Seeking A Publisher Spring 2023: Middle Grade

Today translators and members of the World Kid Lit community (Alex Zucker, Marielle Sutherland, Anna Bentley, Deborah Iwabuchi, Kazuko Enda, Kevin Gerry Dunn, Ece Citelbeg, Olena Ebel and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp) present a selection of middle grade books in world languages that they would love to see in English. For additional information on the selections and their translators, please download the full list.

Czechia

The Weird Kids Club 
Written by Petra Soukupová
Illustrated by Nikola Logosová
Original language: Czech [Czechia]
Target age: 9 and up, teenagers included!
Published by Host (Brno, 2019)

Recommended by Alex Zucker

Ten-year-old Mila loves animals — especially insects and, most of all, spiders. She also has an ability to “disappear from the world,” focusing in to the point that everything else around her ceases to exist. Petr is in fourth grade, but looks like a first-grader. He’s great at drawing and can’t sleep at night because he’s too afraid of the dark. Katka feels fat and ugly and doesn’t have any friends. Franta has a leg disease that forces him to use crutches. He’s angry about his disability and takes it out on people. When the four outsiders first meet, they aren’t so much friends as a group of “weird kids” who hang out together. 

In part one of the book, readers see the kids mostly through their inner experiences. In part two, they run away from home together and encounter people who rob them, people who mistreat animals, people who have no home. They undergo a series of powerful events that help them get to know each other and cement their friendship.

This is a story that will be appreciated by anyone who enjoys the movies of Wes Anderson, à la Moonrise Kingdom, as well as the touching spirit that lies beneath humor and playfulness.

Petra Soukupová (b. 1982) is one of today’s most successful Czech writers. She has published seven books for adults and three for children. Her books appear regularly on bestseller lists and have been published in 14 languages, although none yet in English. Soukupová also works as a dramaturge and screenwriter, and has won two major Czech prizes for her film scripts as well. More info at https://www.dbagency.cz/index.php?pg=authors&id=38

GERMANY

Shorty McDwarf (Original title: Frerk, du Zwerg)
Written by Finn-Ole Heinrich
Illustrated by Ran Flygenring
Original language: German [Germany]
Target Age 7-11
Published by Hanser (2015)


Recommended by Marielle Sutherland

Morty McNorth isn’t exactly brimming with confidence: he’s short, not very good at sport, feels sick on the bus, and doesn’t seem to get anyone’s jokes. His dad is tongue-tied, his mum is allergy-prone, and he isn’t allowed a dog or even any friends over. His mum dresses him like his dad, his classmates call him “Shorty McDwarf”, and the school bully steals his lunch. But Morty has his own secret vocabulary and is full of imagination. One day, he finds an egg, stuffs it in his pocket and takes it everywhere with him – he loves having a secret in his pocket. It grows fur, and he can hear voices inside. At school, it hatches out an eclectic array of noisy dwarves: one with pigtails, one with an ear plug, one with flip-flops. He stuffs them back in his pocket, where they keep growing. They speak their own language and get up to all sort of antics that Morty has to conceal from his mum, such as riding around in toy cars, playing in soap suds, and pooing in the muesli.  Suddenly, the dwarves disappear, but they leave him a note encouraging him to speak Dwarfish, have fun, and be himself. The dwarves draw out Morty’s character and inner strength, and he finds the confidence to face down the bully. For anyone who loves an underdog, a bit of mischief, and playing around with words. Mixed genre: fairy tale, comedy, family drama. 

Finn-Ole Heinrich, born in 1982, is one of Germany’s most acclaimed authors. His books for children include Frerk, du Zwerg (2015), Die erstaunlichen Abenteuer der Maulina Schmitt trilogy (2013/14) and Trecker kommt mit (2017). Heinrich has received many awards, among these the Kranichsteiner Literaturförderpreis (2008) and the Deutschen Jugendliteraturpreis (German Youth Literature Prize) (2012). He lives as a freelance author in Hamburg. Maulina Schmitt won the Luchs prize in 2014, and it has also been turned into a play.

HUNGARY

The Girl Who Didn’t Speak
Written by Krisztina Tóth
Original Language: Hungarian [Hungary]
Target Age: 6-12
Published by Móra Publishing (2015)


Recommended by Anna Bentley

The Girl Who Didn’t Speak is in three parts: the first, The Wooden Tub, is the story of a couple (potentially Roma) who lead a hard, nomadic life in the woods. The woman gives birth first to ‘a feathery owl’ then to ‘a blue eye’ which, weeping, becomes a spring, and lastly to a little girl, whom she leaves under a wooden tub without even glancing at her. The Remembering Spring shows that girl, now part of a family from the nearby village, being led by her owl-brother into the woods. When she looks into the blue water of the spring, she sees the story of her birth and regains her human voice. In The Woodland People, the girl and her adopted brother go into the woods to seek her birth parents. The woodland couple hide at first, fearing ill treatment from the villagers, but when they, too, look into the blue water, they are overjoyed to learn they have a daughter. The girl and the boy must go home, but they promise to visit the couple, to help them and learn their skills.

The story is beautifully patterned, using repetition and epithets in fairytale style, and metaphors from the natural world for the girl’s ‘woodland’ speech. The striking woodcut illustrations reflect the frequent use of natural imagery and the woodland setting. This story will be enjoyed by anyone who enjoys a carefully crafted fairy tale that contains important truths for our lives today.


Krisztina Tóth (1967) is one of the most popular and best known Hungarian authors and the recipient of numerous awards. In 2015, her novel Aquarium was featured on the shortlist of the German Internationaler Literaturpreis, and in 2022 Peter Sherwood’s English translation of her poetry book Barcode received the PEN Translates award. Her works have been translated into fifteen languages. Her children’s books treat topics that are considered unusual, even taboo, in children’s literature.

Japan

Tales of Ainu and Gods: Uepeker Told Around the Fire
Written by Shigeru Kayano
Illustrations by Hiromi Chikai
Original language: Japanese [Japan]
Target age:  11 and over
Published by Yama-kei Publishers Co., Ltd. (2020, sixth printing as of Feb. 2022)
Originally published as a part of Ancient Stories of the Gods (Shogakukan Inc. 1988).

Recommended by Deborah Iwabuchi and Kazuko Enda

Thirty-eight uepeker (folktales) were narrated to author Kayano in Ainu, his mother tongue and an endangered language. He then transcribed and translated them into Japanese. As the Ainu have no writing system, these tales were orally passed down for generations, with few storytellers surviving today. The stories are filled with characters constantly getting in and out of trouble, animals who exist on the same level as humans—often as familial relatives—and gods of nature who make the rules and untangle the problems that come up among earthly creatures. Storytelling around the fire kept Ainu children occupied on cold nights. More importantly, they learned about Ainu unity with and respect for the natural world, which families depended on for their livelihood. Narratives full of description, adventure and fantasy will keep YA readers 11 and up engaged. For each tale, Kayano has added a page of background information on traditional Ainu life, including illustrations of handcraft tools and accessories. Ainu culture is so little known beyond its villages that the combination of story and background has much to engage readers of any age who enjoy discovering different cultures and worldviews. Kayano is a well-known, well-loved writer, and this book has sold well. Between the longer-version hardback and the paperback presented here for translation, it has been in publication since 1988. 

Shigeru Kayano (1926–2006) spent his life devoted to preserving the Ainu language and culture. He is recognized as a leading expert in this field. In 1960, he started visiting elders of his home village to record folktales, mythic epics, and lullabies. He compiled Ainu dictionaries and wrote many books on his native language and culture. Four have been translated into English. He has won many awards in Japan, both literary and cultural. In 1994, he was the first Ainu to be elected to the Japanese parliament. The Kayano Shigeru Nibutani Ainu Museum, located in Kayano’s hometown, houses his extensive collection of items made by the Ainu and used as part of their lifestyles.

SPAIN

Bel and Biel: What the Heck is This?! (Original title La Bel i el Biel. Qué dimonis és això?! )
Written by Òscar Dalmau
Illustrated by Magda Codina
Original language: Catalan
Target Age: 7+
Published by Montena (Penguin Llibres, part of Penguin Grupo Editorial)


Recommended by Kevin Gerry Dunn

Each chapter of Bel and Biel consists of a tender and often hilarious dialogue in which six-year-old Bel explains how the world works (from her perspective) to her newborn brother Biel: Who are these two adults who live with us? What’s that furry thing crawling around the house? Why is everyone always looking at the big bright screen in the living room? Bel shares her charming and periodically incorrect perspective on life as a “big kid” who thinks she knows it all, though her motives are always pure. It’s a book about curiosity and affection between siblings, and it subtly encourages young readers to think twice before assuming they understand everything.

The book is perfect for children ages seven and up who are just learning to read: they will be able to relate to six-year-old Bel as she assumes the role of the wiser, older sister, and at the same time, they will be able to identify the humor of her misconceptions of the world. It’s an especially great book for older siblings. Children will enjoy the gorgeous illustrations by Magda Codina, and parents in particular will appreciate their subtle humor and unique style. 

Readers throughout the English-speaking world will have no trouble relating to the universal themes of Bel and Biel, and the occasional Catalonia-specific term or concept will not hinder comprehension for readers of any age. Rather, these moments will keep parents engaged and help them feel like they are giving their children a cosmopolitan and worldly education.


Òscar Dalmau was born on 21 January 1974 in Barcelona, Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. He is a writer and actor.

Turkey

Kreta the Time Traveler (Original title Zaman Yolcusu Kreta)
Written by Gülşah Özdemir Koryürek
Illustrated by Selin Saygılı
Original language: Turkish / Turkey
Target Age: 8+
Published by Sıfırdan Publishing House (2019
)

Recommended by Ece Citelbeg

Kreta the Time Traveler is a science-fiction book for children who enjoy discovering how our planet and universe work and reading scientific and technological themes in fiction. The book focuses on the causes of the global climate crisis and discusses the concept of consumption. But rather than frightening children with disaster scenarios, the book offers solutions which children can act upon.

Young time traveler Kreta and their close friend Shiva are teleported through space from adventure to adventure in the Voyager Space Ship. When they teleport to the World in the 2070s, they encounter a disastrous environment: a hot planet where oxygen and water are scarce. They meet Omer – an engineer specialising in climate research – who tells them that the World is struggling with the effects of a big problem called climate change. In light of the information they receive from Omer, Kreta and Shiva are faced with a brand new mission: go back to the 2010s – the point when the climate crisis can be averted – and deliver a call to action to the people.

Gülşah Özdemir Koryürek was born in 1984 in Istanbul. She worked in theatre for fifteen years, writing scripts and plays, as well as producing documentaries as a writer and director. She has conducted creative drama and writing workshops with children. Since 2015, she has been working as a writer, designer and editor at Sıfırdan Publishing where she is a co-founder. She has been focusing on environmental issues and trying to ensure that that Climate Crisis is represented in children’s literature.

UKRAINE

The Snow Warm
Written by Kateryna Babkina
Illustrated by Yev Haidamaka (also known as Yevhenia Haidamaka)
Original language: Ukrainian [Ukraine]
Target Age: 6-8 years old (Ukrainian publisher). We would recommend a wider range, about 6-10 years old.    
Published by The Old Lion Publishing House (2021)


Recommended by: Olena Ebel and Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp

Mick has just moved with his mother and started at a new school. After a while, he makes new friends, and together, they discover something extraordinary: a giant, furry, heat-emitting creature hiding in an abandoned swimming pool. It is quiet and gentle, and like nothing they’ve seen before. The friends try to find ways to feed the animal and keep it safe. But before they can decide what to do with it, the creature disappears, and Mick stops talking to his friends.

Welcome to the world of The Snow Warm, a chapter book by Ukrainian writer Kateryna Babkina with illustrations by Yev Haidamaka. The story is set in modern-day Ukraine (before the war) and is realistic with a touch of fantasy. 

Snow warms are rare creatures unknown to science but known to very few people, including Mick’s grandfather. What the boy finds out about snow warms and his grandfather’s life story, he must keep secret. This takes a toll on him and his friendships. The burden of secrets is a key topic in this story, which looks at friendship from many angles – what it means to be friends and how we make them. It also touches on the subject of adults burdening children with problems they shouldn’t have to deal with, and the consequences this can have. Luckily, all ends well, and with a magical Christmas celebration. 


Kateryna Babkina is an established Ukrainian writer of poetry and prose. She has written several other children’s books, including Cappy and the Whale (featured on World Kid Lit blog here), which has just been published in English by Penguin. She is the author of several books of poetry, short story collections, plays and film scripts. In 2021, the Polish translation of her novel, “My Grandfather Danced Better than Anyone Else”, won the Angelus Central European Literature Award. Babkina currently resides in the UK.