Children’s Literature that Translates us To and From Cabo Verde

Cabo Verdean author and literacy advocate Dai Varela tells us about the exciting work being done to translate children’s books into and out of Cabo Verdean Crioulo and Cabo Verdean Portuguese…. 

by Dai Varela

In April, JOVEMTUDO Cabo Verde and the Brazilian Cultural Centre in Cabo Verde teamed up to hold an International Conference for educators, students of literature, writers and artists under the title A Literatura Infantil na Formação do Imaginário do Leitor*. As part of that event, I presented an overview of Cabo Verdean children’s literature and also discussed the translation of our books and the use of Cabo Verdean Crioulo as creative material. 

Literature That Translates Us

Over the years, several Cabo Verdean titles have been translated and published in other languages. However, very few books have been translated into Cabo Verdean Crioulo or even Cabo Verdean Portuguese.

Two of my own books, illustrated by Alberto Fortes, were translated from Cabo Verdean Crioulo into English by Peggy Romualdo and published in bilingual editions by JOVEMTUDO Cabo Verde. Tufas, the Creole Princess – Learning the Magic Words/Tufas, Prinséza Krióla – Ta Prendê Kis Word Májike (2017) and Tufas, the Creole Princess – the apology box/Tufas, Princesa Crioula – The Box of Excuses (2018).

Other books have been translated into English and French, such as Nkantada by Eurydice, Mana Guta, José Silva and Maria Semedo, translated by Eurydice Monteiro. Several of Aires Semedo’s books, illustrated by Mito Elias, have been translated into French, including Lobu ku Xibinhu ku Nhordhés as Compère loup, Compère livre et le Bom Dieu and Lobu, Xibinhu ku nha Tia Ganga as Le Loup, Le Lièvre et la Sorcière Tia Ganga (tr. Nicolas Quint and Laurent Quint), Gó ki pórka dja torsi rábu was translated as Le cochon qui tord la quele (illustrated by Agathe Pitié, tr. Nicolas Quint and Fátima Ragageles). We also have the work La dernière colère de Sarabuga (2005) and Un conte du Cap Vert; la dernière colère de Sarabuga (2012), both by Muriel Bloch with illustrations by Aurélia Grandin.

Translations have influenced the development of children’s publishing in Cabo Verde and helped boost our own national children’s literature. However, until now, it has not been the subject of theoretical reflection or literary criticism.

On the other side of the scale, only a few books have been translated from other languages into our own languages. A few examples are Prispinhu [The Little Prince] by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, translated by Nicolas Quint and Aires Semedo (2013),  and Largo Winch 1 – ARDERU and Largo Winch 2 – GRUPO W, by Jean Van Hamme, which were translated into Cabo Verdean Crioulo by Philippe Francq and Aires Melo (2012).

The meagre figures for translations from other languages show how fragile the cultural exchange between international children’s literature and Cabo Verdean children’s literature is. There is only tenuous contact and transfer through the few translations or adaptations that exist. National publications for children have therefore been developed with little influence from translations into Cabo Verdean Crioulo. Any influences tend to come from other imported literatures, mainly written by Portuguese and Brazilian authors, or translated from other languages.

Cabo Verdean children’s literary activity is not a single literature that is limited to traditional tales and folklore; each author interprets and uses text and illustrations to create their own style. Our books cover broad areas, transcending our cultural and linguistic boundaries, taking up their legitimate place within what Paul Hazard calls the ‘universal republic of childhood’.

Interdisciplinary Creators

Children’s literature forms part of the national cultural identity and also part of the representativeness of the Crioulo nation. It includes a range of genres, with historical stories like Vamos Conhecer Cabo Verde (1998), by the author João Lopes Filho with illustrations by David Levy Lima and Óscar Alves, or O Mistério da Cidade Velha (2017) by the author Marilene Pereira, illustrated by Renato Athayde, or História de Cabo Verde – A tartaruga Luana e a Passarinha Luna (2011) by Ivete Livramento Santos, illustrated by Kevin Melo and Ivete Santos, or Capitão Farel (2006) by Leão Lopes with illustrations by Joana Campante.

Other topical issues are covered in books like Minguim, o Pirata (2003), by António Luís Rodrigues with illustrations by Zé Leopard, or Marianinha (2010) written by Giselle Neves and illustrated by Tchalé Figueira. Ideological aspects are also addressed by author Marilene Pereira in A Turma do Cabralinho e O Búzio Mágico with illustrations by Coralie Tavares da Silva.

Books that Create Worlds and Shape Identity

Our books create communicative worlds that reach children through both language and images. They connect with different aspects of childhood, from the rational to the emotional. They influence culture, society, ideas, and literary tastes as they contribute to a child’s imagination and ability to create. Cabo Verdean children’s books are shaped by the way our islands view the world or, to paraphrase the writer Germano Almeida, Cabo Verdean children’s books also allow you to see the world.

Cabo Verdean children’s books are therefore distinctive and unique, yet share similarities with literary traditions in other cultures.

Further discussion of the cultural and social role played by children’s books in Cabo Verde is required, as is reflection on the economic side of entire production chain, how they are received and used. Reading habits and the economic status of the readers must also be considered. Children’s books form part of two ecosystems: literature and education. Further research into the use of these books in both contexts would be useful.

Yes, there is still a long way to go when it comes to translating children’s books into and out of Cabo Verdean Crioulo and Cabo Verdean Portuguese, but we are taking it one step at a time. We’ll get there.


Article translated by Catherine Wambui, edited by Johanna McCalmont and Claire Storey.


*You can still watch the International Conference over on the Facebook page for the Centro Cultural Brasil (in Portuguese)


Dai Varela is from Mindelo, on the island of São Vicente. He published his first book A fita cor-de-rosa (The Pink Ribbon) with illustrations by Rogério Rocha in 2013 and received an Honorable Mention in the Trofa Lusophony Competition, an initiative supported by Camões, I.P. designed to promote children’s literature from Portuguese-speaking countries. That same year, he received public recognition by the Ministry of Culture for “valuable work for the dissemination of Cabo Verdean culture”. His latest books include Tufas, Princesa Crioula – learning the magic words (2017) and Tufas, Princesa Crioula – the box of excuses (2019) both featuring Luna Alvarez and illustrations by Alberto Fortes. Read more about his work on his website.