Children's Books in Translation from Around the World
For many adults, reading books from foreign lands has been a socially distant form of escapism to survive the dreadful 2020. However, translated literature is also a brilliant way to spark the natural curiosity of children, and encourage them to discover the world, its people and its many cultures.
Books are very special bridges. Oblivious to the rules of gravity, borders and architecture, they can connect the dots from the UK to Paris, from Rome to Teheran and even reach whole new worlds.
Whether you’re looking for inspiration for your niece’s Christmas present or writing a letter to Santa for yourself, you’ll find it in this list of tales that little ones and grown-ups alike will enjoy.
Three Children’s Books to Discover Iran
Stories from far-away Iran resonate surprisingly well with the heart and experiences of children from around the globe. Thanks to the work of publishers like Tiny Owl, some of these tales are now available to the English-speaking community.
The Little Black Fish by Samad Behrangi (a teacher, social critic and translator himself) was first published in 1967, and the original illustrations by Farshid Mesghali won the Hans Christian Andersen Award. Considered a political allegory and banned in pre-revolutionary Iran, the book tells the story of a young fish who leaves the safety of its home to venture out into the big wide ocean. He learns about injustice, freedom and the value of solidarity. A new English edition was published in 2015, translated by Azita Rassi.
Winter stories are popular in Iran too. The Snowman and the Sun by Susan Taghdis, translated by Azita Rassi, is the perfect illustrated tale to teach young children about nature and the water cycle as we witness the transformations and travels of a snowman.
A 13th century tale is cleverly reinvented in The Parrot and the Merchant: A Tale by Rumi, illustrated by Marjan Vafaeian, translated by Azita Rassi. A smart beautiful bird talks his way to freedom from a merchant who collects caged animals.
Geronimo Stilton, The Italian Mouse That’s Loved All Over the World
Written by the Italian author Elisabetta Dami, Geronimo Stilton is a series of books that follows the adventures of a mouse, Geronimo Stilton, through space and time.
Originally published in Italian in 1997, the books have since been translated into forty-eight different languages and have sold over 140 million copies worldwide.
With more than 250 different books published, it can be defined as one of the longest – and most successful – children's sagas. But who is Geronimo? Geronimo is a journalist that works for The Rodent’s Gazette. As a consequence of his job, he is always looking for new stories to be discovered and this gets him in trouble. This forms the basis for all his classic adventures. However, the series has been so successful that Geronimo doesn’t only travel the world, he travels through time as well. We can follow Geronimo’s adventures around Ancient Rome, in Florence during the Renaissance or in Paris during the French revolution.
The success of the series brought to life a cartoon, a musical and a website inspired by his adventures.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
“All grown-ups were once children...but only few of them remember it.”
A novella by French aviator, de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince was first published in 1943, and then posthumously in France once World War Two ended and it was no longer banned. The story follows a young (although his exact age is uncertain) prince as he embarks on a quest for an understanding of love and existence, visiting several planets including ours. On his travels, he meets different characters who inform and question his perspective on friendship and how we deal with loss.
Although a children’s book, through its message and illustrations, it poses deeply pertinent philosophical questions even adults still seek answers to.
A key theme of the book is adults’ incapability of retaining the curiosity and wonder so present in our childhoods. In this sense, the book is almost a memorial and commemoration of childhood.
The book draws on de Saint-Exupéry’s own experience of crashing his airplane in the Sahara and being stranded there for a while. As of 2017, The Little Prince is – along with Pinocchio– the world’s most translated non-religious book, having been translated into at least 301 languages/dialects.