World Kid Lit Month: The Place Of Translation In Children's Books And Our Top Picks
By Michaela O’Callaghan, Joanne Boustead and Aimee Haldron
World Kid Lit month was first launched in 2016 by global literature experts Marcia Lynx Qualey, Lawrence Schimel and Alexandra Büchler to help promote and celebrate literature, whether that be fiction, non-fiction or poetry, that has been translated from other languages into English. It is a project, run by volunteers, aiming to make it easier for children and young adults to discover translated literature. The significance of World Kid Lit month falling in September is that it coincides with National Translation Month in the US as well as the European Day of Languages and International Translation Day which both fall towards the end of September.
In 2021, #WorldKidLitMonth has provided a lot of materials for families, educators, librarians and booksellers to encourage them to get involved, including downloadable reading lists for all ages, ideas on how to celebrate within schools and resources for booksellers to source children’s books from around the world. There are also a number of panel events available to watch on their YouTube channel discussing topics such as African kid lit, Central European kid lit and the importance of sharing translated children’s literature.
Why Are Translated Texts In Children’s Literature Important?
We are great fans of children’s books that have been translated from other languages. When we look back at all the books we have read from childhood to adulthood, there are many that we wouldn’t have been able to enjoy and read deep into the night if it was not for the work of translators.
Take Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales or the Brothers Grimm. If it were not for the translations of these texts, we wouldn’t have all the beautiful and subversive fairy tale adaptations that we have today. A firm favourite throughout our youth was Cornelia Funke’s Mirrorworld series, in itself a series translated from German, that references fairy tales. Our favourite translated works from our childhood also include the Moomins series by Tove Jansson, originally published in Swedish in Finland and Pippi Longstocking.
Another favourite from our childhood is The Adventures of Tintin which originated as a series of comics written by Belgian cartoonist Georges Remi and was translated from French to English in 1951 by Leslie Lonsdale-Cooper and Michael Turner. The series has gone on to become one of the most popular European comics of the 20th century with it being published in more than seventy languages and reaching sales of more than 200 million copies. It has also famously been adapted for multiple films, radio, television and theatre productions.
When Tintin was translated, as with most books, it was Anglicised in order to appeal to a British audience. For example, the original name of Tintin’s dog, “Milou,” was changed to "Snowy" as well as Captain Haddock’s home being renamed "Marlinspike Hall." All these changes were made to sculpt a work whose jokes would be meritorious in their own right. Whereas, when it was translated into American English, the translation omitted certain content considered to be inappropriate for children such as drunkenness and free mixing of races. This shows how translations can be altered to adapt to particular markets.
Here are a few reasons why we think that translated children’s books are an important component in the world of children’s literature.
Firstly, it ensures that young readers have the chance to read brilliant texts from around the world. Translating books means that brilliant stories such as the highly renowned The Little Prince can reach children that would not have been able to read them in their traditional language.
Alongside this, it encourages a greater variety in the type of texts children are able to enjoy. Genres such as comic and graphic novels arguably aren’t as well established in the UK as they are in other cultures. Without translation, children wouldn’t be able to read a different genre that might appeal to them more than a standard chapter book. Take NoBrow Press’ Nightlights series from Lorena Alvarez which is filled with beautiful illustrations. The first is a lovely tale about creativity, the second, Hicotea: A Nightlights Story is about our relationship with nature and animals.
Finally, children’s books in translation provide a space to start conversations about different cultures and experiences. They are a great way for young readers to find out more about how other people live their lives and also provides children with the chance to find texts that they can see themselves in. What better time than now to encourage young children to interact with other cultures and create a publishing environment where shared stories throughout the world are valued.
As such, we are firm believers in the power of words to cross borders and indeed the importance of sharing stories, characters and experiences through the written language.
Book Recommendations For World Kid Lit Month
With World Kid Lit Month coming up in September, we have explored some of our top picks of translations to help you experiment with and enjoy some of the best new releases of children’s and young adult literature in translation.
The False Rose by Jakob Wegelius
After the success of The Murderers Ape, The False Rose had big boots to fill. But, Jakob Wegelius has done it again with a brilliant adventure story following the lovable protagonist, Sally Jones, an ape with a friendly heart and warm spirit. In this story, Sally is drawn into the Glaswegian underworld and a search for the rightful owner of a beautiful necklace. The False Rose will be published by Pushkin Press in October and has been translated from Swedish by Peter Graves.
Odin’s Child by Siri Pettersen
The first book of Siri Pettersen’s The Raven Rings epic young adult fantasy trilogy, Odin’s Child has been praised for its immersive worldbuilding and unforgettable characters. Translated by Siân Mackie and Paul Russell Garrett, it is brimming with decades-old secrets, forbidden romance and is heavily rooted in Norse mythology. Odin’s Child is a unique fantasy novel you will love from beginning to end. Originally published in Norway in 2013, this debut has gone on to become a commercial success and has since been translated into thirteen languages. The two remaining books are also in the process of being translated ‒ The Rot is set to be published in October this year, with the third and final book, The Might set for publication in March 2022.
Pop-Up Earth by Anne Jankeliowitch
With intricate illustrations by Annabelle Buxton and translation by Jill Phythian, Pop-Up Earth is an interactive book perfect for children who want to learn about our planet. With pop-ups ranging from how the earth was born, to biodiversity and waterfalls, everything your child wants to know about the earth can be found in this gorgeous hardback. Also by Anne Jankeliowitch (who happens to be an environmental engineer), is Pop-Up Moon. Published to mark the fiftieth anniversary of man’s first steps on the moon, this book is filled with fascinating facts about eclipses, the phases of the moon and plenty more. After reading these, your child will be rushing to share facts about our planet and space with you! We also recommend Pop-Up Volcano, just in case the kids want to devour more facts!
Dulcinea In The Forbidden Forest by Ole Könnecke
Published by Gecko Press, Dulcinea in the Forbidden Forest is written and illustrated by Ole Könnecke and translated by Shelley Tanaka. It is a translation from a German fairy tale but it is no traditional fairy tale. It features a classic father-daughter duo and a forbidden forest. However, it pokes fun at many tropes, namely that of the passive female main character. In this German fairy tale, Dulcinea’s father ventures into the enchanted forest, but, after being turned into a tree, Dulcinea has to use her initiative and demonstrate her brave spirit to save her father from the evil witch. Alongside this storyline, the book is packed with fun illustrations. The style is minimal with a limited palette of orangey brown and black, but the charming expressions and over the top outlines bring the story to life.
Me And The Robbersons by Siri Kolu
Written by Siri Kolu and translated from Finnish by Ruth Urbom, this is a fun, sweet-heavy adventure story about Maisie and her experience being kidnapped by the Robbersons. The Robbersons aren’t an ordinary family – they are a family of bandits who love stealing sweets and live a life of freedom, away from school and chores! This is certainly a silly one, featuring some amazingly brilliant characters from the crazy parents to the Robberson youngsters – one in particular who enjoys repurposing Barbie dolls. If you have a sweet tooth, this is a perfect book as it is jam-packed with sweets! This is the first in a series from Little Tiger Press so we can’t wait to see how this story continues.
Mr Tiger by David Cali
This picture book is written by Davide Cali, illustrated by Miguel Tanco and translated from Spanish by Gilberte Bourget. This is a brilliant example of how young readers can learn about another culture through translated children’s literature. This picture book is inspired by lucha libre (Mexican professional wrestling) and follows a famous masked wrestler who is a force to be reckoned with in the ring but who struggles to make friends due to his shyness outside the ring. This lovely tale features a sweet romance all about being brave and expressing your feelings. This picture book is published by Tate Publishing.
This September, you can join in with the #WorldKidLitMonth hype over on social media using hashtags like #ReadtheWorld and #DiverseBooks. We hope you enjoy exploring some brilliant titles out there! You can find out more about World Kid Lit Month and explore the events available here.