by Pascale Estellon

[Translation – French]

On its surface, this appears to be yet another book that dedicates each double-page spread to a single color. Yet the mastery of the art cannot be so easily brushed off. Subtle gradations in color can distinguish turmeric from a poppy, but watching how Estellon places them on the page in such a way as to make it obvious that they are of the same family but not clashing due to their differences is masterful. It’s a bit different from those other European imports that fill their pages with items we’re unfamiliar with. Aside from opting to include a squash rather than a pumpkin, this is a nicely universal little book. And the section where the white objects are highlighted against the black background make it worth it in and of itself.

Sato the Rabbit by Yuki Ainoya, translated by Michael Blaskowsky

[Translation – Japanese]

“One day, Haneru Sato became a rabbit.” After putting on a bunny suit, a boy engages in a series of small, charming adventures in this  beautifully rendered Japanese import. This book is dreamlike but with a strange internal logic and energy that I really dig. And yes, it does seem a little like Where the Wild Things Are since it begins with Sato putting on his rabbit suit. But just as Max transformed into a Wild Thing thanks to wearing the suit of a wolf, so Sato transforms into this calm, Zen, unperturbed bunny dude. The book consists entirely of small, sweet adventures. My favorite is when he looks at a puddle of water, reflecting the sky and realizes it is actually a window TO the sky. It’s not your usual book, and that’s why it works.

Sleepy Stories by Mario Levrero, ill. Diego Bianki, translated by Alicia López

[Translation – Spanish]

Mario Levrero is one of those fellows that is undoubtedly better known in the world outside of the United States. Serving as everything from photographer and bookseller to scriptwriter and humorist, this story hit me where I lived. Well do I remember reading to my children at night and feeling an overwhelming sleepiness come over me. Now in my case, I would talk the whole while but start narrating my dreams at some point. This story is a little different. As a father tells his son stories he is taken by a great sleepiness. The son, Nicolás, will have none of it. Even as his father cascades into tales that only involve other men who are sleepy (and sometimes pay for it) the boy only wants more and more stories. An unending supply of them. Artist Diego Bianki illustrates the book, appropriately enough, with dreamlike imagery. The child and father are two natty and well-dressed birds. But the humans are buffoonish, bumbling, and very tired. It’s a funny story, and if you’ve ever fallen asleep mid-read, you’ll completely identify with it.

The Two Fridas, memories written by Frida Kahlo, ill. Gianluca Folì

[Translation – Spanish]

Well, that’s an interesting idea. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do this before. Have you? Have you ever seen someone take a famous person’s words from their diary about their youth and then turn them into a 32-page picture book? A bit ballsy, wouldn’t you say? Without reading the premise beforehand, when I started reading this book I had the very keen sense that the writing was not intended for young readers. Here, I’ll show you what I mean: “I must have been six years old when I formed an intense imaginary friendship with a girl…” Not that a kid wouldn’t necessarily understand this. You just don’t find the phrase “intense imaginary friendship” in picture books all that often. The book is strange and dreamlike and quite enjoyable. It’s a little difficult to determine if the person breaking up the text was Folì or the Editorial Director Fernando Diego García. Whatever the case, it makes for a wholly unique book. Could be nice if it were part of a series. Just saying. 

Where Is the Dragon? by Leo Timmers, translated by James Brown

[Translation – Netherlands]

If you were to sit down and read loads of picture books year after year from all kinds of wonderful places, you would start to get opinions. Opinions about people. Opinions about people like Leo Timmers. He sort of looks like a Belgian Mo Willems and his books are often somehow both cartoony and weirdly smooth and realistic. Metal gleams when Timmers paints it, but at the same time things get awfully goofy. In this book, three knights are sent by a fascinatingly off-screen king to find the dragon that terrorizes his dreams. Timmers manages two visual gags at once here. On the one hand, every time the small third knight approaches a silhouette that looks like a dragon, he reveals it to be something ridiculous but harmless. Meanwhile, his advance plunges the other two knights into darkness and they fall into increasingly wild and dangerous problems. Little wonder they all give up eventually and go home. Is there a twist? You betcher sweet britches there is. Translator James Brown not only turns this into English but does it in rhyme, which simply cannot have been easy. If you like Timmers (and who amongst us doesn’t?) better snap up his latest.

Wounded Falcons by Jairo Buitrago, ill. Rafael Yockteng, translated by Elisa Amado

[Translation – Spanish]

Santiago and Adrián are shocked when they discover a wounded falcon in an empty lot. A testament to the strength that comes from caring for another, be they bird or beast. Our falcons may have abandoned us this year, but by gum we won’t abandon them! There are depths upon depths lurking below the surface of this seemingly simple tale. The home life of Adrián is never explained in any great detail. You just know it has to be horrible. I particularly liked the pacing and the slow change that comes upon Adrián as he tends to the falcon.

Books for Older Readers

Bruno the Beekeeper: A Honey Primer by Aneta Františka Holasová, translated by Andrew Lass

[Translation – Czech]

Think you know how honey is made? Think again. Everything from drones and queens to the logistics of extractors is explained in this loving ode to sweet sweet honey. Just your average Czech import about the meticulous inner workings of beekeeping. That’s all. You know what this really is? It’s 2021’s version of last year’s Bear Goes Sugaring. Only instead of learning the details of making maple syrup, this book shows you almost everything you need to know about beekeeping. Seriously, I feel like we were this close to hearing what size frames you should be using for your hives. The text feels a bit dense at the start but once you get into it it really flows. It’s too sweet to miss (I’ll see myself out).

Can You Whistle, Johanna? by Ulf Stark, ill. Anna Höglund, translated by Julia Marshall

[Translation – Sweden] 

Need a grandfather? Why not hop over to the retirement home to pick one out for yourself? A remarkably sweet story,  funny and moving by turns. And I just have to say that this has gotta be the sweetest, most moving little story I’ve seen in a while. It’s not, weirdly enough, the first import we’ve seen that discusses sneaking old people out of nursing homes to have fun with them, but I like the strange internal logic of this one in particular. Of course, now I really want to know how the tune of “Can You Whistle, Johanna?” goes! A heartfelt story that never feels cloying.

Einstein: The Fantastic Journey of a Mouse Through Space and Time by Torben Kuhlmann, translated by David Henry Wilson

[Translation – German]

A small mouse is so distraught when it realizes that it has missed an important cheese festival that it dives deep into discovering the secrets of time travel. But when it gets caught in the past, will Einstein himself help with the calculations? This is where “early chapter” and “bedtime reading” fare sort of blurs and runs together. If you’ve seen Kuhlmann’s previous books (Armstrong, Edison, etc.) then you know what to expect. I think I once called him a Steampunk Beatrix Potter, and I’d stand by that. In this book he sort of combines the H.G. Wells version of The Time Machine with some literal explanations of Einstein’s theories. There are a lot of detailed explanations of these in the back of the book, which kids and parents can totally skip if they want to (or, if they’re a certain kind of kid, obsess over). The art is luminous. I also kind of love that at the beginning it takes place in what appears to be the late 80s/early 90s, which is sort of cool.

The Good Germ Hotel: Meet Your Body’s Marvelous Microbes by Kim Sung-hwa and Kwon Su-jin, ill. Kim Ryung-eon, translated by What on Earth Books

[Translation – South Korean]

Did you know that your body houses the finest hotel there is? The good germ hotel! Take a tour with the microbes that make your body work and learn what you can do to keep them healthy and strong. Sort of an embarrassment of riches in terms of helpful microbes in children’s books these days, eh folks? This is just the latest in a long sea of them (we put Garden in My Belly on the list last year). What makes this South Korean import so different is partly the art style, which is distinctly cartoonish, and the sheer amount of text. I wavered between putting it in the picture book or older reader category and could see it moving either way. There’s a lot to like about the ways in which the authors present this information, and I found contemporary mentions of stuff like COVID-19 to be timely.

Here Was Paradise: Selected Poems / Aqui era el paraiso: Poemas seleccionados by Humberto Ak’abal, ill. Amelia Lau Carling, translated by Hugh Hazelton

[Translation – K’iche to Spanish to English]

Earlier this year I posted a list of poetry books for kids published in 2021 that I particularly liked. Someone pointed out that I had surprisingly few translations on the list, and I apologized for not knowing of any. This book was then mentioned, so I was sure to seek it out. Sure enough, what you have here are poems original written with an adult audience in mind by the Maya poet Humerto Ak’abal. Now these poems were originally written in K’iche, but have since been translated into Spanish and, now, English. Taken as a whole, the poems have a collective evocative beauty that brings to life the region. It’s hard to resist lines like, “I used to cut off stars / and eat them.” My sole problem with the book is the paucity of the art. Amelia Lau Carling provides beautiful interstitial moments of art at the heads of the chapters but each poem is set against a pure white, and very empty, background. There’s nothing for a child’s eye to grab onto. Beautiful overall, but I wish they’d gone the extra mile to make it completely child friendly.

Inside In: X-Rays of Nature’s Hidden World by Jan Paul Schutten, photography by Arie van ‘t Riet, translated by Laura Watkinson

[Translation – Dutch]

[Previously Seen on the Photography List]

Take a trip into the rarely seen world of x-rays and learn about all the insects, fish, birds, and mammals that make up our world. See them as you’ve never seen them before! We think of x-rays as ubiquitous but the key to this book is something that Schutten explains at the beginning. Apparently it is incredibly difficult to find books of x-ray photographs. Why? Well, there are the safety guidelines to consider as well as just how difficult it is to even get access. That’s part of what makes this book so interesting. Animal after animal is shown without their skin or feathers or prickles. The end result is that you get these amazing connections drawn by Schutten between similar types of animals or animals you might never think had anything in common with us. They’ve also be posed to look like they’re mid-jump, leap, run, or swim (which takes off a bit of the morbid taste that comes with knowing that they are, in fact, dead).

The Mailbox in the Forest by Kyoko Hara, ill. Kazue Takahashi, translated by Alexandrea Mallia

[Translation – Japanese]

I’ve no doubt I’ve run across the art of Kazue Takahashi before, but I’m less certain that I’ve ever read anything written by Kyoko Hara. This book is the first in the “Forest Friends” series and follows a little girl who gets to spend some time alone with her grandparents. While she lives in a high-rise building in the city, they live next to a great big forest that she gets to explore on her own whenever she wants. The book does a delightful job of invoking the smells and sense of autumn. While exploring, the girl finds a little mailbox and strikes up a correspondence with whoever made it. But who is the mysterious letter writer? And will they still be able to write when she’s gone back home? It’s slight and spare and reminded me just a little of Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi in terms of tone. A charmer.

Niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile by María José Ferrada, ill. María Elena Valdez, translated by Lawrence Schimel

[Translation – Spanish]

Thirty-four poems honor the thirty-four children killed during the dictatorship of General Pinochet. Poignant, loving, beautiful words display each child full of life and hope and wonder. It can be difficult figuring out how an author could make the lost children of Chile an appropriate topic for kids to learn about. But Ferrada’s clever because she doesn’t concentrate on their death but on their life. At the beginning she writes, “… we tell this story knowing that at this moment, many children feel afraid, suffer tragedies, and even lose their lives because of political violence. To those children, and to the memory that helps us defeat monsters, we dedicate this book.” 2021 is a good year for defeating monsters, I think. And the poems found here are just wonderful. In a lot of ways this reminded me of last year’s I Wish. Only, perhaps, with quite a bit more poignancy.

The Sea-Ringed World: Sacred Stories of the Americas by María García Esperón, ill. Amanda Mijangos, translated by David Bowles

[Translation – Spanish]

A compilation of over 50 stories from Indigenous civilizations across the Americas. Be sure to check out the audiobook, since it does a delicious job of going through the individual tales. Sometimes when you encounter a collection of stories you have a hard time following the editor’s organization. In this case, I think Esperón did an expert take on including a few longer stories that dip in-between the shorter tales. I particularly enjoyed the note at the beginning that explains that contemporary listeners may not agree with some of the lessons these stories impart. It’s true, and that’s okay.

The Secret of the Magic Pearl by Elisa Sabatinelli, ill Iacopo Bruno, translated by Christopher Turner

[Translations – Italian]

For kids that watched the Pixar film Luca this summer, this book offers a very different glimpse of an Italian seaside community. In this story, Hector and his family used to run a tourist destination where they’d give tours of the sea. That all changed when a greedy developer drove them out of business with his own, bigger enterprise. So when Hector and his father find a legendary local gem known as “The Pearl” you can bet that developer will stop at nothing to get his hands on it. But at what price? You have undoubtedly stumbled across the exceedingly distinct artistic style of Mr. Bruno some place or another. I’d wager that he’s one of our most popular Italian artists (though Sergio Ruzzier remains the reigning champ). In this book he invokes books like David Wiesner’s Flotsam. He takes care to inject a funny little magical realism detail into the art. Each person depicted has a small, floating creature in their vicinity. Our hero has a small red fish. His father, a crab. His mom, a dolphin. And the villain? A skeleton of a fish… until he has a change of heart. Mr. Turner has done a good job with the translation. It feels exceedingly natural from start to finish. You might never know it came from overseas.


Interested in other lists of translated children’s books? Then check out these lists from previous years:

And here’s what else we have happening this month:

December 1 – Great Board Books

December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations

December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books

December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds

December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books

December 6 – Funny Picture Books

December 7 – CaldeNotts

December 8 – Picture Book Reprints

December 9 – Math Books for Kids

December 10 – Books with a Message

December 11 – Fabulous Photography

December 12 – Wordless Picture Books

December 13 – Translated Titles

December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales

December 15 – Unconventional Children’s Books

December 16 – Middle Grade Novels

December 17 – Poetry Books

December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books

December 19 – Older Funny Books

December 20 – Science Fiction Books

December 21 – Fantasy Books

December 22 – Informational Fiction

December 23 – American History

December 24 – Science & Nature Books

December 25 – Autobiographies *NEW TOPIC!*

December 26 – Biographies

December 27 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers

December 28 – Nonfiction Picture Books

December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids

December 30 – Comics & Graphic Novels

December 31 – Picture Books

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. I always love reading your writing about translations!

    It looks like The Mailbox in the Forest was translated by Alexandrea Mallia (per Kirkus, PW, Shelf Awareness) — would love to see Museyon make this clearer.

  2. Victor Santos says

    “The Capybaras” is such a beautiful gem of a picture book! Thank you so much for bringing it to our attention, Betsy! The way the illustrations complement the text is just a joy to watch. And aren’t those capybaras super cute? 🙂

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