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.
Stepping Stones: A Refugee Family’s Journey by Margriet Ruurs, translated into Arabic by Falah Raheem, art by Nizar Ali Badr.
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.
Chirri & Chirra by Kaya Doi, translated from the Japanese by Yuki Kaneko.
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 by Cao Wenxuan, translated from the Chinese by Chloe Garcia-Roberts, illustrated by Roger Mello.
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.
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna, translated from the French by Jill Davis
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.