Following on from August as Women in Translation Month comes September, now World Kid Lit Month, so here again is a list of 10 recommendations from me. I thought this list would be easy to write as I’ve written a lot of reviews in the past, but I didn’t want to include things where the translator was unknown or uncredited, or too many by the same people, or too many that I haven’t read myself, and to include a good mix of languages and age groups etc. so it was more of a challenge than I expected!
Apple Cake and Baklava by Kathrin Rohmann, tr. Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Darf Publishers, 2018): the story of the friendship between Leila and Max – Leila is the new girl in Max’s class at school in Germany, and a refugee from the war in Syria. The story works really well as an opening to talk about some difficult issues and emotions. It deals with friendship, loneliness and homesickness and touches lightly on people-smuggling, war and the dangers faced by refugees. The recipes at the end are a nice touch too.
Happiness is a Watermelon on Your Head by Stella Dreis and Daniel Hahn (Phoenix Yard Books, 2012): this is a not-exactly-a-translation, a new English text by Danny to match “the fun and eccentricity of the pictures … a faithful translation of what I found in the pictures, rather than in the Portuguese words”. Find out what happens when the other villagers try to discover the source of Miss Jolly’s amazing happiness.
Press Here by Hervé Tullet, tr. Christopher Franceschelli, plays on the fact that all small children like pressing buttons and making things happen. It starts with a yellow dot and the instruction to “press here” and as you go through the pages, more buttons appear, the lights go on and off, the shapes are shaken up, slide down the page and so on.
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, tr. Anthea Bell (Chicken House, 2003): what would happen if villains who are normally safely confined within the parameters of their stories – where they are frightening enough, but harmless – could step out of the pages into reality? This is one for older children and teens. 12-year-old Meggie is an appealing character with strength and courage, and a love of books – something that shines through the story as a whole. (First in a trilogy, of which I haven’t read the other two…)
See also the Dragonrider series by the same author and translator: the story of a dragon named Firedrake, a brownie named Sorrel and a boy named Ben. Together they set off on an epic journey to find the long-lost valley where the last dragons can live in peace, undisturbed by human greed.
Little Red Hood by Marjolaine Leray, tr. Sarah Ardizzone, Phoenix Yard: a retelling, or reimagining, of Little Red Riding Hood. Both story and illustrations are pared down to the bare bones, making it deceptively simple. Little Red Hood is a scribble and a couple of lines, yet she has a huge depth of character and no intention of being eaten. Sarah Ardizzone’s text also perfectly captures the stubbornness of a small girl and the way children can throw you off course with a single well- or ill-timed personal observation.
The Letter for the King, by Tonke Dragt, tr. Laura Watkinson, Pushkin Children’s: a Dutch classic for 50 years finally available in English. A story of knights, chivalry and adventure that grips from the first page to the last, taking in friendship, loyalty and questions of what really matters in life. See also the sequel, The Secrets of the Wild Wood.
The Adventures of Shola, by Basque author Bernardo Atxaga, tr. Margaret Jull Costa, illus. Mikel Valverde, was so popular with Son 2 that he wanted to dress up as Shola for World Book Day one year… These are charming stories about a little dog with attitude, opinionated yet lovable and with big ideas.
As the boys are getting older, there are more books they read that I haven’t read myself…
Son 1 enjoyed the Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder series by Jo Nesbo, tr. Don Bartlett (Simon & Schuster) – the title pretty much speaks for itself. Humour and fart jokes for middle grade readers.
He was also (more recently) totally gripped by The Murderer’s Ape by Jakob Wegelius, tr. Peter Graves (Pushkin Children’s 2017), reviewed here by Book Trust:
Sally Jones is an engineer and loyal friend to Captain Koskela. She’s also an ape – and though she can’t talk, she’s smarter than a lot of people.
When Koskela is falsely accused of murder, Sally finds herself on her own in Lisbon, a beautiful city that is full of people that fear her. Fortunately, she finds fada-singer Ana and a local café owner to help her follow the clues to unravel the mystery surrounding who framed Koskela.
A brilliant adventure with a wonderful main character in Sally, The Murderer’s Ape is rich with lovable multi-dimensional characters that feel like family, and a European setting full of warmth and community. The black-and-white illustrations lend an extra hint of detail and luxury to this book, which has already won great acclaim.
Highly recommended as a book to share at bedtime, as it has plenty of appeal for adults, or for confident readers of ten or older, as it is quite long.
Finally, here are some lists of new and forthcoming children’s and YA books in translation to look out for: New in 2019: Global Children’s and Young Adult Books in English Translation
And an article focused on books from German: World Kid Lit: Diversity and Translation in Children’s Publishing, which features my own translation of Zippel: The Little Keyhole Ghost by Alex Rühle, illustrated by Axel Scheffler (Andersen Press), which will be out in October. All these sound great too: A Tiger Like Me by Michael Engler, illustrated by Joëlle Tourlonias and translated by Laura Watkinson (Amazon Crossing Kids); The Magic Story Shop by Katja Frixe, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp (Oneworld/Rock the Boat); A History of the World with the Women Put Back In by Kerstin Lücker and Ute Daenschel, translated by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Jessica West (The History Press); Castle in the Clouds by Kerstin Gier, translated by Romy Fursland (Macmillan); and Nobody Can Stop Don Carlo by Oliver Scherz, translated by Deirdre McMahon.