Today translators and members of the World Kid Lit community (Clare Gaunt, Mia Spangenberg, Dr. Amal Alaboud, and Sarah Balstrieri) present a selection of picture books in world languages that they would love to see published in English. Look out for two more blog posts this week with book recommendations: middle grade fiction, and YA books coming on Wednesday.
For additional information on the selections and their translators, please download the full list.
Cat Boy (Original Title: El Niño Gato)
Written by Triunfo Arciniegas
Illustrated by Dipacho
Original language: Spanish [Colombia]
Target Age: 6-9
Publisher: Ediciones SM, Colombia, (2013)
Recommended by Clare Gaunt
This story is about a cat boy who tries to hide his difference because he feels lonely at school. His mother is no help because she’s lost dreaming about his father who went off to war and never came back. Until one day, a cat girl turns up in the playground. Written by a classic Colombian children’s author, this beautifully illustrated book is home to an original character, whose difference is portrayed so authentically it aches. This story will resonate powerfully with any 6-9 year old who has ever felt like the odd one out.
This fantastic tale uses the magic of our collective imagination to make the experience of loneliness real. Such precise detailing makes the book modern, while the theme makes it timeless. Because our boy is a cat, the author avoids specific pigeon-holing to address anyone with a conflicted sense of belonging. And because cat boy is such an archetypal figure, the opening to acceptance through the appearance of cat girl works in a superhero kind of way.
Triunfo Arciniegas is one of the pillars of Colombian children’s literature having written over 40 books for young readers. His work has been translated into English, German, and Portuguese. He says that his work “celebrates life while never forgetting the constant presence of death”. He was included in the IBBY List of Honour books for Letras Robadas (Stolen Letters) in 2016 and was nominated for the Hans Christian Andersen award in 2018.
The Boy in the Red Skirt (Original title: Poika ja hame)
Written by Jani Toivola
Illustrated by Saara Obele
Original language: Finnish [Finland]
Target Age 5 – 9
Publisher: Otava Publishing Company (2021)
Recommended by Mia Spangenberg
Ronnie can’t resist the beautiful red skirt in his mother’s closet. One night he steals the skirt, and he feels happy and fearless as he twirls around in it. The next day he secretly packs the skirt in his backpack to take it to school – will he dare to put it on? He is conflicted by the messages from his mother, who disapproves of Ronnie playing with dolls and wearing her skirts, and his grandmother who says the rules about what boys and girls should like are made up and that Ronnie shouldn’t be so afraid of what others think. Ronnie puts on the skirt during recess and runs outside when his classmates laugh at him. Initially he thinks his life is over and that his mother will be angry with him, but as he runs around the schoolyard with the skirt billowing behind him, he begins to feel strong, happy, and invincible. The children stop laughing and look at him in wonder as Ronnie calmly goes inside after recess. This book is perfect for older fans of Julian is a Mermaid who can relate to conflicts between personal desires and societal constraints.
Jani Toivola is a Finnish actor, director, and author who has worked in the media industry since the early 2000s. With a Kenyan father and a Finnish mother, he was the first black person to be elected to the Finnish parliament in 2011 where he served from 2011-2019. Toivola, who is openly gay, has previously written two books about personal identity and parenting.
A Very Naughty Cat
Written by Abeer Al Taher
Illustrated by Maya Fidawi
Original language: Arabic [Jordan]
Target Age: 3+ Years
Publisher: Dar Al Yasmine Publishing and Distribution (2014)
Recommended by Dr. Amal Alaboud
A Very Naughty Cat tells the tale of a friendship between an old man and the titular cat. When the old man adopts the stray cat they soon become fast friends, but the cat is not the most well-behaved of animals and causes chaos in the old man’s house. Much as he loves the animal, the man decides it is time to get rid of it, but no one he knows will keep it. In desperation, he decides to leave it in the furthest place he can think of, Antarctica. Once he gets there, he understands that he can’t abandon his friend, no matter how annoying the friend may be. The book is a wonderful and quirky look at the value of friendship with whimsical illustrations by Maya Fidawi.
Abeer Al Taher is a pioneer of children’s literature in the Arab world and a member of the Jordanian Federation of Writers and Literacies. She began her writing career in 1999 and established Al Yasmine for Publishing and Distribution House in 2010, which specializes in publishing children’s books in Arabic.
Little Kisses (Original Title: Besitos)
Written by Virginia Brown
Illustrated by Mauricio Marra
Original language: Spanish [Uruguay]
Target Age: 3-8
Publisher: Penguin Uruguay (2018)
Recommended by Sarah Balistreri
Little Kisses tells the story of a young girl named Laura and her grandmother, Abuela Carmen. Every Tuesday, they drink tea and eat pizza together, and Abuela Carmen teaches Laura how to grow and care for plants. When Abuela Carmen gets sick, Laura is heartbroken. But Laura’s grandmother leaves her with the tools she will need to cope with changing life circumstances. The story lovingly touches on themes such as grief, mental wellbeing, and sustainability while also including multicultural perspectives and language learning opportunities for young English-language readers with an interest in Spanish, plants, and intergenerational family ties.
Virginia Brown is an award-winning Uruguayan writer. She has written 18 children’s books, which have been published in Uruguay, Argentina, Mexico, and Korea. Little Kisses won the Bartolomé Hidalgo Prize, one of Uruguay’s most important literary awards in 2018 and received third place in Uruguay’s National Literary Prize in 2020. The book was also selected by the Regional Center for the Promotion of Books in Latin America and the Caribbean, which operates under the auspices of UNESCO, and the International Board on Books for Young People for their catalog of children’s books that promote sustainable development.