A Kid Lit Top 12 for Women in Translation Month

On Friday, Ruth was a guest on The Emma Press Friday evening zoom book chat, speaking to publisher Emma Wright about her top five recommendations of translated children’s books by women for #WITmonth. The video is available to view here and these are the five books Ruth talked about, but in the process of picking five she ended up with a pile of twelve…

Picture books

1. Up the Mountain by Marianne Dubuc, translated from French by Sarah Ardizzone (Book Island, 2019)

A long picture book for older readers, this is a delightful reflection on slowness and the timeless consistency of nature. As Mrs Badger approaches the end of her life, she shares her knowledge, her curiosity and wonder with young Leo the cat, who grows in confidence with each of their weekly Sunday walks up the mountain. When eventually her time comes to die, Leo carries on in her footsteps, enjoying the wonder and enormity of the view from the top, and sharing it in turn with the next generation. A stunning book from Canadian Quebecois author and illustrator Marianne Dubuc.

2. Nora the Mind Reader by Orit Gidali and Aya Gordon-Noy, translated from Hebrew by Annette Appel (Enchanted Lion, 2012)

When Nora comes home upset at a boy at kindergarten calling her ‘flamingo legs’ her mum reaches up to the top shelf for her magic wand: when you look through it you hear that the things people say aren’t exactly what they meant to say. What comes out mean or nasty was intended as a compliment. When Nora works out how to use this magic power by herself, she leaves the wand for the next person to discover… or animal…!

3. Mr Benjamin’s Suitcase of Secrets by Pei-Yu Chang, translated from German by David Henry Wilson (NorthSouth, 2017)

Such a special book and a brilliant one for talking about refugees and war: the story of how philosopher Walter Benjamin fled Nazi occupied France. A fictionalised account bursting with questions, with marvellous collage-style illustrations by Taiwanese-German author and artist Pei-Yu Chang, it ends with blurbs about Benjamin and also Lisa Fittko, a Resistance fighter and member of the Emergency Rescue Committee, who led refugees over the Pyrenees to safety in Spain. About 80,000 people fleeing Nazi occupation owed their lives to this secret route.

Middle grade/junior fiction

4. Alfred and the Blue Whale by Mina Lystad, illustrated by Åshild Irgens, translated from Norwegian by Siân Mackie (Wacky Bee, 2019)

Alfred is scared of a lot of things, but scarier than anything is standing up and talking in front of the class. Until he’s asked to research and talk about something so exciting that he forgets his fear. We share Alfred’s fascination with blue whales so this one had us gripped. In fact this was just about the perfect story to prompt an afternoon of homeschool research and creativity. An easy reader with expressive illustrations on every page, this is a great short read for emerging readers and budding wildlife enthusiasts. The nonfiction lovers in our household loved the whale facts at the back and we got stuck into some complex maths working out how many children weigh the same as an adult blue whale (about 4500 x 6 year olds, or about as many as 10 times the total number of kids in their primary school!)

5. The Girl Who Learned All the Languages of the World by Ieva Flamingo, illustrated by Chein Shyan Lee, translated from Latvian by Žanete Vēvere Pasqualini (The Emma Press, 2019)

As a translator and language learning enthusiast, you know I’m going to love a story all about an adventure in language discovery. And this more than lived up to my hopes. Ambitious and determined Lela sets out to learn a good 12 or so languages in one go, and her new-found superpower quickly comes in useful!

6. Clementine Loves Red by Krystyna Boglar and Bohdan Butenko, translated from Polish by Zosia Krasodomska-Jones and Antonia Lloyd-Jones (Pushkin Press, 2017)

Utterly bonkers and farcical nighttime adventure in the woods from Poland’s beloved author Krystyna Boglar who always dreamed of being a chimney sweep when she grew up. In fact, she ended up studying Arabic before working in a bookshop and creating some of the first ever Polish comic books. After this, I would love to read more Boglar, so please translators and publishers, let’s bring more of these classic stories into English!

7. Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa and Jun Takabatake, translated from Japanese by Cathy Hirano (Gecko Press, 2016)

Pelican finds a purpose, Whale wonders where his neck is, and Penguin and Giraffe make lifelong friends in this utterly adorable and hilarious story from Japan. If this doesn’t make you want a penpal from beyond the horizon then I don’t know what will! Meanwhile, we’re longing for the sequel, Dear Professor Whale

8. Anton and Piranha by Milena Baisch, translated from German by Chantal Wright (Andersen Press, 2013)

We’ve enjoyed a few translations by Chantal Wright lately, who has such a gift for capturing comedy and authentic young narrators’ voices. Lovably useless Anton is no different, who realises with horror that the campsite where he’ll be trapped for a week on holiday with his grandparents has no swimming pool! And worse still, all it has is a hideous, slime-filled lake that he’s not going anywhere near. A contrary, awkward and quick-tempered young teen, Anton digs himself into a hole everytime he has an encounter with the other kids at the campsite. Quickly making enemies and with only a captured fish for company, Anton’s week goes from bad to worse. Until the final day when…

Teen/young adult

9. Ghady & Rawan by Fatima Sharafeddine and Samar Mahfouz Barraj, translated from Arabic by M. Lynx Qualey and Sawad Hussain (Texas University Press, 2019)

A long-distance friendship, over email between Ghady in Brussels and Rawan in Beirut, gives these two teens strength in the face of bullies and family difficulties. A charming and often funny story of two friends brought together by their summers in the country in Lebanon, written by two female Lebanese writers, and translated by two female translators. Called “a heartfelt and beautifully written page-turner” by Kirkus Reviews.

10. Tina’s Web by Alki Zei, translated from Greek by John Thornley (Aurora Metro, 2007)

A rare novel for teens about being bilingual and having two homes in two countries, but it’s really about the traumatic impact of family breakdown and a mental health struggle that gets much worse before Tina’s eventual cry for help. Shortlisted for the 2009 Marsh Award for Children’s Literature in Translation, this is a compelling and very authentic story that was a joy to read. More on the book, and Alki Zei, one of Greece’s best loved writers for children and teens at Love Reading 4 Kids

Illustrated non-fiction

11. The Apartment: A Century of Russian History by Alexandra Litvina, illustrated by Anna Desnitskaya, translated from Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019)

A fine example of some of the beautiful illustrated non-fiction for children being published in Russia at the moment, in particular by Samokat. This is essential reading for anyone with an interest in Russia, the Soviet Union, in 20th century history, the World Wars and the Cold War. It’s a century of history focused on one family and their lives throughout the decades, living in one flat in Moscow, which starts as their family home in Tsarist Russia, but becomes a communal flat shared by six families after the Revolution. This has large full-page illustrations full of humorous and touching detail and objects to spot (a good draw for younger readers). The double page spreads alternate between 1st person narratives, mostly from the children’s perspective, and factual pages crammed full of documentary evidence, photographs, songs, poems, the realia that give us a detailed insight into the everyday lives of ordinary people throughout the 20th century. Described as “A visual delight for the culturally savvy” by Kirkus Reviews.

12. Women in Battle by Jenny Jordahl and Marta Breen, translated from Norwegian by Siân Mackie (Hot Key Books, 2019)

This is like a cartoon version of a feminist history book that I was lucky enough to co-translate, A History of the World With the Women Put Back In. Here, the Abolitionists, Suffragettes and Socialists – and many other inspiring activists in between – have big jaws, feisty fists, ironic eyebrows and are doing flying kicks and karate chops. With great chapters on Harriet Tubman and civil rights activist Táhirih, who in 19th century Iran was the first martyr of the women’s liberation movement, and on the struggles for bodily integrity and sexual freedom, this really is essential reading for all children and should be in every primary school library.

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