USBBY & IBBY: A Tradition of Translated Titles for Young People

The annual USBBY Outstanding International Books lists are a fantastic way to discover translated books for young people. Brenda Dales, former chair of the USBBY Outstanding International Books committee tells us more about it...

By Brenda Dales

Each January, USBBY presents a list of Outstanding International Books (OIB), featuring books published the previous year. OIB books were originally published in a country other than the United States prior to US publication or distribution. For anyone seeking remarkable books for children and young adults, the USBBY lists are outstanding resources!

Locating Translated OIB Titles

The Outstanding International Book lists are found on the USBBY website (www.usbby.org). To quickly access, go to the “Awards & Lists” drop-down menu, select “Outstanding International Books List,” choose any year from the current down to the first list in 2006, and select “Bookmark.” Each bookmark is organized by US grade-level categories: PreK-2; 3-5; 6-8; and 9-12. Typically, there are 39-42 titles total. Within each category, books are listed alphabetically by author, and translators are named in the bibliographic information. A quick visual scan will identify translators and their books. 

All of the books on the list are in English – some are translated and others originally published in English. Those looking specifically for translated books should note that translators are not always named in books, and even more translated titles may be included than immediately apparent. For example, The Happiest Tree: A Story of Growing Up, a book from Canada by author/illustrator Hyeon-Ju Lee, is included on the 2020 OIB list. The copyright page in the book states it was originally published in 2016 in Korea, with Korean title and Korean publisher named. Thus, even if a translator is not specified—especially from countries where English is not the first language—it is still possible the book may be a translation.  

There are additional benefits for using the USBBY OIB page. One is maps. A world map has been created for each list, with a pin at the geographic setting for each book. Selecting a pin opens information about that book. Also, there are links to School Library Journal articles about the OIB lists, including annotations for each book.  And, noticing the names of the publishers of the translated books may be helpful, especially as some are small presses that have other translated titles.

USBBY and IBBY

Cover image of The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf

USBBY, the United States Board on Books for Young People, is the US section of IBBY, the International Board on Books for Young People (www.ibby.org). If we look at the history of IBBY, it seems only natural that promoting translated books for young people has become a cornerstone of USBBY.

The origins of IBBY can be traced back to Jella Lepman, the German author, journalist, and translator who worked relentlessly after World War II to provide books for children so they could imagine a world beyond the Germany devastated by war. She requested books from several countries and created an exhibition. Lepman also saw a need to provide these books for children in their own language, and so she translated The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf to Ferdinand der Stier. In Lepman’s (2002) own words: 

Munro Leaf had written so beautifully about the bull who didn’t want to fight that it was not an easy job to render the story into another language. Often, when I was at a loss for the right word, I would gaze at the picture of Ferdinand as Robert Lawson had drawn him, and in no time my pencil would be flying over the page. (p. 66). 

She had 50,000 copies of her German translation printed on newsprint and distributed (Lepman, 2002, p. 66).

Lepman established the International Youth Library in Münich in 1949, with books from the exhibition plus more. Now located in the picturesque Blutenberg Castle, the original collection of approximately 8,000 books for young people has grown to approximately 600,000, in 150 languages, and is also a research collection. 

Cover image of The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman, by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Marie Lafrance

It was a meeting Lepman organized in the early 1950s that was the catalyst for IBBY, which connects us full-circle back to USBBY and the Outstanding International Books lists. Most appropriately, the picture storybook, The Lady with the Books: A Story Inspired by the Remarkable Work of Jella Lepman, by Kathy Stinson and illustrated by Marie Lafrance, was published in Canada and appears on the 2021 OIB list. It is an imagined story of Lepman and the genesis of the exhibition, plus brief backmatter about Lepman, the International Youth Library, and IBBY.

USBBY and IBBY are all about world literature for young people, and translated books. And the date of the opening of Lepman’s International Youth Library? September 14, 1949! 

Bibliography

Lee, H-J. (2019). The Happiest Tree: A Story of Growing Up. Feiwel and Friends.

Lepman, J. (2002). A bridge of children’s books: The inspiring autobiography of a remarkable woman. O’Brien Press.

Stinson, K. (2020). The lady with the books: A story inspired by the remarkable work of Jella Lepman (M. Lafrance, Illus.). Kids Can Press.

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Photo of Brenda Dales

Brenda Dales taught children’s and young adult literature for several years at Miami University in Ohio. She has chaired the USBBY Outstanding International Books committee, and served on the 2021 Caldecott committee. Currently she is a jury member for the 2021 Biennial of Illustration Bratislava. She was fortunate to visit the International Youth Library in Münich in 2019. Her passions are children’s books, especially international picture books, and motorcycles.