Hannah is a children’s bookseller who once stopped by to give us 5 elements of a successful storytime, evidenced by 5 picture books. Now she’s back as part of my picture book gems a bookseller/librarian recommends series! And this is a treat because she’s chosen international picture book translations.
Over to Hannah!
I have always loved learning languages. As a kid, I studied Spanish in school, and as an international affairs major in college, I studied Arabic, Hindi, and Farsi. Each language has a particular nuance, reflecting unique cultures and histories–when translated, the best stories do not lose any of that uniqueness. I’m drawn to translated children’s books in particular because I believe they offer a window to the world to kids that an atlas or a nonfiction book cannot–reading a translated book gives a child a bridge across the globe, connecting the reader to a different way of thinking and imagining. The following are six of my current translated favorites from around the world.
Seven Pablos by Jorge Luján, translated from the Spanish by Mara Lethem, illustrated by Chiara Carrer.
“There are many Pablos in the world, yet they are all one. Inside each of them is a heart that beats to the same rhythm as the ocean’s waves and the rotations of the planet.”
I wish that line from Seven Pablos could be written everywhere and understood by those at the highest levels of power. This is a book that meditates on the universal human experiences of children around the world, touching on issues like migration, poverty, and bullying. It is a necessary book for the time we live in–one of those Pablos could very well be one of the 12,800 detained children at the United States border.
My Valley by Claude Ponti, translated from the French by Alyson Waters.
I’m a huge fan of weird, cozy, imagined worlds–the Moomin series is my absolute favorite–so this one appealed to me right off the bat. Its giant trim size is difficult to shelve, but it’s so necessary for spying all the minute details of the Twims’ world. These cute, squirrel-like beings live in trees with rooms that have specific purposes: a room to be born in, a room to read in, a room to swim in. With notes on their history, their mythology, and their daily lives, Ponti builds an immersive experience akin to reading a fantasy novel–making this book a delight to pore over and get lost within.
There have been many picture book explorations of the Syrian refugee experience, but this one is my absolute favorite. A true collaboration between author and artist, this bilingual story is a resonant, lyrical tale of one family’s life before and during the war and their hard journey out of Syria and into a hopeful future. Though Badr’s images are composed only from sea-smoothed stone, they are full of life and poignancy.
Never have I wanted to hug a book so much. This is a delicious and delightful ride of a book–one of those you want to step right inside and live within, featuring two adorable girls who ride their bikes through a magical world where friendly animals serve them jam sandwiches and clover blossom tea and other delicious treats. Though this book was published in 2016, its comforting, cheery atmosphere gives it the feel of a bygone classic.
Feather is a unique, beautiful take on the “Are You My Mother” story structure as a lost feather floats along, trying to find the bird it belongs to. Paired with Mello’s spare yet rich and dynamic illustrations, this hopeful story of searching for belonging soars above the rest. I highly recommend this one for fans of birds, folktales, and accessibly philosophical kids’ books.
Nature can awaken even the most stodgy of imaginations. In On a Magical Do-Nothing Day, Alemagna’s bespectacled, bored child (gender is never addressed, which I LOVE) finds theirs jump-started after they drop their video game in a pond and begin to notice the wonder of the woods around them. Alemagna’s prose and illustrations sing with delicious metaphor, and her magical, mystical forest is rich in texture and detail. I dare you to read this book and not want to immediately go traipsing through the woods, finding your own magic.
Hannah lives in Athens, GA, where she works as the manager of children’s books at Avid Bookshop. She often daydreams about living a calm and peaceful life in Moominvalley or traipsing the Maine coast with Miss Rumphius. A librarian at heart (and in training), Hannah loves the look on a kid’s face when they find a book they truly love.
I primarily feature picture books here, but I’ve been reading so many great chapter books over the last couple of years (plus, they have pictures too!), that I wanted to round up some recent favorites. I hope you’ll add in the comments any chapter book gems I’ve missed.
A range of page counts are included here, in no particular order, and many if not most of these are part of a series with more than one installment for kid readers to gobble up. (Disclosure that some of these I read quite some time ago and aren’t as fresh in my mind for fully fleshed out descriptions as others. But know I enjoyed them all!)
Meet Yasmin by Saadia Faruqi, illustrated by Hatem Aly (2018).
The first installment (with more in the series!) is a compilation of four delightful short stories with illustrations to match. The MC, Yasmin, who is Pakistani American, is creative and bold while also finding her way through sometimes being worried or unsure. Relatable and full of spirit and fun, this one is a true treat.
The ace design of this cover is a perfect preview to what lies inside this terrific book. I like the relatability of a girl who wants to do something designated for older kids, and for boys. I also like that this explores the tradition of making mochi for the new year, and other aspects of Japanese and Japanese American culture. The drawings complement the story beautifully.
A wonderful chapter book about friendship, flexibility, and change with a uniquely funny and charming character at its (upside down) heart. “Some losses were worse than others. A secret base was replaceable. Lenny Santos was not.”
In this sweet, engaging chapter book, Jada Jones is not the kind of rock star that first comes to mind. Nope, she loves rocks! A budding geologist, she’s navigating a science project and friendships after her bestie moves away, finding solutions and never giving up.
Juana is clever and funny as she tells the reader about her life. I adore how she introduces the characters (Lucas her dog, her friend Juli, the city of Bogotá where she lives, her tía, abuelo, and more) by way of illustrated diagrams. Plus, while Juana is learning English in the story, readers are either learning or recognizing the Spanish words weaved in.
An exceedingly funny chapter book about two dogs who, worried about this school place their boy has to spend his days, impersonate a student in order to protect and investigate. Turns out, these dogs LOVE school! Needless to say, hilarity ensues.
Lucky for readers, Hena Khan, author of Amina’s Voice and several exquisite picture books, is bringing her writing to the chapter book arena. I was lucky enough to hear her present this book at Once Upon A Time Books in Los Angeles. A nicely paced story about basketball, following your passion, and a warm and well-drawn family you’ll definitely want to read more of.
I had the great pleasure of blurbing this book! Stella’s story is relatable, honest, and warm-hearted. She certainly has a lot to say to young readers as she learns that just like the starfish who shares her name—Estrella—she is stronger than she thinks.
Filled with family and positivity, this book was inspired by the story of real eleven-year-old Sarai Gonzalez. In the fictional story, Sarai’s grandparents are forced to leave their home so Sarai hatches a plan to raise money to help them—with chicha morada and cupcakes.
This one had me at the concept. Polly receives a book that makes anything she writes actually happen! Full of magical misunderstandings and charming illustrations, it’s perfect for developing readers (and writers!) who are fans of magic and imagination.
The most adorable illustrations and girl power adventures make this series another winner.
King & Kayla by Dori Hillestad Butler, illustrated by Nancy Meyers.
Who doesn’t love a gentle mystery to solve? My favorite part about this series is that Kayla’s dog, King, is the one leading the way and figuring out clues before the human characters do. It’s a fun, inventive twist and has humor and repetition to boot.
A tittle to dance about! The stars of this series are super happy party bears indeed, but they live in the Grumpy Woods. Not to worry though, nothing gets them down and they get others to come around as well. A lively, bright, snappy story.
The first book was about forest animals who were afraid of the sights and sounds of the forest at night. Mama Elephant reassured them that the natural world was there to do its job and even nourish them. It was a lullaby of comfort.
In the follow-up, You’re Snug With Me, two bear cubs are born in the frozen north, in the den their mother has made them. They ask questions about the unknown outside their cozy home and their mother explains the seasons and the world, preparing them for what lies beyond and nurturing the need to take good care of it.
From the first book to the second, we go from summer to winter. Warmth to cold. Community to family. Forest to frozen north. Rich green to icy blue. While the setting has shifted and the cast of characters has gotten smaller, the comforting lullaby quality of security and snugness remains. These are perfect companion books, both grounded in nature and love and safety.
And… here’s the cover of You’re Snug With Me! In person, it glistens and sparkles like sun on snow!
And we’ve got a sneak peek of some beautiful interior spreads as well. Poonam Mistry uses the same exquisite style as the previous book, but this one with cool tones—butter yellow, lavender, crisp white, and ice-blue. And while the first book featured the dance of animals and natural elements on the page, this one zooms in on the relationship between mother and cubs, the sphere of family that feels to the very young like the whole world.
“The second story started with the idea of a hibernating polar bear and when I did the research to find out more, I fell in love with the scene of the cubs discovering their landscape for the first time. The challenge was to find elements that a polar bear cub should be introduced to and I had to go beyond the obvious – what’s underneath the ocean, what’s up in the sky. Also I couldn’t write about polar bears without worrying about the melting ice and somehow incorporating the role of every big predator in protecting it.”
“It was exciting working on You’re Snug With Me because it was outside of my usual comfort zone. I researched knitwear patterns and Inuit textiles and clothing and incorporated some of these patterns into my drawings so that it was different to the first book but there was still some continuity in the style of the artwork.
I don’t often work in pastel colours but it was important to reflect the wintry setting of the story and use these colours to highlight the beautiful landscapes of the Arctic.”
Breathtaking artwork and a beautiful story with a gentle environmental theme, this is a book to take in, to ponder, to read while snug with loved ones.
Look for it in October!
Chitra Soundar is an Indian-born British writer and storyteller. She is inspired by the rich epics and folktales of India, its diverse culture and its natural beauty. She has over 30 books in print worldwide and has been published by Otter-Barry Books, Walker Books and Red Robin Books.
Poonam Mistry is a UK-based illustrator of Indian heritage. Her work is heavily influenced by nature, folklore and traditional Indian art. With a degree in Graphic Design and Illustration, she produces artwork for clients around the world.
Big thanks to Lantana for images (and a review copy)!
You might want to check out the amazing paper star craft Poonam Mistry shared for the first installment in this series, You’re Safe With Me! There’s a template so you can make one too!
This book is a stunner—wordless and captivating. The colors! The cut paper! The journey from the uniformity of the everyday to the magic of story and art and imagination. All because of a book!
(click image(s) to enlarge)
The story is simple. A child finds a book with a blue horse on it on a city sidewalk. Back in her apartment building, we see her reading in her room, the rest of the windows around her opaque and beige. But she’s reading this bright blue book with a bright blue horse on the front.
And then, we glimpse the vibrant, exuberant horse inside! It’s mid-jump and kind of carries the girl away, and into the book. Out of everyday life. Pages continue like that—we are in the book with the child, the horse artwork getting more and more colorful and more and more abstract. Now, the child’s room (and world and imagination) are filled with art and color and shapes and possibility.
Geraldo Valério was inspired by the German Expressionist Group Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) when making this book. It weaves in elements the group explored, like color and form having resonant meaning of their own. “The name ‘Der Blaue Reiter’ referred to Kandinsky and Marc’s belief that blue was the most spiritual color and that the rider symbolized the ability to move beyond.” (Quote found here.)
The child rider of the horse in the story certainly moves beyond—her surroundings, her modern, mundane world, her limits, by riding that horse out of the book and into her life. It moves her, it changes her, it shows her all kinds of possibility. Just the way reading and art can do.
I’m delighted to have Margaret from the wonderful literary kids’ craft blog, homemade city, here to share a truly exuberant Blue Rider craft with us! I’m a huge admirer of Margaret’s aesthetic and creations—her crafts are a must see (and make!).
Over to Margaret!
When you open the cover of Blue Rider by GeraldoValério, you’re met with delicious saturated color in an array of forms and shapes. It’s a treasure just like the book that the child character discovers on a city sidewalk in this wordless story. As the child opens the book, a blue horse leaps across the sky streaking the city’s gray grid with a spray of color.
When Danielle suggested I make a craft for Blue Rider, I happily took up my scissors and glue stick. But how best to reproduce the surprise and pleasure that a reader, like the child in Blue Rider, can find just by opening a book? How about a pop-up? With collaged bits of jewel-hued paper. And a blue horse, of course.
What you’ll need:
Card stock or construction paper
Paint color sample cards
First, fold a piece of paper in half. I used an 8 1/2 x 11″ sheet of dark blue card stock. Set it aside.
On a different piece of paper, trace and cut out a circle on stiff paper. I traced a circle about 4″ in diameter using a tin coffee can. Cut a spiral into your paper circle. It’s OK to freehand, lopsided spirals are as beautiful as uniform ones. (Spirals are the simplest way to create a pop-up–and their shape adds whimsy and movement as you open the fold.)
Dab glue to the center of your spiral. Place your circle (side with glue facedown) inside of your folded paper.
Apply glue to an inch or two of the exposed tail of your spiral. Press the folded paper closed so that the glued tail will adhere to the other half of the paper. When you open the card, the spiral will pop up like a spring!
Now for the fun—cut shapes or hole-punch dots or stars or flowers from your paint sample color cards. If you want to write a message, trace letters and cut them out—whatever pleases you!
Glue your shapes to the spiral, making sure nothing peeks out when you fold the paper closed.
I cut out a blue horse and fashioned a rainbow mane like the one that canters across the city sky in Blue Rider. Then I added abstract shapes to the dark blue background, inspired by Valerio’s pages of rich color and collage. It was so delightful, I quickly made another with abstract bits and tiny hole-punched blooms. No horse this time, just color, shape, and surprise.
Thank you, Margaret! This craft is bursting with joy!
Margaret is the author of Mabel One and Only (Dial Books for Young Readers) as well as Flip: How the Frisbee Took Flight, a nonfiction picture book slated for Fall 2019 with Charlesbridge Publishing. By day, you can find her wearing cat glasses and cardigans as the children’s librarian at Hardy Elementary School in Arlington, Mass. In her free time, she makes wacky, colorful crafts at homemade city.