Illustrated chapter books for emerging readers

By Emily Bright & Sarah Campbell, Parrot Street Book Club

When browsing the shelves of our local library or bookshop with our children, it’s extremely rare to come across a book that’s been translated into English. Why this might be is perhaps the topic for another post but suffice it to say we think this is a very sad state of affairs.

Books written in other languages offer a unique window into other cultures. Whether that’s the day-to-day life of someone in another country or the more nuanced differences in humour and outlook that are evident in the way that stories are told and illustrated.

We run Parrot Street Book Club, a monthly children’s subscription for ages 5 to 14. Our primary focus is on introducing children and their families to books, authors and genres that they may not have otherwise discovered. Books in translation fit perfectly with this objective and we’re proud to have shared several early chapter books, middle grade and young adult titles with our subscribers over the years.

Here we’ve chosen to share our recommendations for some translated books that we sent to our very youngest subscribers, aged roughly 5 to 8. These books are always illustrated throughout with short chapters and age-appropriate storylines.

We love seeing the way in which the combination of words and pictures can ignite children’s passion for reading and inspire them to become more confident and independent readers. We’re also big advocates of reading aloud to children whatever their age and these titles are all perfect for sharing.

Detective Gordon: The First Case

Written by Ulf Nilsson
Illustrated by Gitte Spee
Translated by Julia Marshall
Translated from Swedish [Sweden]
Published by Gecko Press

This is the first in a charming animal detective series from Swedish author Ulf Nilsson and Dutch illustrator Gitte Spee which was translated by Julia Marshall. Detective Gordon is a gentle, quietly observant toad tasked with policing the forest. However, he would much rather stay warm and dry at home with a nice slice of cake. When a squirrel’s nuts go missing it’s clear there’s a thief on the lose but thankfully Detective Gordon is able to recruit a young and energetic assistant, Buffy, to help him crack the case!


Written and illustrated by Catharina Valckx
Translated by Anthony Shurgar
Translated from French [France]
Published by Gecko Press

This unique and fun early chapter book is written and illustrated by Catharina Valckx and has been translated from French by Antony Shugaar. It’s all about finding the extraordinary in everyone. Having been accused of being a very ordinary crow by Achille LeBlab, special correspondent for the local newspaper, Zanzibar sets out to prove him wrong. With the help of his friends, Zanzibar realises that everyone can be a hero – you just have to believe in yourself!

The Train Mouse

Written by Uwe Timm
Illustrated by Axel Scheffler
Translated by Rachel Ward
Translated from German [Germany]
Published by Andersen Press

This pan-European train adventure was written by Uwe Timm and translated from German by Rachel Ward. Full-colour Illustrations by Axel Scheffler complement the story perfectly. When Nibbles, an inquisitive young mouse, scampers onto a train at the local station, little does he know he is about to go on the adventure of a lifetime. But over time Nibbles realises that home is where the heart is – will he be able to find his way back there?

Santa Gets a Second Job

Written by Michele D’Ignazio
Illustrated by Sergio Olivotti
Translated by Denise Muir
Translated from Italian [Italy]
Published by Pan Macmillan

This quirky and humorous tale from Italian author Michele D’Ignazio was translated by Denise Muir. Tri-colour illustrations from Sergio Olivotti run throughout and add so much to the story. Having already made the reindeer redundant, Santa is forced to find a second job in order to make ends meet. After trying his hand as a waiter, a party entertainer and a call centre operator, he finally finds the perfect job – a bin man! Not only does he discover that waste can conceal wonderful gifts, he also uncovers a child’s lost letters. Will he be able to find the owner and finally grant their wish before Christmas day?

The Runaways

Written by Ulf Stark
Illustrated by Kitty Crowther
Translated by Julia Marshall
Translated from Swedish [Sweden]
Published by Gecko Press

This is an emotional yet ultimately uplifting story from Swedish author Ulf Stark, translated into English by Julia Marshall. Wild and colourful illustrations by Belgian artist Kitty Crowther echo the drama of the story. Gottfried Junior’s Grandpa hates being in hospital. He’s grouchy and sad, wishing he could return to the island he lived on so happily with his wife before she died. So, Gottfried Junior and Grandpa hatch a plan to break him out of hospital and fulfil his dying wish – but will they succeed?

Meet Emily Bright and Sarah Campbell

Emily Bright and Sarah Campbell are co-founders of Parrot Street Book Club, a UK-based monthly children’s book subscription for ages 5 to 14. Every book is accompanied by a bespoke activity pack containing book club-style questions, facts, jokes, craft projects, recipes and more.

Emily and Sarah are old friends, having met at school aged just 11. They’ve been in the same book (and wine!) club for over 10 years and now live just a few streets away from each other in South West London. 

Emily is mum to three daughters aged 6, 8 and 10 who are enthusiastic product testers and her biggest cheerleaders. Sarah has two sons, aged 10 and 12 plus two cockerpoos who enthusiastically supervise product packing and dispatch sessions! 

Interesting blog articles from the Parrot Street Book Club:

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