Translating for a Children’s Book Charity

Sarah Robinson has been translating children’s books for a charity that publishes online free multilingual books written by – and for – kids! She introduces the project and describes opportunities for others to help out, too…

by Sarah Robinson

The children’s charity die Bücherpiraten – the Book Pirates – is a world-leading publisher of open-access bilingual picture books in online and physical forms. Their 1001 Languages project was developed to create a large database of bilingual picture books written and illustrated by children. The intended reader of these stories? Also children! The database of stories has been translated into as many languages as possible, and the Book Pirates are constantly looking to grow this number.

Christina Sturm is the lead coordinator for the 1001 Languages publications. She explains the main goals behind the project: ‘I want children to experience their first contact with books in their own language. A book in a familiar language can be a home for parents and children, something emotionally close and therefore safe and beautiful. At the same time, the familiar language can also be a bridge to a less familiar one. It can make you curious about or more open to the world of other languages.’

The project works directly with schools and nurseries around the world. The children are anywhere from 3 to 19 years old. Typically, a group of children will submit, with the help of their teacher, a story they have written together in class. The stories are then sent out to an extensive network of translators and proofreaders. These professionals, all volunteers, produce versions in their languages and these, along with beautiful illustrations, are uploaded to the database. The end result is a collection of free, easily downloadable children’s stories in multiple languages.

The resource can be accessed and read by anyone. All you have to do is choose a story from their archive, select your language combination, and download it straight to your phone, tablet or computer.

There are over 700 language combinations to choose from, with 75 distinct languages included. As a translator, my experience working with the 1001 Languages team has been an exclusively positive one. The Book Pirates team is thoughtful, supportive and willing to go above and beyond for the promotion of children’s access to literature in all languages. It is always a delight to read what the children have concocted as a story. They always display their wit, empathy and insightfulness, not to mention their ingenuity. My most heartening take-away has been discovering that children are truly inventive and adept storytellers.

Every child should have the opportunity to read a book in their own language, and being part of such a large mechanism that enables them to do so, free of charge, is a meaningful addition to my full-time work in the translation and aviation industry. I grew up in a multi-cultural family, and knowing that children will be able to see their stories translated across multiple languages and cultures is gratifying. I am sad to say that in all my years as a young bookworm I never came across a bilingual picture book, not in libraries or bookshops. It would seem that this is a common experience. Christina explains how the industry has reacted to the Book Pirates’ venture: ‘When we talk about this issue at international congresses, reading promoters from all over the world immediately have their own stories to tell about the problem of finding multilingual children’s books. It’s an internationally known problem, as multilingualism is a common reality of life, but bilingual books just aren’t profitable for publishers. A colleague who lives in Ghana told us that she lives in a region where they speak nine languages, but books are only available in English.’ All of the Book Pirates’ efforts are to redress this imbalance in a fair and sustainable way.

The Book Pirates’ latest release, to be published in November 2022, is How Can The Future Be a Success? A departure from the usual, fantastical adventures, this book is a collection of features that children around the globe have submitted on the subject of a person they admire, someone who is making it their life’s work to ensure the future a better place. For Christina, this has proven to be a great collaboration across borders. ‘We collected children’s interviews from three countries: Iran, Germany and Turkey. The interviews were then translated into a picture book text by a group of young people and illustrated by another group of young people. The result is just wonderful – the book tells of hope in a time of multi-crisis and it shows children and young people that they have a voice they can use.’ And use their voices they do. From women’s rights to deforestation, library access to sustainable produce, the interviews shed light on the issues most affecting young people and their future, as it stands today.

Although the 1001 Languages Project has been translated into dozens of language combinations, from Malaysian to Bavarian, Esperanto to Pulaar, Luxembourgish to Yiddish, there are still languages that are not yet covered. If you are a professional translator, think that the languages you work with are underrepresented in the book industry, and you love children’s stories, please do not hesitate to contact the Book Pirates team at Christina says: ‘We are always happy to hear from volunteer translators to translate, proofread or record stories in their language/s. If you are working with a group of children or young people and would like to write and illustrate a story together, we would be equally happy if you want to share it on our website.’

And if you cannot lend your time as a direct volunteer, every little bit still helps. ‘Of course, it is always a great help when people spread the word about the project so that many people can use the website as a resource.’


Sarah G Robinson is a translator and writer who lives in London. She translates from French and German into English, working primarily on children’s stories, poetry and non-fiction. She holds a First Class degree in Modern Languages from King’s College, London. She is passionate about the promotion of multi-lingual literature for children. Her favourite pastime is watching documentaries about extraordinary, effortful achievements in the comfort of her living room with a cup of tea. She is often seen running through parks and along canals for her health, and eating biscuits, also for her health.