March 2023 Reviews – New Picture Books

This week, our reviewers Catherine Leung, Georgia Wall, Ekram Abdelgawad and Clare Gaunt share their favourite new releases.

Say Hello?
Written and illustrated by Sung Mi Kim
Translated by Clare Richards
Translated from Korean (South Korea)
Published by Berbay Books
Reviewed by Georgia Wall

‘It seems so easy to say, but what happens if you miss the chance to greet someone and then keep seeing that same person again and again?’

In the bright and engaging Say Hello?, Sung Mi Kim makes use of detailed line drawings and employs just two colours (red and teal blue), inviting us to fill in the blank spaces with our own tones. The story and illustrations work beautifully together: the narrative, translated from Korean by Clare Richards, feels driven naturally by the main character’s thoughts, encouraging readers to discuss Little Fox’s and Mr. Wolf’s actions and imagine what they might do next. This makes Say Hello? a fun and original choice for role-play and sparking conversations about feeling shy, meeting new people and (mis)understanding each other.

A Head Full Of Birds
Written by Alexandra Garibal
Illustrated by Sibylle Delacroix
Translated by Vineet Lal
Translated from French (France)
Published by Eerdmans Books for Young Readers
Reviewed by Catherine Leung

While the story begins by introducing Nanette as a lonely little girl, “This is Nanette”, it ends on a simple and hopeful note – this time Nanette is introduced with her newfound friend, Noah, “This is Nanette. And this is Noah”. In his translation, Vineet Lal captures the poignancy and simplicity of this story by Alexandra Garibal.

A Head Full of Birds has immediate appeal with Sibylle Delacroix’s distinctive cover illustration. The joyful main character Nanette in her bright yellow raincoat contrasts with the knocked-back grey pencil sketching of a dull wet day. We get the sense right away that Nanette is special. The birds in the title are a beautiful metaphor for the different way in which she engages with the world.

This metaphor is continued throughout the story. Full of creativity and imagination, Nanette draws birds which she says can fly, and there is an illustration of her making origami birds. She also imagines butterflies, and floats colourful paper boats in puddles. These beautiful images contrast with scenes early on in the story, where Nanette stands out as being different – she likes mixing ham into her fruit yoghurt, and the other children make fun of her. Even Noah doesn’t understand her to begin with, but soon he is drawn in by the beauty of the world as Nanette sees it, and he can’t resist joining in her fun.

A Head Full of Birds is a sensitive and positive portrayal of a neurodiverse friendship at school, between Nanette and Noah, but all children may relate to its themes of friendship and embracing difference. It would have been nice to see greater representation of different ethnic groups to enhance this message. Ideal for children aged 4-8, it may spark interesting discussions with older children.

What Shall We Play Now?
Written by Tagreed A. Najjar
Illustrated by Charlotte Shama
Translated by Tagreed A. Najjar
Translated from Arabic
Published by Crocodile Books, USA
Reviewed by Ekram Abdelgawad

This story by Palestinian-Jordanian children’s and young adults’ writer Tagreed A. Najjar will take you “with a flick and a click, in just a blink, with no magic stick,” to magical settings. It is a story that celebrates colours, elegance, and the power of (day-)dreaming. It is a carnival of colours and actions, like an animation film. The real merits of this story are the details. It is a story where illustrations add life and more depth to words, where words are graceful and illustrations more graceful. 

What a child’s imagination can do with a piece of cloth?  Many dreams. A little girl’s imagination turned a piece of cloth into fascinating worlds. The phrase: “In your dreams!” has gained a new meaning in this book. The protagonist and her friend Raya lived in their dreams with open eyes. The story starts with a little girl telling us about her Mama who is a seamstress. She is always busy. One day she gave  her daughter a piece of cloth. This is when all magic begins.

By Regina Giménez
Translated by Alexis Romay and Valerie Block
Translated from Catalan
Published by Levine Querido
Reviewed by Clare Gaunt

Geo-Graphics is a perfect illustration of what a picture book can do. It uses stunning graphics (the author is an artist) to make the kind of astonishing concepts learners are particularly susceptible to, very easy to grasp. The result is a visual re-telling of the world’s origin story.

This book is also a reminder of the fundamental usefulness of circles. Positioning an array of circles in relation to each other and the direction of the sun produces the easiest-to-understand explanation I’ve ever come across of the different phases of the moon. Seeing throughout this book really means understanding.

The same principle of clear explanation permeates the text, which consistently includes illustrative examples that bring vast concepts within our reach. For example, did you know that “The Amazon River in South America is the largest river in the world by volume. It has an average flow rate of 7,400,000 ft3/s. That means it could fill more than 80 Olympic swimming pools in one second.”

There are lovely moments too in which a perfectly normal Catalan expression (trobar-se) is retained in a literal form to create a humanising turn of phrase: “A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth finds itself between the Sun and the Moon.” In general though, another of this book’s refreshing aspects is that it concentrates on the greatness of the world, leaving us largely out of it. Countries are generally avoided in favour of the more geographically significant continents, and “After several failed attempts, in 1953, humans reached [Everest’s] summit for the first time.” (You´ll notice the absence of any particular hero; it was more of a species achievement, and its comparative recentness is more of an indication of the greatness of the Himalayas than of our own prowess.)

This gorgeous title brings home the astonishing grandeur of our universe. It’s definitely worth adding to the family bookshelf!

Meet the reviewers

Ekram Abdelgawad holds PhD in translation of children’s literature with first honours, English Department, Faculty of Arts, Sohag University, Egypt, 2018. Abdelgawad had taught English as a foreign language for children in Egypt for 16 years. She was an English lecturer at King Khalid University, Saudi Arabia for five years. She has taught translation at Faculty of Languages and Translation, Pharos University in Alexandria, Egypt (2020 – 2022). She is currently an independent researcher in translation of children’s literature and freelance translator of children’s literature (English/Arabic). Her fields of interest are translation of children’s literature, translation studies, translation theories, and Arabic language.

Clare Gaunt is the translator of non-fiction children’s books: Majestic Mountains: Discover Earth’s Mighty Peaks and Majestic Oceans: Discover the World Beneath the Waves by Mia Cassany and illustrated by Marcos Navarro. She loves beautiful books, shares life with a 9 year-old, and is a kindred spirit of all travellers.

Catherine Leung is a literary translator (French to English) and children’s author with a background in publishing. She is the award-winning picture book author of Long-Long’s New Year illustrated by He Zhihong (Frances Lincoln). She enjoys stories embracing difference. These stories may focus on culture or neurodiversity for example, but also, quite simply, individuality – she is a strong advocate of being yourself! As a child, she lived a dreamy, rural life between Dartmoor and the sea. As a grown up and passionate linguist, she has lived in Paris and Jiangsu Province, China. Her family is mixed race (Chinese White), and her children’s dual heritage is often reflected in the characters in her own writing.

Georgia Wall is a translator from Italian to English and I also work as publishing manager at The Emma Press. Her first job was as a Home Library Service volunteer, and then she has worked as a bookseller – she feels lucky that she has always been able to work with books, whether it’s delivering them, selling them, reading them or helping to make them in English! One of her favourite things about translating is finding new meanings. As Li Wei puts it,‘language-learning is a life-long process, for “native speakers” ‘ too!’