We love reading children’s books in translation. Most of the children’s books that reach our shores from elsewhere come from Western Europe and we try to get our hands on as many as we can. Picture books translated from other languages tend to have a different “flavor” than American picture books. Once you start reading them you may notice that topics may be more sophisticated and philosophical, that the humor is wry and quirky, the narration less earnest. (These are obviously generalizations.)
I love literature from other countries and introducing my children to different writing styles and sensibilities and you will too, especially if you pick up one of these fantastic picture books in translation to read aloud to your kids!
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Picture Books Translated into English
Letters From Bear
by Gauthier David, illustrated by Marie Caudry
I have a soft spot for epistolary stories and I adore Letters from Bear, translated from the French. Bear’s friend Bird has flown south and Bear is determined to travel to meet up with her. Bear documents the journey through daily letters but a surprise is waiting when he reaches the destination. Wonderful.
The Fox on the Swing
by Evelina Daciutè, illustrated by Aušra Kiudulaite
Translated from the Lithuanian, this is a whimsical tale of hope, friendship and happiness. Paul and his family live in a tree in a park and one day when Paul is on his way home from the bakery he meets a fox on a swing. Thus begins a rather interesting series of encounters with the philosophizing fox who creates just the right conditions for Paul to consider the nature of happiness and friendship. I love this book for encouraging emotional intelligence because the complex nature of the dialogue really challenges kids to consider the themes touched on in the story.
by Michaël Escoffier, illustrated by Kris Di Giacomo
It is absolutely impossible not to laugh at this book! Especially the ending! Your kids will be rolling on the floor. Seriously. I don’t want to give it away so let’s just say it involves a chameleon, a wash tub, a rabbit, a conscience and hole-y briefs. If that’s not a recipe for hilarity I don’t know what is. Even my stoic husband cracked a smile and that’s all the evidence you need.
Jacob’s Fantastic Flight
by Philip Waechter
(Pub. date Oct 2020) In this German import, Jacob has a very special talent. He can fly. When his parents decide to take a trip, Jacob decides to fly instead of accompany them on the airplane. Along the way he makes friends with the birds and they have a wonderful adventure. Waechter tells the story with a lighthearted humor and fun cartoon illustrations. A book your kids are sure to love.
The Day Saida Arrived
by Susana Gómez Redondo, illustrated by Sonja Wimmer
Originally published in Spain, The Day Saida Arrived is a touching tale of friendship. The narrator, a classmate of Saida’s, describes Saida’s arrival. Saida has immigrated from Morocco and only speaks Arabic. The two children make friends through their shared desire to communicate. Their attempts range from whimsical, looking for words “beneath the park benches” to poetic, “I painted a hug for her,” to practical, “writing them out on the blackboard.” The two friends enjoy the process of learning each other’s languages, cementing their friendship and becoming determined to “throw overboard unwelcome words like border.” A glorious tribute to the power of friendship to break down barriers and the delights of diversity.
When Spring Comes to the DMZ
by Uk-Bae Lee
This gorgeously illustrated picture book introduces readers to a unique landscape with which most western children are not familiar. Uk-Bae Lee takes readers on a journey through the seasons in the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, describing the abundance of flora and fauna that inhabit the landscape. Each season a grandfather climbs to a lookout point to observe the natural phenomena. At the end of the book the final pages show a gate and the pages fold out to display a wonderful landscape waiting to be explored. At several points in the story, the author reminds us that the DMZ is also a place where soldiers train and takes note of the barbed wire surrounding the area. A really wonderful book that will inspire a lot of conversations with your kids!
Jerome By Heart
by Thomas Scotto, illustrated by Olivier Tallec
I loved this book! Raphael is great friends with Jerome. His parents don’t really understand the friendship, but Raphael loves the way he and Jerome laugh together, the way his friend defends him, and the stories he tells. Raphael says it is easy to love Jerome. The book is so flexible because readers can acknowledge the importance of having caring, same-gender friendships. Others will take away a subtle message about acceptance of LGBTQ relationships. Overall, the tone of the story is one of joy. Lovely.
The Lion and the Bird
by Marianne Dubuc
In this wonderful picture book by French Canadian Dubuc, a friendship that blossoms after a lion begins to care for a wounded bird. The bird is unable to migrate with his flock, but he spends the winter engaged in fun activities with his new friend. When the flock returns the bird must join them, but later he is able to reunite with his friend. The illustrations are utterly charming.
The Bathing Costume, or, The Worst Vacation of My Life
by Charlotte Moundlic, illustrated by Olivier Tallec
Eight-year old Myron narrates his vacation at his grandparents. He is accompanied by his older brother and cousins who like to push him around. With a straight-forward storytelling style that is actually quite humorous, Myron tells us about how he has to wear a terribly-fitting bathing suit and the antics that ensue. The vacation, which starts out not very promising turns out to have a few positive highlights, however, and Myron gains a dose of self-confidence.
Coppernickel, The Invention
by Wouter van Reek
Coppernickel the bird and Tungsten the dog decide to invent an elderberry-picking machine. Coppernickel draws a diagram of his invention which fills his work surface and starts to spill over until he is caught in his own invention! Tungsten’s invention is a bit more sedate: a fork on a stick. This book was a bit of crazy, silly fun and my son really liked pouring over the diagrams to see how the invention would work.
by Øyvind Torseter
I simply adore super-quirky books like this strangely philosophical gem from Norwegian author, Torseter. One morning, our protagonist wakes up to discover a hole in his home. Oddly, it moves around and how the hole got there is as equally mysterious as its behavior. Readers will love the die cut hole that goes through the book and watching how Torseter brilliantly uses it in his illustrations. Don’t miss this one!
KoKo and Bo
by Lisen Adbage
This a such a funny little picture book, translated from the Swedish. Koko, a child with some seriously windswept hair, loves to respond to Bo’s reasonable requests with, “No, I don’t want to!” Bo, however, has the patience of a saint. Bo always replies “okay” and allows events to unfold with their natural consequence. This a charmingly quirky story about two people nurturing their own sense of freedom and learning to trust each other. Parents, as well as kids, will have much to think about.
I Really Want to See You Grandma
by Taro Gomi
I love this joyous book about the thrill of going to visit grandma. Yumi and her grandma are so excited about seeing each other that they race to the other’s house–at the same time! They may cross en route, but they eventually reunite. So fun!
On a Magical Do Nothing Day
by Beatrice Alemagna
Any child who knows the glorious freedom that comes with screen-free boredom will recognize the jubilant tone of this book. The Italian author and illustrator, Beatrice Alemagna, has created a joyful tribute to getting outdoors to explore whatever comes one’s way. A girl’s mother insists she stop playing on a device and get outside no matter the dreary weather. The girl remains skeptical but finally gives into the magic of the natural world.
My Pictures After the Storm
by Eric Veillé
Veillé’s wry book is billed as a children’s book but the illustrations will delight adults as well. On each two page spread, Veillé draws and labels objects in their “before state” and then again in their “after state.” This is where things get fun. The conversations adults will have with their kids while they read this book are bound to be hilarious as they come up for explanations of the “after.”
by Jostein Gaarder, illustrated by Akin Duezakin
This is a small book with big questions. Delicate and lovely illustrations sit on one page, faced by important questions on the opposite page. Questions range from “why can we move our legs while thinking about something else?” to “what is my life about?” This book will start a conversation. Guaranteed.
Little Bear’s Big House
by Benjamin Chaud
I love this series of oversized books about Little Bear’s adventures! It is so much fun to try and find Little Bear in each enormous, detailed two page spread. In this installment Little Bear discovers an empty house and wants to go exploring. Highly recommended!