Reading around the world for World Kid Lit Month
Published on: 15 September 2021
Celebrated in September each year, #WorldKidLitMonth is the perfect opportunity to explore children’s books in translation. To help you plan your trip, we’ve put together some book suggestions to get you started.
Illustration by Jim Smith
With authentic representation of cultures and communities, reading books in translation helps to open up the world in all its multicultural, multilingual diversity.
And as international travel continues to be curtailed due to the pandemic, we invite you to set off on a reading tour of the world, either as a family or in the classroom, reading a book in translation from every continent. Where will you go and what will you read?
Over on the World Kid Lit website, you’ll find many more ideas and resources, making it easier than ever to pick a place in the world and fly there with a book.
Ready, Steady, School! by Marianne Dubuc and translated by Sarah Ardizzone
French / Canada (Book Island)
From the front cover of Ready, Steady, School! by Marianne Dubuc
Join Pom on a journey to visit the animal schools and learn about what they do there. There’s so much to look at in this huge picture book, which works perfectly as a conversation starter with young children, helping them to talk about their hopes, excitement or worries. It is deliberately gender-neutral and vague about the protagonist’s stage of education – it could be pre-school, it could be reception, it could be an ideal imaginary school – and that makes this great for all children as they transition between childcare and educational settings. Rather than a linear picture book, the text is dotted about the page, so you can easily dip in and out and really let the child take the lead. At the back, there’s a list of the things to find on each page. Will you find them all?
Magic Candies by Heena Baek and translated by Sophie Bowman
Korea / South Korea (Amazon Crossing Kids)
From the front cover of Magic Candies by Heena Baek
Tong Tong is lonely with only his dog Marbles for company, until the day that he buys some magic sweets from the shop. When he sucks on one that's the colour and pattern of his sofa, he hears the sofa talking to him, complaining about his dad’s farts! And when he eats one that resembles his dog, he can finally have a good old heart-to-heart with his pet. All he hears from his dad is endless nagging, but when he secretly eats a candy under the covers in bed, he discovers how much his dad really loves him. The incredibly expressive, lifelike animations are all tiny models built by Korean artist Heena Baek, winner of the 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.
Non-fiction picture books
Sound and Sight by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv, translated by Vitaly Chernetsky
Ukranian / Ukraine (Chronicle Books)
From the front cover of Sight by Romana Romanyshyn and Andriy Lesiv
These two stunning visual non-fiction books from Ukraine explore our senses of sight and sound. We’re invited to look at the world around, to pay attention to nature, animals and industry, but also to take note of our own bodies. In Sound, we are invited to switch off and truly listen 'in order to hear the softest sounds'. In fabulous fluorescent and metallic colours, these books are glorious to look at. As publisher Christopher Franschelli says, these are 'precisely the books I wished I’d had as a nine-year-old first engaging with these topics'.
The Apartment: A Century of Russian History by Alexandra Litvina and illustrated by Anna Desnitskaya, translated by Antonina W. Bouis
Russian / Russia (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019)
From the front cover of The Apartment by Alexandra Litvina and illustrated by Anna Desnitskaya
Essential reading for any children with an interest in history; coming to it with a basic awareness of the world wars, you leave with a thorough overview of 100 years of Russian history, from the time of the Tsars through the 20th century and to the present day. This fascinating large-format picture book explores a century of history from the perspective of one family and their flat in St Petersburg, which starts as their family home in Tsarist Russia, but becomes a crammed communal flat shared by six families after the Revolution. The illustrations are full of humorous details and objects to spot.
Chapter books (5+)
Akissi: Tales of Mischief, More Tales of Mischief and Even More Tales of Mischief by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin, translated by Marie Bédrune and Judith Taboy
French / Côte d’Ivoire (Flying Eye Books)
Akissi’s not going to take "no" for an answer. She plays football and climbs trees, even though the boys say she can’t. Along with her fiercely loyal friends and pet monkey Boubou, she’s ready to take on anyone: the school bully, the mean teacher or perhaps her annoying big brother, Fofana. With short cartoon-strip style stories collated together in three brightly coloured volumes, this is a great set of graphic novels with a strong female protagonist.
Dear Professor Whale by Megumi Iwasa and illustrated by Jun Takabatake, translated by Cathy Hirano
Japanese / Japan (Gecko Press)
From the front cover of Dear Professor Whale by Megumi Iwasa and illustrated by Jun Takabatake
Professor Whale had been feeling lonely since his one and only pupil Penguin left Whale Point School. But when his old friends decide it’s time for a reunion, they host the Whale Point Olympics once again. There are three events: the swimming race for the seals, the walking race for the penguins, and the spouting contest for the whales. Who will win? If you enjoyed the Olympic Games this summer, this is the book for you! From the author of Yours Sincerely, Giraffe, this is another great chapter book for those who are starting to feel confident with their reading.
Bicycling to the Moon by Timo Parvela and illustrated by Virpi Talvitie, translated by Ruth Urbom
Finnish / Finland (Gecko Press)
From the front cover of Bicycling to the Moon by Timo Parvela and illustrated by Virpi Talvitie
Purdy the cat and Barker the dog live together in a charming cycle of domestic bliss, squabbles, exasperation and endless patience on Barker's side. Barker is the worker, never resting, always thinking of one more job to do around the house or garden, and content with a quiet life. Purdy on the other hand is a dreamer, a layabout, the ideas cat, always complicating what would otherwise be so straightforward, but making life so much more of an adventure at each turn. Every one of these stories of companionship is a gem: funny and sparkling with character.
Junior fiction (8+)
The Murderer’s Ape and The False Rose by Jakob Wegelius translated by Peter Graves
Swedish / Sweden (Pushkin Press)
From the front cover of The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius
This saga tells the story of much-loved protagonist Sally Jones. She’s a gorilla, but not just any normal gorilla. When Henry Kosklea, the Chief, is wrongly accused of murder, Sally Jones acts to save her friend. This loyalty will take her across the seas from Lisbon to India, mending accordions, playing chess with a Maharaja and getting involved in a secret plot. For fans of Sally Jones, the great news is that Sally Jones’ next adventure is due out in the autumn – hooray for more exciting adventures with The False Rose!
A Good Day for Climbing Trees by Jaco Jacobs and translated by Kobus Geldenhuys
Afrikaans / South Africa (Oneworld)
Author Jaco Jacobs with his book A Good Day for Climbing Trees
Marnus is fed up during the December holidays (summer in South Africa), bullied by his little brother into doing all the washing up. So when a girl called Leila turns up on their doorstep one morning with a petition, he’s all too happy to walk out of the front door, with the dishcloth still over his shoulder, and join her on her mission to save a beloved tree from being cut down. An unlikely friendship unfolds as a growing community of misfits comes together over the next few days and nights to guard the tree. A charming page-turner that touches on South African history as well as topics such as divorce, friendship and finding your voice when grown-ups won’t listen.
Everyone’s the Smartest by Contra and with illustrations by Ulla Saar, translated by Charlotte Geater, Kätlin Kaldmaa and Richard O'Brien
Estonian / Estonia (The Emma Press)
From the front cover of Everyone’s the Smartest by Contra, illustrated by Ulla Saar
Quirky full-colour illustrations accompany these cheeky and irreverent poems of school life, from sports day to chess club, floods in the toilets to the orchestra of forbidden phones going off during class. Curious readers will enjoy the interviews with the poet and illustrator, a taster of Estonian life, an insight into the challenges facing the translators, and some creative prompts for writing your own poem.
Aquí era Paraíso/Here was Paradise by Humbero Ak’abal, self-translated from Maya K’iche’ into Spanish, translated from Spanish by Hugh Hazelton, illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling
Guatemala (Groundwood Books)
Aquí era Paraíso/Here was Paradise by Humbero Ak’abal, illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling
From one of the most celebrated indigenous Latin American poets comes this beautifully illustrated bilingual Spanish-English poetry collection. Evoking his childhood in and around the Maya K'iche' village of Momostenango, Guatemala, Ak’abal’s poetry explores nature, love, ghosts, poverty and death.
More translated books to explore
Check out BookTrust's favourite translated books, giving children a glimpse of life in other countries and cultures.
Enjoy some of our recommended books for younger children from around the world! These books range from explorations of our planet to translated works from far flung places. They cover genres of adventure, humour and fantasy. There's something for all types of children, what's important is that they all show tales beyond the familiar.
If you're interested in exploring children's books in translation, these well-loved favourites and award-winning titles offer the perfect places to start.
These books range from translated stories from other countries to adventues set in far-flung places. Covering many genres some are great for engaging reluctant readers while others are perfect to entertain those reading above their age.