Kids Need Translations: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

This post, by Dr. Annette Y. Goldsmith, initially appeared on the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) blog:

By Dr. Annette Y. Goldsmith

There’s a new group of activists on the block – the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI). This translator-led group includes editors and librarians. Our mission is to promote the increased publication of translations from other countries (the numbers are pitifully low) and to provide resources to help librarians understand how to use these titles so if they do get purchased they don’t sit on the shelf and then get withdrawn for lack of circulation. Please visit our group on Facebook; at press time we had 263 members. You’ll also find us on Twitter: #GlobalLitinLibs.

Global Literature in Libraries Initiative (GLLI)

Betsy Bird covered our Conversation Starter session at ALA in Orlando for School Library JournalLyn Miller-Lachmann’s post over at YALSA’s The Hub demonstrates why it’s crucial to have translations for teens. This blog post (which expands on my remarks from the Conversation Starter panel) makes the case for the increased publication, promotion, and sharing of translations for children.

Connection to the rest of the world

Reading books from other countries can help bridge geographical and cultural gaps. Strong fiction and nonfiction narratives lead to a richer appreciation of geography, history, and literary style, bringing the wider world to young readers, who themselves are part of an increasingly interconnected world.

From my own research, I know that many editors who publish translations are motivated by the desire to help young readers build “bridges of understanding” through children’s books. This is also the mission that IBBY (the International Board on Books for Young People) and our national section, USBBY, have been carrying out since 1953 and the early 1960s respectively. Today, when refugees and migrants are demonized, children still need to build these bridges of understanding and empathy.

Personal connections

We want children to see themselves (mirrors) as well as others (windows) in their books, and use stories to connect (doors). Translations also allow children to read what their counterparts in other countries are reading without the barrier of language.

Literary quality – and the Common Core

Compelling literary voices are available to us in translation. We all know the classics such as Pinocchio, but what about contemporary writing?

wonderful fluffyConsider the whimsical French picture book that won the 2016 Mildred L. Batchelder Award – Beatrice Alemagna’s The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy.As is often true of translations, the art in this picture book is fresh and distinctive.

Translations are brought to us by two talented writers – the author and the translator. They invite the curiosity and critical thinking so central to the Common Core …and to a satisfying recreational read.

Valuing other voices

From translations, readers learn about their peers in other countries – and they learn that this knowledge is worthwhile. Readers in most other countries read far more translations than we do. If the transmission of culture is not to be one-way, we need translations from other countries.

In  a recent Horn Book column, Spanish translator Elena Abós describes how the widespread belief that translations don’t sell can be a self-fulfilling prophecy for publishers. If we make it clear that we need and will buy translations, publishers will supply them.

We need more translations now!

Translations are important for library collections because they build bridges of understanding; act as mirrors, windows, and doors for our children; offer exciting literary voices that we would otherwise miss; counteract cultural hegemony by valuing the work of authors from other countries; and provide new insights. Philip Pullman (2005) sums it up best: “If we DON’T offer children the experience of literature from other languages, we’re starving them. It’s as simple as that.”2

  1. Alemagna, Beatrice. (2015). The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy. Claudia Zoe Bedrick. Brooklyn: Enchanted Lion.
  2. Pullman, Philip. (2005). “Foreword.” In D. Hallford & E. Zaghini, eds., Outside In: Children’s Books In Translation. (p. 9). Chicago: Milet.


Courtesy of guest blogger
Courtesy of guest blogger

Dr. Annette Y. Goldsmith is a Lecturer for the University of Washington Information School. She chaired the 2010 Mildred L. Batchelder Award Committee. With Theo Heras and Susan Corapi, she is co-editor of Reading the World’s Stories: An Annotated Bibliography of International Youth Literature (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016).



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