31 Days, 31 Lists: Day Twelve – 2017 Translated Picture Books
Initially I think I was going to call this list “2017 Imports” but that was a bit on the vague side. And was I really going to include all the Australian, British, Irish, Canadian, etc. books I admired this year? Seems a bit much. No, let’s instead offer an homage to the delightful translations of 2017. They’re difficult to pull off and difficult to sell but often reveal true beauty unavailable here in the States. Unique voices, if you will. With the full and present knowledge that there’s bound to be some overlap with the CaldeNott list, and the understanding that I’m only sometimes able to locate the name of the translator . . . here it goes!
2017 Translated Picture Books
Bertolt by Jacques Goldstyn
And right off the bat I include a book from Canada. But wait! I have good reason! This book was originally published in FRENCH in Canada, so I can include it here. Admittedly, I’m sort of straining to get it on here, but how can you blame me? The book reminds me of Sempé at his most sublime. It’s a quiet little comment on death and how you go about grieving when, in some ways, the person (or, in this case, tree) sort of remains?
The Blue Hour by Isabelle Simler
Again with the translations from the French. I’ve already waxed rhapsodic over the art in this title, so today I’ll just say that as imports go, you can’t help but want to say, “MORE OF THIS, PLEASE!!!”
Father’s Road by Ji-yun Jang, ill. Tan Jun, edited by Joy Cowley
I’ve always told publishers that brown books don’t circulate in the library. You want to make something a shelf sitter? Give it a sepia-toned jacket. But in spite of that, I was very taken with this tale of the Silk Road long ago. It’s honestly a great adventure, harrowing and beautiful by turns. Don’t be turned off by the brown. It’s worth the journey.
Feather by Remi Courgeon, translated by Claudia Zoe Bedrick
A favorite of both the New York Times Best Illustrated list for 2017, as well as New York Public Library’s annual 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing list (which is not its name anymore but old habits die hard). And hey, any book that empowers girls to this degree must be doing something right.
Me Tall, You Small by Lilli L’Arronge, translated by Madeleine Stratford
The Germans are doing very well this year! Winning Kirkus Prizes one minute. Writing funnier and funnier books the next. Even without a new Sebastian Meschenmoser (look forward to It’s Springtime, Mr. Squirrel in 2018) or Torben Kuhlmann in 2017, we’ve a couple new names to fill in the gaps.
Mrs. White Rabbit by Gilles Bachelet
If you haven’t laid eyes on this lovely French import, you’re in for a treat. Particularly if you’re a fan of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Told by the disgruntled wife of the White Rabbit, we get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the daily goings on in Wonderland. Best of all, Bachelet stays true to the time period, so it’s all completely Victorian. The attention to detail on these pages is worth the price of admission alone.
My Pictures After the Storm by Éric Veillé, translated by Daniel Hahn
As far as I’m concerned, I can never include this book on enough lists. As a reminder, read the Horn Book article interview with the translator on how one goes about translating humor. Spoiler Alert: It’s harder than it looks.
On a Magical Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna, translated by Jill Davis
This French import was interesting to me, above and beyond its keen translation and lovely art, because it didn’t come from a teeny tiny publisher. Nope. Harper Collins took a chance on Alemagna which, naturally, begs the question of how the heck that even happened. Large publishers aren’t very good at shopping overseas unless they’re fishing for the next Herve Tullet or Harry Potter. Quiet contemplative books about having outdoor adventures? As rare as diamonds in the sea.
Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake
True story: I was showing some folks various covers of 2017 books the other day and when I got to this book cover someone gasped. Why? Because when she looked at this she thought, if only for a second, that it was the demogorgon from Stranger Things. Gleep! Straight from Japan, I maintain that it’s also one of the funniest books of the year. Clearly this situation is universal. Stuck kids of the world, unite!
Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) by Henriqueta Cristina, ill. Yara Kono, translated by Lyn Miller-Lachmann
A Portugese import this time. Check out the post The Time Has Come for Three Balls of Wool (Can Change the World) written by the book’s translator to give you a better sense of what it’s really about.
Under the Umbrella by Catherine Buquet, ill. Marion Arbona
Another Canadian import translated from the French. This one is almost hauntingly lovely. My librarians, much to my surprise, were absolutely gaga over it too. Consider pairing it with How the Grinch Stole Christmas for an interesting storytime comparison.
What What What? by Arata Tendo, ill. Ryoji Arai, translated by David Boyd
Strangely, this book has somehow eschewed any and all professional reviews in 2017, which is insane because . . . well, guess what this book is about? If you think it’s about how a person’s greatest flaw can also be their greatest strength that would be partially correct. You’d also be right if you said it was about the dangers of child abuse and how sometimes only kids can see when a situation is truly wrong. Here’s some advice on this Japanese import – do not skim it. Read it cover to cover. I made a preliminary mistake of just glancing through it at first, and it did not go well. But when I sat down and read it through, I realized how it was taking a very very very difficult subject, and not only making it child-friendly but empowering as well. Try it. There is NOTHING else like it out there today.
Where Is Grandma? My Trip to the Hospital by Peter Schössow
This German translation is very German. So much so that it actually has a Waiting for Godot joke in it (which, I know, isn’t from Germany but they’re the only country I can think of that would casually reference it in a book for 6-year-olds). It has other jokes as well that, as an American reader, I knew I simply wasn’t getting. Does that impede the reading process if you’re a kid? Not even. In this book a child wanders through a massive hospital looking for his grandmother. Now, as an American reader I have been conditioned to believe that when he finds her she’ll be at death’s door or something. Not the case. Grandma (who is relatively young and pretty dang healthy) just hurt her arm a little. And she is NOT pleased that her grandson abandoned his Kurdish caretaker to go on his little solo jaunt either. Love this book. Strange and odd and interesting.
You Can’t Be Too Careful! by Roger Mello, translated by Daniel Hahn
I’m beginning to recognize the translators’ names a little more. In this case, Hahn! The same guy who did My Pictures After the Storm! Now of all the translations here today, this one is my favorite. Why? Because it’s the most ambitious! More so than the child abuse from Japan or the Estragon and Vladimir jokes from Germany? You bet. Because this book takes a story and then runs it backwards in such a way that you’re left reeling as a result. Definitely for older readers. The ones who will truly appreciate what Mello is getting away with here.
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Wordless Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – CaldeNotts
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Poetry Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Comics for Kids
December 21 – Older Funny Books
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Fiction Reprints
December 30 – Middle Grade Novels
December 31 – Picture Books
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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