Just before the start of September, World Kid Lit month, feeling rested and relaxed at the end of summer, I proposed an ambitious and not particularly well-thought-through idea to my boys (M, nearly 6, and G, nearly 9): I had been telling them about #worldkidlit month, and I suggested that we could look at a new country on the globe each day and for each country find a children’s book writer or illustrator and write a tweet about them.
Now, we live in a house absolutely full of children’s books from around the world, so this wasn’t completely crazy, even if we didn’t exactly have a full itinerary planned as we embarked on our voyage. I had three goals in mind:
a) to get the kids reading beyond what they think they’re interested in, to get them thinking about who writes the books they read and how books come into existence, and for them learn something about other cultures and countries on the way,
b) for me to review some of the books publishers have sent me over the past year,
c) to gradually start drawing up some reading lists for this blog highlighting books from countries and parts of the world that tend to be under-represented in children’s books in the UK (where we live). This is going to be a very long-term gradual project!
The idea was great in principle; the reality has been a little slower than intended. It’s now nearly the end of #worldkidlit month, and we’ve only got to country 17. But although it’s been hard to fit these conversations into our busy back-to-school family routine, I think we’ve all got a lot out of it already and we’re enjoying the journey. You can follow our progress on our Twitter thread here, or read about it here: this post covers the first half of our world tour, and the countries, authors, illustrators and publishers we’ve discovered along the way.
Day 1: IRELAND
Thinking about the Irish publishing scene, readers should know about Little Island Books who have been branching out into translated fiction recently; find out more about their outward-looking list from publisher Siobhán Parkinson.
Day 2: FAROE ISLANDS
We sailed just a few hundred miles north from Dublin to Tórshavn, to find Faroese picture book sensation Bárður Oskarsson, published in English by Darf Publishers, tr. by Marita Thomsen. Much giggling with these two favourites:
Day 3: CANADA
We dug out another favourite today: Quebecois author-illustrator Marianne Dubuc’s UP THE MOUNTAIN (translated from #French by Sarah Ardizzone). Her publisher in English, Book Island, have made a wonderful video where she talks about her work as an illustrator: you can watch it here. On Twitter, Laura Simeon introduced us to TOWN IS THE SEA, which by coincidence was top of the Year 4 extra reading list G brought home from school. By Joanne Schwartz and Sydney Smith, this is one we’ll be looking out for.
Day 4: MEXICO
I’ve recently finished and loved Juan Villoro‘s atmospheric bibliophile adventure The Wild Book and hope G might be up for it for our next bedtime read together. Translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel, it was published in in 2017 in the US by Yonder/Restless Books and comes out next month in the UK from Hope Road Publishing.
Day 5: THE BAHAMAS
This was the week of the devastating Hurricane Dorian, and while asking for book recommendations we tweeted links to charity sites collecting funds for humanitarian aid. We found out that this book is out next month: Hello Grandma! by Robert Constant (Mascot Books).
Day 6: BRAZIL
It’s monsoon season in the Amazon rainforest. M and I enjoyed talking about how kids on the river Tapajós get to school and why they move house when it rains. Clue: it rains a lot and even though their houses are on stilts, they’re not high enough when the river swells in size. When the rainy season comes, Cauã and Inaê and their entire village pack up and relocate to higher ground for a while. This is an exciting story of an annual occurrence, not least because of the anacondas lurking in the water! And once they’ve made the long journey to their new temporary home, Cauã and Inaê realize they’ve left something very important behind: will they be able to get back and save Titi?
Translated from Portuguese by Daniel Hahn, this book has stunning and dramatic illustrations of the colourful rainforest by Fernando Vilela, whose other work is definitely worth a look: see his catalogue here.
Day 7: ARGENTINA
For picture books, we recommend seeking out Argentinian illustrator Rebecca Luciani, who I especially love for the tandem bike in this gorgeous story about coming to love the person you are: #MirasCurlyHair, words by Emirati author Maryam Al-Serkal. This is the first of several on our tour from UK publishing house Lantana!
And our top tip for junior fiction/middle grade comedy is An Elephantasy, a 1960’s children’s classic (known in Spanish as Dailan Kifki) by ‘Argentina’s Lewis Carroll’, the prolific and much-loved author María Elena Walsh (1930 – 2011). Translated by Daniel Hahn, this is a joy to read.
Day 8: SIERRA LEONE
Our boys both have school penfriends in Sierra Leone so we had to stop there, although I hadn’t found many leads of Sierra Leonean children’s books. I downloaded the ebook of this collection of traditional stories translated from Krio, Temne, Mende, Limba & Kuranko languages, although they all seemed a bit long for this whistle-stop tour. One to revisit next year! Meanwhile, I found my old CD of Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars…
Day 9: GHANA
We realised that the two stories we read both featured Ghanaian fairytale legend Anansi the Spider! First we read #MaisiesScrapbook by Samuel Narh (illustrated by Jo Loring Fisher, from Lantana): a lovely reflection on growing up with two cultures, two ways of doing things, and two parents who love you just the same. ❤
The other story was Ananse & the Impossible Quest from this excellent collection: African Tales from Barefoot Books.
Day 10: NIGERIA
We spent at least three days in Nigeria because a) we found a lot of authors that I got very excited about, and b) I looked everywhere but couldn’t find our copy of The Pirate Tree (Brigita Orel and Jennie Poh). Turned out Pirate Bear had run off with it. M & I loved this one, and this nerdy linguist mum loved learning that Agu = tiger in Igbo, although as 5yo M pointed out, they don’t have tigers in Nigeria. A little googling and we discovered that it means ‘big cat’ so covers lion and leopard, we think.
The best discovery for me was that Nnedi Okorafor, the Nigerian-American author of Chicken in the Kitchen (another Lantana gem, vibrantly illustrated by Mehrdokht Amini) is also a prolific author of some awesome-looking multi award-winning YA and adult scifi/fantasy. Oops might have accidentally downloaded a couple…
Discovering several Cassava Republic teen titles are out as ebooks meant an inevitable deluge to must-read list. And there was a very timely piece in Quartz Africa about Chimamanda Adichie and children’s books. “While some books touch on childhood experiences, Adichie is not known for writing children-targeted books. That might very well change.” Fingers crossed!
Day 11: UGANDA
In Sing to the Moon, a boring rainy day turns into an adventure with grandpa Jjajja’s stories of his Ugandan childhood mingled with traditional tales, all told with a lovely metre and satisfying rhymes. Loved the bit about pea-picking (we grew peas this summer) and the pages of the book coming to life with age-old legends. Author Nansubuga Nagadya Isdahl and illustrator Sandra van Doorn have another out with Lantana, Sleep Well, Siba and Saba, which I’ve got on my wishlist.
Day 12: KENYA
Our town Cheltenham has a friendship town link with Kisumu in Kenya, so I was particularly keen to stop here on our virtual tour of Africa. M and I loved this sweet and funny story (another Lantana one) about imagination, dreams and disappointment, and an act of kindness that helps Etabo live his dreams, after all. So then imagine my happiness when I realised that the author of this lovely Lantana book (pictures by Italian illustrator Manuela Adreani) is the magnificent Wanuri Kahiu, author & filmmaker, and director of LGBTQ film Rafiki.
Day 13: SOUTH AFRICA
Today’s book-related conversation was the most precious we’ve had, for a combination of reasons: it’s Sunday, so we snuggled up for longer on the sofa with this book than we have with most on our tour; and because I couldn’t get through even the first few pages without crying, it was obvious to the boys how important this topic is to me.
The book is structured as a conversation between Mandela’s daughter and her children, and the grandchildren’s questions prompted thoughtful questions from my boys about apartheid, segregation, and racism in our own country. G remembered learning about Rosa Parks at school and we told M about her, and talked about the bravery of people like her, and Mandela, who stood up for justice for themselves and for other people. The image on the final page prompted a lovely reflection from the boys about how life might have been in 1960s/70s Britain for their grandpa & granny as a mixed race couple. For me, this discussion about bravery and equality has made this entire, crazy round-the-world project worth all the effort ❤️
Day 14: AUSTRALIA
Celebrations today because we’ve arrived at the home of G and M’s all-time favourite author/illustrator combo Terry Denton & Andy Griffiths, and their utterly bonkers Treehouse series. I suspect it was the promise of watching this video about Andy and Terry (the namesake of G’s teddy bear) half way round the tour that has kept them motivated throughout this project!
Day 15: NEW ZEALAND
We finally made it to the other side of the globe, to New Zealand – home of independent children’s publisher (with a joyously international list) Gecko Press. Click on their name in the tags below to find posts mentioning some of their many children’s books in translation. But our favourite homegrown Kiwi kids’ books are the HairyMaclary from Donaldson’s Dairy. I adore Dodd’s attention to botanical detail.
I’m also keen to seek out some classics by Margaret Mahy, recommended by Laura Simeon: “Impossible to pick one but A LION IN THE MEADOW (ill. Jenny Williams in this edition pictured) and THE DRAGON OF AN ORDINARY FAMILY are contenders. Her whimsy and gift with wordplay were incomparable. She embodied childhood joy. Also wrote MG & YA!”
Please follow our adventures on Twitter. We might have completed our 30-country trek by Christmas! Why not sign up to the blog to make sure you catch the second instalment?