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Translated Children’s and YA Books

By Niina Bailey and Toby Smollett

When people talk about translated books, they often only talk about adult books. But there are plenty of translated children’s and young adult books out there. Even if these books are targeted for a younger audience, anyone can enjoy them. This issue, we wanted to recommend our favourite translated children’s and YA books. Enjoy!

Inkheart by Cornelia Funke. Translated by Anthea Bell. Chicken House (2003)

Have you ever wished your favourite book characters could come to life? If so, Inkheart is the book for you. It follows twelve-year-old Meggie and her father Mo, who can make objects and people appear from books by reading aloud. When Meggie was a child, Mo read three people out of a book called Inkheart who now want to take advantage of his power and capture him. It is up to Meggie and her great aunt Elinor to save Mo.

Inkheart is a book for people who love books. Mo, Meggie and Elinor all love books and understand how important they can be. This comes across very well in the writing and makes the reader feel understood. The world-building is excellent, both in the real world and the descriptions of the world within the book. The characters feel alive and really elevate the story.

Inkheart was originally published in German as Tintenherz in 2003. It is the first book in the Inkworld trilogy and is followed by Inkspell and Inkdeath.

Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson. Translated by Kingsley Hart. Penguin Books (1965)

Moominpappa at Sea is the seventh book in the Moomin book series, although they can be read in any order. The books follow the Moomin family and their friends as they live life and have adventures in Moominvalley. In this book, they set off to find a lighthouse in the sea because Moominpappa (who the book mostly focuses on) has grown tired of his life in Moominvalley. They find an island only inhabited by a fisherman and move into the lighthouse. The book follows Moominpappa in his endeavours to fix up the island and lighthouse while Moominmamma feels like she is not needed.

Even if this book was written for children, it can be enjoyed by anyone and even has some adult themes. Moominpappa essentially has a mid-life crisis and Moominmamma becomes depressed on the island because she misses home and feels purposeless. In addition, the atmosphere in the book is palpable.

Moominpappa at Sea was originally published in Swedish as Pappan och havet in 1965 despite Tove Jansson being Finnish.

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Translated by Katherine Woods. Heinemann (1944)

Originally published in French in 1943 (titled Le Petit Prince), The Little Prince is widely cited as one of the best-selling books of all time, with Britannica reporting that over 200 million copies have been sold to date. The tale told by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is every bit as good as you would expect upon reading that number.

The story itself is timeless: a fable featuring space travel, a young prince and talking animals. The prince is, unsurprisingly, the protagonist of the story, journeying across asteroids and meeting adults with closed-off perspectives. The sincerity and open-mindedness of the young prince set him apart from his older (but less wise) peers. Although the book was originally written for children, the depth and breadth of the world and characters make it a moving and powerful read for all – you may well end up teary-eyed by the end.

Where We Go From Here by Lucas Rocha. Translated by Larissa Helena. PUSH/Scholastic (2020)

I recently read Lucas Rocha’s powerful novel Where We Go From Here over a couple of train journeys, and when I had finished my first thought was “wow, I need to see what else he’s written.” The book is open (in the best way), it pulls no punches and the world created and inhabited by the three main characters feels alive. The sensation is less of being sucked in, than of the contents of the book spilling out around you, coiling at your feet. Imagine then, my shock when I realised this is Lucas Rocha’s debut novel.

The story follows three queer men in Brazil, two of whom are HIV-positive. I decided against using the word ‘narrative’ for this story, because that suggests this is a very plot-driven book, when it is actually closer to some of the auto-fiction that we have seen emerge in the past decade or so. Conversations are frank, and they need to be. This is not, however, a story purely of trauma. Characters are struggling, but with bravery. The concept of queer community is, by this point, beyond well known, but rarely is it expressed as realistically as it is here. A must-read, nothing less.


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