A Brief History of Chinese Literature for Children, What Sells Now, and More

On International Translators Day and the last day of World Kid Lit Month, expert on Chinese children’s literature and Princeton University librarian Minjie Chen talks more about where Chinese children’s literature has been, where it is now, and where it might be going.

What are some of the major historical markers of Chinese children’s literature? How is the publishing ecosystem different from the Anglophone children’s publishing ecosystem?

minjie_chenMinjie Chen: It wasn’t until the late 1890s that Chinese intellectuals and reformers, anxious about China’s weakened national power, produced the first magazine that was tailored to Chinese children’s language and interest levels in order to achieve better learning outcomes. A patriotic concern permeated early Chinese children’s reading materials. During the turbulent twentieth century, children’s books were variously hijacked by war mobilization, hero worship, and revolutionary fervor. Beginning in the 1980s, children’s books became less politicized and more aligned with commodities of a free market. Despite my sweeping generalizations, there were always gems, works that entertained and enlightened young readers even while managing not to openly break free of the ideological straightjacket of the time.

China relies on high-stakes standardized testing to allocate limited educational resources among its huge population. Test pressure is often blamed for depriving youth of time for leisure reading. Consequently, the market of books intended for young people is actually dominated by curriculum and test preparations materials. Children’s literature has grown rapidly since 2005, however, and the format that has made the biggest progress is picture books. Numerous publishers have been lured into the business of children’s books so that the current time is characterized as the “Warring States Period” of publishing for youth.

How are the Anglophone genres & definitions of “children’s literature” limiting when looking at Chinese literatures that have been of interest to children?

MC: The question stems from two different ways of defining children’s literature. By a narrow and strict definition, it refers to literary works that are deemed by publishers and gatekeepers as relevant to and appropriate for childhood, based on evolving rubrics that are socially contested and constructed. By a broad and loose one, it can include what leisure reading materials children consume on a voluntary basis. I will not necessarily call the Anglophone definition of “children’s literature” limiting, but will comment that, when children are enjoying what they are not supposed to be reading, it tends to induce (unfounded) worry in adults. One big reason why Chinese youth often read beyond “children’s literature” is that books specifically intended for their ages do not quite meet their need for quality and quantity–although there will always be a minority of precocious readers who prefer Les Misérables to Little House on the Prairie at age ten. During much of the twentieth century, cheaply available comic books (called “linked pictures” in Chinese) published for a general market were the format devoured by Chinese children. It is debatable if all of those books can be redefined as “children’s literature,” but they are undeniably an important part of the history of children’s reading in China.

watchingAn eleven-year-old girl I met in China this past summer told me that her favorite book at the moment was Watching You Go (目送), an essay collection (for general readers) by the Taiwanese writer Lung Ying-tai. She opened the book to poignant chapters about the author’s aging parents and told me how those texts resonated with her, because she had witnessed her own grandmother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. Like many Chinese children with working parents, the girl had grandparents as her nannies, babysitters, and escorts for as long as she could remember. Did her response make Lung’s writing “children’s literature”? Perhaps not, but I was reminded how easy it is to underestimate the emotional capacity of a young and tender heart.

One topic that is more directly related to your question is works of nonfiction, and I am not referring to informational books and biography only. My favorite type of “nonfiction” from my childhood reading in China was books of games, puzzles, and math problems cloaked in suspenseful stories. I was intrigued by the Möbius strip (from a bestselling Ten Thousand Whys series); was inspired to make a baguenaudier puzzle out of keyrings and old toy blocks (from a children’s book that introduced me to topology); and was lost in logic problems on an overnight train ride. Those books make math and science hands-on, playable, and exciting. Thanks to them, I never for a second found science subjects boring at school, and have wondered if the success of such Chinese offerings could be replicated to boost interest in learning elsewhere.

Is there a Chinese best-seller list for children’s literature? Do we know what Chinese children are reading?

MC: I am unable to name any that has the equivalent influence of the New York Times children’s bestseller lists, which are widely cited in China to advertise and promote books. Helen Wang has studied bestselling lists released by a Chinese consulting firm and graciously translated the book titles into English. Out of the 30 titles listed as the 2015 bestselling children’s books in China, at least 21 are series installments. Five are the Chinese edition of works by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, E.B. White, Astrid Lindgren, Sam McBratney, and Roald Dahl.

Do we know what Chinese children are reading? That is a question that deserves serious research attention. To briefly unpack the question, what counts as “reading” nowadays? Children in China, just like those in elsewhere, are exposed to text and images printed on paper as well as projected on screens of every dimension. New communication technology enables the kind of cultural consumption that is multimedia, communal, and participatory. The top 30 titles of bestselling children’s books offer a good starting point to the question, but I think the real answer will be complicated and fascinating.

What are the aims of your new  blog, “Chinese Books for Young Readers“? Who are you targeting? What would you like us blog-followers to know about Chinese children’s literature in translation?

Chinese Books for Young Readers is the brilliant brainchild of Helen Wang, who can provide a more eloquent answer to your questions. I had the great honor of being invited to contribute to the project. Speaking for myself, I think the blog can help raise awareness of notable Chinese children’s authors and high-quality works, make it easier for youth services librarians and K-12 teachers who do not know the Chinese language to select children’s titles translated from China, and highlight works that should be of interest to a wider readership than Chinese children. There is a need for children’s book review resources like The Horn Book Magazine and School Library Journal but with a focus on titles from abroad. The realization dawned on me when both Helen and I were guest lecturers of a course on international children’s literature offered by writer Marc Aronson at Rutgers University in spring 2016. His students, a vibrant learning community of would-be librarians and professionals interested in children’s books and reading, raised meaningful questions about how to bring good foreign titles to public libraries, school libraries, and classrooms. I will give my belated reply to them, “Come check out Chinese Books for Young Readers!”

The one thing to know about Chinese children’s literature is that it is making rapid progress in the twenty-first century, and currently the most exciting growth area is picture books. Through translated titles from the West and Japan, Chinese writers and artists have learned how this format works and are crafting their own original stories to amuse and amaze babies, toddlers, and beginning readers. The world will have more opportunities to witness their talent and hear louder, distinct literary voices from China.


5 Books Translated from Japanese That Every Parent and Child Should Have

averyAvery Udagawa Avery Fischer Udagawa grew up in Kansas and studied English and Asian Studies at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She holds an M.A. in Advanced Japanese Studies from The University of Sheffield. She has studied at Nanzan University, Nagoya, on a Fulbright Fellowship, and at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, Yokohama. She writes, translates, and teaches north of Bangkok, where she lives with her bicultural family.

She also serves as International Translator Coordinator and Japan Translator Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (

Yesterday, she answered a few questions about book ecosystems, translation, and publishing for #WorldKidLit. Today, we post her list of 5 children’s books, translated from the Japanese, that every parent and child should have.

You wrote that if you could give every parent a book, it would be The Friends by Kazumi Yumoto, translated by Cathy Hirano. If you could name five, translated from the Japanese?

Avery Udagawa: Absolutely The Friends, deserving winner of not only a Batchelder but also the Boston Globe–Horn Book Award for Fiction.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit and Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness, by Andersen laureate Nahoko Uehashi, translated by Cathy Hirano. Batchelder and Batchelder Honor.

The Secret of the Blue Glass by Tomiko Inui, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

The Girl with the White Flag by Tomika Higa, translated by Dorothy Britton.

Tomo: Friendship Through Fiction—An Anthology of Japan Teen Stories: thirty-six YA stories including ten in translation from Japanese, one originally from Ainu. Sales of the ebook benefit teen survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011.

Avery Fischer Udagawa serves as International Translator Coordinator and Japan Translator Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators ( Translator is now a member category in SCBWI, and member translators worldwide can join a listserv focused on translation of children’s literature. Details: itc [at]

Avery Udagawa on Opening the Children’s Book Ecosystem to Translations

averyAvery Udagawa Avery Fischer Udagawa grew up in Kansas and studied English and Asian Studies at St. Olaf College in Minnesota. She holds an M.A. in Advanced Japanese Studies from The University of Sheffield. She has studied at Nanzan University, Nagoya, on a Fulbright Fellowship, and at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies, Yokohama. She writes, translates, and teaches north of Bangkok, where she lives with her bicultural family.

She also serves as International Translator Coordinator and Japan Translator Coordinator for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (

Here, she answers a few questions about book ecosystems, translation, and publishing for #WorldKidLit. Tomorrow, we post her list of 5 children’s books, translated from the Japanese, that every parent and child should have.

Fixed genre, lexile, and age rules are meant, I imagine, to make things easier for consumers, librarians, and educators. Yet, as you’ve noted in an essay “We Need Translated Books” for Literary Mama, they also make the “new” — including many translations — a hard sell. How could we make our book ecosystem more open to what’s wonderful and different?

Avery Udagawa: We could start by seeing books that don’t fit neatly in a box, as potential crossover books — attractive to more than one audience. Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and Tony Earley’s Jim the Boy are examples of English-language books (not translations) that have sold in plural age categories, even having different covers for adults and children. Hiro Arikawa’s The Travelling Cat Chronicles is a book from Japan recently acquired by Transworld/Doubleday, with potential as a crossover book for teens/adults. I look forward to reading the translation by Philip Gabriel.

You write: “If a book unfolds overseas, it is usually written by a U.S. author.” This is particularly true of less-wealthy nations. Often “world literature” lists are populated by books about Egypt or Brazil or Philippines, not translated from Arabic, Portuguese, Tagalog. What do we lose by not reading from different literary traditions, from only seeing through our own narrative forms? 

AU: Ann Morgan discusses this beautifully in A Year of Reading the World (US title: The World Between Two Covers). In my less eloquent words, books about countries have different biases than books from countries. No book is bias-free. I see value in both “books-about” and “books-from”; books-about describe other places in ways English speakers can readily understand, while books-from relay worldviews of those who live in the places—people to whom that’s home and the English-speaking world is the “other place.”

What we lose without books-from, is the homegrown perspective. Imagine the only books in the world about your home region or culture being written by someone who’s visited on research trips. Would the books be speaking for you?

You also write: “I have seen Japanese writing scrubbed from storybook illustrations to be sold stateside.” Why do you think this is? Also: What does a child gain from having, for instance, Bengali or Japanese script as part of their visual palate?

AU: Scrubbing happens when publishers fear large groups of consumers balking at “foreign” elements in books. When I looked into this issue about ten years ago, one phrase I heard was “moms in Texas”—though I’m sure many Texans would enjoy Bengali script in illustrations. Picture book buyers for large chains, I was told, seek titles that will not turn off these imagined blocs of conservative shoppers. Publishers need the chains’ business, so this can affect what they publish and how they handle visuals, as well as elements like foreign names.

The world’s writing systems represent human diversity and artistry in ways exciting even to the very young. Early exposure can ignite interest in exploring a language and culture—or maybe, just help someone see the writing as normal not weird, and even beautiful.

Japanese is perhaps the only non-Western-European language & children’s book tradition to enjoy some stature within the English-language bookworld in the form of reviews, prizes, a steady number of translations. Why is that? There is, I think, government support? I’ve seen Japanese children’s literature translated into Arabic. 

AU: In Japan’s case, it’s not government support, at least for children’s. The country has an established children’s book industry, which publishes nearly 5,000 new titles per year — comparable to the US — though publishing has been in recession for some time. A few publishers and agents energetically market English language rights, despite uncertain demand abroad. A number of illustrators cultivate a style with global appeal. In addition, the Japanese Board on Books for Young People (JBBY, affiliated with IBBY) compiles dossiers to nominate authors and illustrators for the Hans Christian Andersen Award, conferred biennially on one writer and one illustrator. The writing award is sometimes dubbed the Nobel Prize for children’s literature. Japanese novelist Nahoko Uehashi won this award in 2014. (Cao Wenxuan succeeded her in 2016, becoming the first Andersen laureate from China.)

While Japan may seem prominent within the sliver of English-language children’s books that are translations, the sliver is tiny (two to four percent of books published annually). Of the thousands of children’s books published in Japan each year, maybe a handful get acquired for publication in English. Of these, a number fall out of print. Case in point: two years after Uehashi won the Andersen, her book Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is out of print except in ebook. This title also won a Batchelder Award.

And while Japan is patchily represented, as you say, many non-Western cultures and languages aren’t represented at all. In southeast Asia where I live, many people can’t afford to buy books. Publishers have much to handle just making books and nurturing children’s literature traditions — let alone marketing foreign rights.

What gets you up in the morning and keeps you translating? How do you answer the “Why bother” question Cathy Hirano poses in her recent essay, “Why I Translate for Children and Teens in a Translation-Resistant Market“?

AU: What keeps me going is the joy of sharing stories I love. I think most bibliophiles get the urge to collar friends and say, “Hey, read this!” But to share some stories, I have to translate them first.

When reviewing or teaching — how do we change our critical goggles in order to help young readers see the beauty in something different?  

AU: I think our mission is to expose children and teens to world literature, and let them find the beauty. They will. Their minds are open to new stories and ways of telling; what we grown-ups can offer is access. We can take a conscious look at the books we review and teach, and see if they represent the globe our children will steward one day.

We would not raise our children on art, music or food from just one country. Let’s make sure they get stories from everywhere.

Avery notes that Translator is now a member category in SCBWI, and member translators worldwide can join a listserv focused on translation of children’s literature. Details: itc [at]

Why Translations? Don’t We ‘Already Have Chinese Stories in English’?

Expert on Chinese children’s literature and Princeton University librarian Minjie Chen answered one of the perennial questions about translation.

As someone who looks both at Chinese literature (in translation) and American literature that portrays Chinese experience, how do you respond to the perennial question: Why translate when “we already have Chinese stories in English”?

A New Year's Reunion
A New Year’s Reunion

Minjie Chen: I have not thought of this question before, but have once encountered a view that is different but equally limiting. I took a graduate course on the literary criticism of children’s literature. One of the weekly topics was “multiculturalism,” and I was disappointed to learn that “multicultural children’s literature” for this course meant American children’s literature that portrayed the culture and experience of non-white people, and we were not going to cover translated works. The underlying message was perhaps that domestic “multicultural children’s literature” and imported titles were fundamentally different creatures and did not fall into the same category. I completely agree that the two bodies of literature should not be conflated and are not interchangeable. (Years later, when I had the opportunity to teach a course called “Multicultural Literature and Resources for Youth,” I set aside time to discuss books translated from non-English-speaking countries.)

Chinese literature in translation and American literature that portrays Chinese experience are created by writers and artists from distinct social, political, and cultural contexts. There may be overlaps in subject matter, such as in the case of traditional Chinese folktales adapted into picture books, or Chinese stories composed by white “China Hands” (Pearl Buck is the most prominent name in this tradition), or memoirs of the Chinese diaspora about lives in China. Even books with the same topic by Chinese and American writers, however, differ in focal points, perspectives, and values in ways both big and small. We can no more equate the experience of growing up in China with that of an American-born Chinese than ignore the difference between literature from the two countries.

Here is a small example of how a translated title exposes young American readers to a wider world and disrupts what may be taken for granted in among US and UK Anglophone readers. A New Year’s Reunion by Yu Li-Qiong and Zhu Cheng-Liang (Candlewick, 2011), translated from Chinese, features what is easily the most popular topic of all American picture books about Chinese culture — Chinese New Year. Characters in the story wear thick sweaters, winter jackets, and even scarves and hats at home as they do outdoors. This is because residential buildings (and most public facilities, including schools, for that matter) in the south part of China have no central heating systems. To be able to stay warm in light and comfy pajamas in winter, as is commonly portrayed in American picture books, would have been a luxury for most of the children in southern China.

No! That's Wrong!
No! That’s Wrong!

Another example shows what refreshing and diverse artistic styles we are introducing to young readers through “world kids’ literature.” No! That’s Wrong! by Ji Zhaohua and Xu Cui (Kane/Miller, 2008) is technically not a title translated from China, but part of a new phenomenon of international publishing. Its Beijing-born author and illustrator had the English edition published with Kane/Miller first, won glowing reviews overseas, and the Chinese editions were released in Taiwan and mainland China thereafter.

The book features a rabbit who finds a piece of underwear — a Victoria’s Secret-type with lace fringe — in the forest and tries to decide what it is. It is a funny story that gives toddler readers a sense of satisfaction from knowing more than the characters, validates their defiance against authorities’ opinions, and sends message about independent thinking. Though set in a world of talking animals, the illustrations present an idyllic Chinese context. The opening double spread portrays a whitewashed, black-roofed house in a water town, where laundry is line-dried outdoors, as it is everywhere in China (hence the runaway underwear accident). The impressionist watercolor landscape pays tribute to Chinese ink-wash painting but offers a warmer and brighter palette than the traditional monochrome art.

I am aware of the danger of overstretching the simile between food consumption and book reading, but I will hazard one comparison here. As we know, general Tso’s chicken and fortunate cookies were invented in America and are consumed as ethnic Chinese food in the US. They are tasty bites and valid cuisine in their own rights, but wouldn’t you also want to expand your palate to experience a wider variety of what the most skilled and imaginative chefs in China are capable of cooking?

An early exposure to world children’s literature will have a lifelong influence on a young mind, nourishing it with a rich variety of narrative styles and artistic flavors, cultivating a healthy curiosity in what is unfamiliar and “foreign,” and opening it to many “norms” in many societies.

It’s #TalkLikeaPirateDay! Four Pirate Tales in Translation

This #TalkLikeaPirateDay we honor pirates who talk in other tongues.

Ages 0-5

piratePirate Girl, by Cornelia Funke, Author, Kerstin Meyer, Illustrator , illus. by Kerstin Meyer, trans. by Chantal Wright.

According to Publishers Weekly, “Captain Firebeard, helmsman Morgan O’Meany and the crew of the Horrible Haddock make “the knees of honest seafaring folk… shake like jelly.” But they meet their match in Molly, a small but sturdy girl whose thick auburn ponytails rival the Captain’s bushy beard.” Recommended by translator and educator Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp.

petePirate Pete Sets Sail, Jean-Pierre Jaggi, illustrated by Alan Clarke, translated by J. Alison James.

From OutsideinWorld: “Pirate Pete and his mates are setting sail for a new island. It is hard work loading all their treasure onto the ship, but they manage to cast off and sail across the seas until they finally spot their new island. This is a lovely story about a boy who is concerned about moving to a new house with his parents. He decides to turn it into an exciting adventure – the house is the pirates’ den, the car a ship and the motorway service station is a filthy harbour – and, of course, he is the pirate captain.

This is an ideal book for parents to use if they are planning to move house. Very lively and vibrant illustrations by Alan Clarke, full of colour that will attract any young child.” Recommended by OutsideInWorld.

Ages 9-12

the-treasure-of-barracuda-cover-411x600The Treasure of Barracuda,  by Llanos Campos, illustrated by Júlia Sardà, translated from Spanish by Lawrence Schimel.

According to the publisher: “Sparks is an 11-year-old deck hand on the Southern Cross, a ship full of illiterate pirates led by Captain Barracuda. When Sparks and the crew dig up a treasure chest left by the infamous pirate Phineas Johnson Krane, they discover it’s empty – except for a book! Now, they must learn to read in order to decipher its contents and find Krane’s real hidden treasure.” Recommended by author-editor-educator Lyn Miller-Lachmann, who notes you can get a 25% discount for pre-ordering.

Ages 13+

corsairThe Corsair, by Abdulaziz Al-Mahmoud, translated by Amira Noweira.

A fun, fast-paced tale of Gulf pirates in the early 19th century. For the budding fan of historical fictions. From the publisher: “It’s the early part of the nineteenth century and the Arabian Peninsula and the waters surrounding it are ablaze. Piracy in the Gulf threatens global maritime trade routes while the Wahabbi strain of Islam is conquering followers town by town across the region. Britain, eager to reinforce its presence in the Middle East and protect the East India Company’s ships, has a plan: send a man-of-war from England to quash the pirates while persuading Egypt to join an international alliance with Oman and Persia to fight the Wahabbis. At the center of it all lies a priceless Indian sword, a gift from the British monarch to the Egyptian Pasha.” Recommended by M. Lynx Qualey.

Translate This! Turkish KidLit Author Miyase Sertbarut

When we put together our list of “100 Great Translated Kids Books from Around the World,” one of the languages that was conspicuously absent was Turkish:

kidlitWe asked master-translator Canan Marasligil to help suggest a children’s author who should be brought into English, and she suggested Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA) nominee Miyase Sertbarut.

“I think she definitely needs to be translated to English (and other languages too!),” Marasligil said.

In her nomination materials for the ALMA, the charming Sertbarut said, “I spent a lot of time with both my imaginary characters and my readers. I have talked face to face with thousands of children and young people in hundreds of schools. I pass on the greetings of real people to my characters when I get home and the greetings of my characters to the children when I go to schools.”

She adds:

I never hesitated to write about difficult subjects: Child abuse, native language education, poverty, the examination system, issues in foster homes, rising up against value systems, the commercialisation of science… It gives me joy that I was able to present these topics to my readers without being overly dramatic or didactic, by using accessible language and presenting them with exciting adventures.

My stories have appeared in Turkish textbooks. (The less subversive ones, of course! It would have made me happier if the subversive ones made it as well…)

Most importantly, she writes: “I have always loved Turkish literature and want others to love it too.”

Author and columnist Ece Arar Emener, wrote of Hidden by the Fog that it “has such a strong narrative that one is curious to know which method the author used while working on it. As if a great ball of yarn slowly unties itself in front of you and then re-ties itself all over again.”

Marasligil has shared a translated excerpt of Hidden by the Fog, with the publisher’s permission. If you are interested in more excerpts, please let know.


Bad News at Breakfast

sisin_sakladiklari_kapakThat Sunday morning, Ms Nilgün had set breakfast on the balcony. They even had the salami with pistachio that Ilay loved so much. Although her mother showing extra care to the breakfast table on Sundays did not surprise Ilay, the smell of omelettes with butter wafting from the kitchen made her suspicious that something extraordinary may be going on. Something bad must have happened again, even the tubes of ketchup and mayonnaise that her mother hated so much, were on the table.

On the day that her parents told her they were getting a divorce, they had put out all the food that she liked: French fries, köfte, Russian salad with plenty of mayonnaise and a big bottle of coke. Her parents hadn’t even made a sound when she poured a copious amount of ketchup on her fries.

Has my mother been transferred?” she wondered, as she pulled a chair. That would be sad. Her mother was a doctor at the hospital, she’d been saying for a few months now that she might be transferred. If they had to move, the saddest part would be to leave her neighbourhood friends, especially Tayfun, behind.

She couldn’t get Tayfun out of her heart and her dreams for the past six months, and they were just beginning to get closer. Oh! He was the cutest boy in school. Ilay thought she could never find anyone like him again. He asked her out last week and she immediately said yes. He was her first boyfriend: they walked together in the park, sat knee to knee in a café. She saw entirely new lights and shades in his eyes. Although her other friends didn’t entirely approve of Tayfun, Ilay’s heart seemed to beat only for him. This excitement, this first love, made her feel like the happiest person alive. If her mother told her they were about to move to a different city, she would certainly resist. She’d say, “I’ll stay with my dad then”. Her father wouldn’t object to that. That would make her mother sad though, but she would do anything not to be apart from Tayfun.

She slipped into daydreaming accompanied by the buttered smell of the omelettes. She didn’t even notice the three stubby beaked crows that stood perched on the imposing plane tree close by. Meanwhile, all the attention of the crows were directed towards the balcony, particularly the food on the table. If they had been perched there on that branch two weeks ago, Ilay would certainly have noticed those three strange crows. Especially their stubby beaks and their legs that have become as thick as a chicken’s… But, for the last two weeks, Ilay had found her dream prince and forgot about the rest of the world. Even if she noticed those birds, they would appear to her as the most beautiful songbirds or canaries, singing to her, perched atop rose bushes. After all, she now was a young girl who had fallen in love for the first time.

School was over, with study books now thrown under the bed, never to be touched again, exam stress gone, grade reports received and language courses drawn to a close. Now, was the time for the movies, parks, Internet cafes and snack food. She was free until the announcement of the school entrance exam results. She handed in a good exam. Maybe she couldn’t make it to a top science school but she was confident that she could end up in a good public school. Wherever she’d go, she will not have to share the corridors with toddlers running around anymore, nor would she be put on duty to help little kids up when they fall or break up their silly fights. Everything will be more serious, age-appropriate and fun. She will be able to call her teachers “sir” or “madam”. When she was in primary school, that is what she aspired to the most; but her teachers always insisted on being called “teacher”. But for Ilay, “sir” or “madam” meant “I am a grown up, don’t treat me like a child”.

Now she had a boyfriend who liked her. Although they didn’t even hold hands yet, eyes could tell much, and also long phone conversations… Ilay didn’t find herself ugly anymore when looking in the mirror. She stopped wishing her eyes were larger, her ears smaller and her nose perkier. She found someone who liked her, which meant she was beautiful. In addition, Tayfun was one of the most popular, handsome kids in school.

Her daydreaming was interrupted when her mother stepped into the balcony carrying the plates of omelettes. As she served the plate to her daughter, she tried to lighten the mood by unnaturally sweetening her voice.

– Is my little princess hungrily waiting for me?!

– Mom, don’t talk to me as if I’m a baby.

This resistance didn’t faze her mother.

– Has my baby grown up to resist her mother?

– What’s the bad news mom?

Her mother’s face returned to normal. There was a pause. Ilay grabbed the ketchup and mayonnaise tubes and started pouring them onto her omelettes in a fashion that her mother entirely disapproved. Ms Nilgün didn’t say anything as her eyes rested on the red and white lines crisscrossing her daughter’s plate, she didn’t seem to be really looking. Ilay took a deep breath and asked:

– Are you getting married or something?

Her mother frowned.

– Where did that come from? Why did you think I had some bad news anyway? I do have some news, but it’s not what you think.

– Are you being transferred? Are we moving?

– That’s not it… Tea or milk?

– Coffee with milk please.

– Hmm… Your tastes are changing!

Her mother was right, she didn’t use to like coffee. When they went to a café with Tayfun, she had ordered one after he did and didn’t like the taste at first, thought it was bitter but she had grown to like the taste after adding some cream. Now, she was trying to recreate that moment but was also trying to get back at her mother in a revenge attempt. She thought that whatever her mother was going to tell her wouldn’t be good for her, so she was trying to put up a defence. She stealthily gave some of her eggs that were untouched by ketchup and mayonnaise to her cat Ginger, who was rubbing against her legs under the table. Her mother strongly disapproved of Ginger eating anything but from his food bowl in the kitchen.

While Ms Nilgün was preparing coffee in the kitchen, Ilay started eating her omelette with appetite. She came up with a strategy on the spot that she could defend herself better with a full stomach. The news might also ruin her appetite. When her poor mother returned to the balcony with the cup of coffee, Ilay’s plate was almost empty.

After she sat down, her mother poked at her omelette a few times but didn’t eat, instead she took a swig of her tea. Ilay was observing her mother surreptitiously. Here comes the talk, she thought. Ms Nilgün cleared her throat. She always did that before saying anything important. She probably didn’t want her voice cracking.

– The summer holiday has started. You will get bored all day at home.

– I won’t get bored by being home alone mom, don’t talk like you don’t know me. I have the TV, the computer and the Internet… Then I have my friends.

While saying that, she noticed the crows perched on the plane tree.

– Mom! Look at those…

While she didn’t want to distract the conversation, her mother turned her head regardless.

– So what? They are crows… They are waiting for us to go inside so they can steal stuff. But don’t worry, they’ll be afraid of Ginger.

Ilay was surprised that her mother didn’t notice what was weird about the crows.

– But mom, don’t you think these crows are a bit weird? Look at their legs, they are big like a chicken’s and their beaks are stubbier than normal. They look more like chickens than crows. They sure are funny!

While her mother didn’t think this was notable, she couldn’t help enlightening her daughter:

– I recently read in a book that there are more than forty species of crows. These must be one of those forty. Anyway, don’t pay attention to them… Leaving you home alone is going to worry me all the time.

– I am not at an age to start fires at home mom. I also have Ginger to keep me company.

Ms Nilgün continued as if she hadn’t heard what Ilay said:

– Especially when I am on night shift… Your dad is also not living close by, so I can’t ask him…

– Mom, I’ve grown up.

Her mother poured more tea into her cup and continued talking:

– You know you have an aunt.

Ilay put on a mocking tone:

– Oh I know, actually, I have no idea. Isn’t she living in a village reachable only by a fifteen-hour train ride followed by an hour in an ox cart?

– Who told you that?

– You did, remember? I was doing my homework on family trees and you had added in my aunt. Then I got curious and asked where she lived.

Her mother was surprised:

– How did you remember so vividly?

– It felt interesting to have an aunt whose face I’ve never seen. So, mom, are you calling my aunt here? You must be looking for someone to nanny me. But the summer holiday would be over by the time she gets here.

Ilay did not realise her tone was becoming more defiant. She sounded condescending. Lately, that was the tone she used against all the decisions her mother took. All her friends told her that she had become more irritable after her parents got divorced; but she couldn’t help it; she couldn’t control her temper. In reality, she was not unhappy about the situation, although she missed her father, her parents got separated amicably and her father spent time with her every two weeks and they had fun together.

But this aunt business bothered her. She would not have any shared interests with this aunt coming from a village. Was she going to have to watch whatever her aunt watched on TV? What if she started cooking unusual things? But her mother delivered the final blow.

– She is not coming Ilay, she can’t make it, and she has to work there. You are going.

At that point, Ilay, who was listening to her mother while leaned back on the plastic chair, suddenly sat up. This was completely unexpected. What was she going to do in a village too small to even show on a map?

– No! No! A thousand times no, mom!

– Sit down so we can talk properly.

– I am not going anywhere! You are trying to get rid of me, aren’t you? You’ve sent away my dad and now it’s my turn, is that it? Are you trying to declare the Republic of Nilgün in this house mom?

Ilay ran away to her room without waiting for a response. Sensing the tension, Ginger followed her… Her mother was left alone at the table. She started thinking about ways to convince her. She was worried about her daughter getting stuck on wrong ideas. Like just now… Who would want to get rid of their child? Ilay knew very well that her parents separated amicably but she couldn’t help but blame her mother in her anger. Ms Nilgün had to stop her daughter’s line of thinking before it settled. She was considering asking Ilay’s father for help. Maybe she would listen to him.

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose on Indian Children’s Literatures: ‘Translations Are a Must’

Most of the children’s literature that makes its way from India to other English-language markets was originally written in English. Yet there is also a broad and compelling range of children’s literature written in India’s major languages. Jaya Bhattacharji Rose — an independent international publishing consultant and columnist based in New Delhi — answers a few questions for #WorldKidLit Month on children’s literature in Indian languages.jaya_bhattacharji-300x300

Could you tell us a little about the publishing industry that has grown up around children’s literature in major Indian languages (for instance Bangla, Malayalam, Marathi, Tamil, Kannada) and how it is different from the publishing industry for English-language children’s literature?

Jaya Bhattacharji Rose: Traditionally, the regional-language markets for children’s literature has thrived due to the robustness of the oral tradition of storytelling and later with selfpublishing. The languages you list are also amongst the oldest in the world and have had their own scripts for centuries. By being familiar with a script for so long, these languages have created their own literary tradition of stories, too. You will find examples in Bengali such as Vidyasagar’s “Borno Porichoy” (1854) and “Faster Fene” in Marathi most definitely. I am sure in the others, too. I have come across children’s series in Assam that were first self-published during British India and continue to stay in print even now by the family of the author.

Having said that there are many initiatives in recent years that have helped increase readership particularly amongst school children. From multiple book fairs in regional languages attracting huge crowds and unprecedented sales to direct marketing initiatives in schools such as children’s publisher Scholastic India. They organize  book exhibitions in 1000s of schools across the country which highlight a mix of Indian and international authors. It helps in exposure to Indian authors as the publishers organize author interactions and workshops with the school kids. In fact earlier this month they released a report on reading amongst kids and it shows magnificently how reading is on the upswing.

There are many financial (and intangible) benefits to having one’s literature appear in English — festival invites, eligibility for prizes. Could a children’s literature author who wrote only in Tamil or Kannada make a (modest) living at it? What about a translator of children’s literature?

JBR: I doubt if a children’s author, especially one who publishes in the regional languages, will be able to survive on the income made from books. It won’t be possible unless they are very prolific and sell well.

Books in the regional language are usually very low priced, sometimes as low as 50 cents to a $1 / book. Translators too are not very well paid. Over and over again I hear that many of the translators, especially from one Indian language to the next or from English to a regional language, continue to do their work as a labour of love and hand over manuscripts for “free” to the publisher or invest in the project with their own money. But if a translator publishes from a regional language to English there is the likelihood of them being offered a contract and earning some royalties. They may even be lucky to get some of their books in English reprinted abroad, but even superstar authors like Ruskin Bond, Paro Anand, Ranjit Lal and Sudha Murty do not get the same mileage abroad as say Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Meg Rosoff, Malorie Blackman and David Almond may attract.

Ruskin Bond is a kind of crowd-puller somewhat like J K Rowling. Even though 82 years old — Ruskin Bond’s first editor was legendary publisher of Rushdie and Naipaul Diana Athill — he has remained a hyper-local author. He and many others like him need to be read far and wide. In more than thirty years of writing, Paro Anand has been a prolific writer, yet she has only managed to sell the foreign language rights to one young adult novel. Sudha Murty, who is the wife of the co-founder of Infosys, began writing a few years ago for children and she is hugely popular. Ranjit Lal, who has more than 35 books for young adults to his name and some of them absolutely stupendous, such as Faces in the Water, about female infanticide, or Our Nana was a Nutcase, about a beloved grandfather deteriorating due to Alzheimers, has been unable to sell translation rights outside India.

So there is little chance of a translator of children’s fiction surviving on the income made from such an exercise.  Some translators exist like Deepa Agarwal who has translated a classic Hindi story Chandrakanta into English. She is herself a children’s writer who has a fair number of novels and anthologies to her name. Or even Sampurna Chattarji and Arunava Sinha who have translated children’s literature from Bengali but they are passionate about the project and do not depend upon translations as a source of living.

Some will argue: But there are already Indian authors writing children’s literature in English, so we do not need translations. What would you say to that?

JBR: Indian authors writing in English are a very different crowd. Their subjects, novel plot, characterization and treatments are far removed from the literature in the regional languages. From what I hear about literature in other languages there is a very close connect to the local culture and references. Also it resonates with the reader at many levels since it is a shared history and tradition. Of the writers in the English language, they are doing formidable work with experimentation, creating new literature and sometimes borrowing from Indian mythology or being inspired by the fantasy and horror of other geographies. A newly launched children’s publishing house, Duckbill Books, is publishing only in English but it is a fantastic range of original literature.

Yet translations are a must. They open a gateway to a different culture albeit within the same country. India being a subcontinent is a market within markets with very distinct linguistic and cultural identities. So apart from just bringing in diversity into the literary tradition of children’s literature, translations are a wonderful way of sensitizing children to others. Having said that, there are a few children’s publishers like National Book Trust, Children’s Book Trust, Tulika Books, Eklavya, Pratham Books, Storyweaver, Katha and Karadi Tales that are doing phenomenal work in translating children’s literature. It is a two-pronged strategy. They commission original stories and simultaneously translate it into a bunch of other Indian languages or they translate an existing text into English.

There are some Hindi publishing houses that have a list of translations. For instance Rajkamal Prakashan, Vani Prakashan, Rajpal & Sons, Manjul Publishing House (which has translated Harry Potter into Hindi) and many more. Then there are publishing houses that have a dedicated translations section on their children’s list but from regional languages into English such as Hachette India, Puffin Books, and Red Turtle.

What are some of your favorites among the new books for young readers that you’ve seen? What do you like about them?

JBR: There are a few authors such as Devashish Makhija, Arefa Tehsin, Payal Kapadia, Shalini Srinivasan, Anushka Ravishankar, Anil Menon, Sowmya Rajendran, Niveditha Subramaniam, Devdutt Pattanaik, Andaleeb Wajid, Windham Campbell 2016 awardee Jerry Pinto, Jaya Madhavan, Nina Sabnani, Manjula Padmanabhan, Revathi Suresh, Mathangi Subramanian, Vinayak Varma, Manisha Chowdhury and Zainab Sulaiman. I am sure I am forgetting some!

Are there language- or state-specific characteristics to the established literatures that you can point to? For instance I’d say generally Japanese children’s literature has more dream-like and fantastical qualities, and Palestinian children’s literature is less afraid of embracing politics. And in American children’s literature nobody likes vegetables.

JBR: I doubt it, since it is impossible to generalize about Indian children’s literature. Depending upon the region they hail from there are strong regional characteristics. It is only recently that children’s literature is developing a stronger voice, otherwise it tends to be softer in tone than the young adult literature found internationally. It is not very bold but it is getting there if some of the stories being lined up for publication next year get there.

How can publishers find the best of Marathi or Tamil or Kannada children’s literature? And the most popular? Are there best-seller lists for children’s books? Prizes that are particularly strong?

JBR: The only way to do so is by asking the Indian publishers who are at Frankfurt Book Fair or visiting their websites. Some local bookstores and newspapers may consider listing the bestseller titles, but rarely are these as influential as say the NYT children’s list. The only noteworthy prize for children’s literature is the Crossword Prize but even that has become infrequent for lack of funds.