Best of 2020: Middle Grade

Continuing our look at some of the best #WorldKidLit we’ve been discovering throughout 2020, today’s post is all about middle grade books with some extra special reviews from younger readers.

R. aged 9 recommends… Red Stars

by Davide Morosinotto, translated from Italian by Denise Muir

This was the best book I read in 2020 because of the way it was told, using diary entries and mocked-up Soviet official documents. I would it recommend to EVERYONE! It is a great read.

Paula Holmes agrees too!

Lawrence Schimel recommends… Honey on the Page: A Treasury of Yiddish Children’s Literature

Edited and translated by Miriam Udel (NYU Press).

This anthology is an amazing artifact for so many reasons, not least of which for placing Yiddish kidlit on the map. But it is also a collection to be read, by readers both young or old, on their own or by families reading together. The stories are both so specific to their time and place but also so timeless as part of Jewish culture and Yiddish diaspora literature. 

See here for our interview with Miriam Udel about translating and editing Honey on the Page.

Juliet, aged 7, from Juliet’s Book Journey recommends… The Adventures of Na Willa

by Reda Gaudiamo, translated from Indonesian by Ikhda Ayuning, Maharsi Degoul, and Kate Wakeling (The Emma Press)

This book was one of the whole family’s favorites of our entire project. The Adventures of Na Willa is about the daily life of a little girl growing up in Indonesia … One thing we really liked about the book is that you are inside Na Willa’s mind the whole time. You can see everything from her perspective. It’s really hard to describe all of the things we liked about this book. It was funny, sometimes a little sad, and very descriptive. My mom, sister, and I read from this book every night all week, and we all looked forward to storytime.

Juliet also recommends… Bronze and Sunflower

by Cao Wenxuan, translated from Chinese by Helen Wang (Walker Books, UK / Candlewick Press, US)

I read this whole book by myself, but my mom read the last chapter aloud to me, and now we are both crying … I love in this book how much this family loves each other … This book was so wonderful, and I will never forget it. I also learned so much about life in a village in China.

For more reviews and to find out more about Juliet’s journey around the world in books, check out her website here.

Bronze and Sunflower was also reviewed by Avery Fischer Udagawa at the Global Literature in Libraries Initiative.

Roy James recommends… Lena, The Sea and Me

Lena, the Sea and Me

by Maria Parr, translated from Norwegian by Guy Puzey (Walker Books)

I loved the emotional depth in this story, which will resonate with many readers. It’s a perfect book for those transitioning from primary to secondary school; a time when so many things need to be shown to be normal.

E. aged 7 recommends… Who’s Afraid of the Big Bag Fox

by Benjamin Renner, translated from French by Joe Johnson

I love this book because it is really funny and the pictures make me laugh. It’s just really funny. When the chicks hatch they call the fox their mummy. And in the end picture, the fox is catapulted by the hen and he actually wants to be catapulted and puts on his flying goggles. There’s another part when he trips over a branch and calls out, “I’m fine, I just tripped over a branch!”. I want to buy lots of copies of it and give them to my friends.

This book has also been made into an animated film, The Big, Bad Fox and other tales.

Johanna McCalmont recommends… Olga and the smelly thing from nowhere 

by Elise Gravel (Walker Books)

This delightful book had me laughing out loud at both the illustrations and ups and downs along the way as scientist-to-be Olga tries to figure out exactly what sort of creature the ‘smelly thing from nowhere’ is. There is also a gorgeous annex that lets readers bring Olga’s adventures to life after they’ve finished the book. Read more about Olga and Elise Gravel in my full review here.

Mathew Tobin recommends… The Garden of Inside-Outside

by Chiara Mezzalama, illustrated by Régis Lejonc, translated by Sarah Ardizzone (Book Island)

Children’s Literature has never been afraid to traverse complex, challenging themes and in this publication from Book Island we find ourselves invited to step back into the summer of 1981, Tehran at the height of the Islamic Revolution. The Garden of Inside-Outside, Chiara Mezzalama’s autobiography, intensely illustrated by Reis Lejonc and translated by Sarah Ardizzone presents us with a sliding door (Bishop, 1990) into that hidden world and time over the shoulder of our nine-year old narrator and author.

Claire Storey recommends… Akissi Tales of Mischief, More Tales of Mischief and Even More Tales of Mischief

by Marguerite Abouet and Mathieu Sapin (Flying Eye Books)

These graphic novels from Cote d’Ivoire are just such good fun. Bright, colourful and humourous at the same times as challenging stereotypes of what girls can and can’t do. My seven-year-old daughter can’t get enough, so much so we made this for her birthday! Find out more in this review.

Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp recommends … Kiki’s Delivery Service

by Eiko Kadano, translated from Japanese by Emily Balistrieri (Penguin Random House UK and USA)

This has been read by everyone in our family and we’ve all loved it. It’s a fabulous translation by Emily Balistieri: the dialogue is spot on and full of character. For all fans of witches and wizards everywhere, Kiki and her little black cat Jiji will be a surprise and a delight. This Japanese classic, first published in 1985, was adapted as an amine film by Studio Ghibli in 1989 – and is finally out in a new translation. We’re looking forward to watching it, but I can hardly believe that the movie Kiki can be as lovely as the book one.

Nanette McGuinness also gave Kiki’s Delivery Service a rave review over at GLLI.

Margot Lindgren recommends … Jefferson

by Jean-Claude Mourlevat, translated from French by Ros Schwartz (Andersen Press)

I loved the quirky characters, and the idea of a human world and an animal world. The story is a comedy and a romp but there’s a serious section about animal cruelty which means I’d recommend it for kids aged 10 or 11+. The friendship between the two main characters Jefferson Ponsonby Smyth, a hedgehog, and Gilbert, who is a young pig, is beautifully described. There’s a murder; a love story; evil baddies; and fun word plays too.

Look out on Monday for our interview with translator, Ros Schwartz.

Nanette McGuinness recommends… The Wolf in Underpants

Written by Wilfrid Lupano, illustrated by by Mayana Itoïz and Paul Cauuet, translated from French by Nathan Sacks (Graphic Universe/Lerner Publishing Group)

Witty writing and savvy illustrations in this hybrid graphic novel/picture book for middle grade readers create sly social commentary for readers of all ages. Find out more from Nanette on the GLLI blog.

Library Mice recommends … The Raven’s Children

by Yulia Yakovleva, translated from Russian by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Puffin)

The magical realism element was really fascinating and so effective (made the whole historical premise even more chilling). I wonder how a reader with no knowledge of Russian history would see the story?

See here for Avery Fischer Udagawa’s review of The Raven’s Children at GLLI.

Jen Kraar recommends … Telephone Tales

by Gianni Rodari, illustrated by Valerio Vidali, translated from Italian by Antony Shugaar (Enchanted Lion Books)

Sophie Lewis recommends… Fuzz McFlops

by Eva Furnari, translated from Portuguese (Brazil) by Alison Entrekin (Pushkin Press, UK / PRH, US)


Please share your recommendations on Twitter (#worldkidlit): what are your favourite middle grade books in translation that you read this year?


Go to Best of 2020 Chapter Books for Emerging Readers
Go to Best of 2020 Picture Books
Go to Best of 2020 Young Adult


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