31 Days, 31 Lists: 2018 Bilingual Books for Kids
Let’s define our terms a bit here. When I say that something is a “bilingual book” I can mean one of two things. I might be saying that the book contains two languages in the text or I might mean that the book was simultaneously published alongside another version in another language. Oh, and there’s a third possibility. Sometimes a book in English will be published in a new language in a subsequent year. I count them all! As far as I can ascertain, the more the merrier.
With that in mind, here are the bilingual title I found particularly toothsome in 2018. Each and every one quite cool. Each and every one a keeper.
2018 Bilingual Children’s Books
Alma and How She Got Her Name / Alma y cómo obtuvo su nombre by Juana Martinez-Neal
Who loves Alma? Everybody! Everybody! Why just a couple days ago it won the Bookstagram Choice Award for Best Own Voice Picture Book of 2018. Simultaneously published in both English and Spanish editions, I’ve been very impressed by this little title. My librarians rave about how well it does in storytimes, so you know what that means, don’t you? We have a bilingual English/Spanish storytime winner on our hands!
El Chupacabras by Adam Rubin, ill. Crash McCreery
The other day the Smithosonian released their own list of the Ten Best Children’s Books of 2018. It’s one of the more peculiar lists of the year I’ve seen and, I’m sorry, but I was honestly baffled by a lot of the choices. What I didn’t disagree with, however, was the inclusion of this peppy, funny, strange little title. I won’t lie to you. I kinda, sorta adore it. It hasn’t gotten a lot of attention this year, and I think that’s a pity because McCreery’s art is just the greatest thing you ever did see. But the really original thing here is how they did the dual English/Spanish language translations. Half of any given sentence will be in English and half in Spanish. Then the sentence is repeated but with the other half in the other language. It takes some getting used to (which may account for why people haven’t been talking this up as much as they should) but once you’re in, you’re in. Take a gander. I think you’ll be impressed.
The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America / La Matadragones (La Matadragones): Cuentos de latinoamérica by Jaime Hernandez, F. Isabel Campoy & Alma Flor Ada
I’ll save the my fullest praise for when I include this book on my Fairytale / Folktale / Religious Tale round-up . . . or should I put it on my Graphic Novels and Comics list? Why not all three? It more than deserves it. Three classic folktales get a kick in the pants from not just Hernandez (whom you might know from Love and Rockets) but also from F. Isabel Campoy and Alma Flor Ada, who guarantee that the tellings are spot on. This is a must have.
Galápagos Girl / Galapagueña by Marsha Diane Arnold, ill. Angela Dominguez
Bilingual picture book biographies that are about someone other than Frida Kahlo are actually a bit on the rare side. In this title the early life of biologist Valentina Cruz is brought to life. Now when I consider a book for this list, I’m hampered by my own inability to judge the authenticity and accuracy of the translation. That’s why it’s nice to have professional journals out there that do it for me. Horn Book had this to say on the matter: “The book adopts the English-to-Spanish bilingual model throughout (including back matter), and translation of the text and its grammar are concise and accurate, making the story accessible for English-speakers and English-language learners alike.” Sold!
The Hummingbird Sings and Dances: Latin American Lullabies and Nursery Rhymes by Mariana Ruiz Johnson, recordings by Grupo Cántaro
Lovely, right? So this is a little book that comes with a CD. The company Secret Mountain sort of specializes in these types of recordings/literary releases, and sometimes they can have a hard time finding their audiences. Let us consider, once more, the needs of a bilingual Spanish/English storytime. Wouldn’t it be pleasant to have some music to sing to and follow along with in a book? Voila. Here you’ll find 19 classic children’s songs from across Central and South America and the Caribbean. I can attest that they also work nicely in the home as well. Good music. Great art. A nice package.
Gilda La Oveja Gigante / Gilda the Giant Sheep by Emilio Urberuaga, translated by Ben Dawlatly
A simultaneous release of English and a Spanish language versions. Now look at the cover. If the image of a gigantic sheep perched on top of a New York skyscraper isn’t making your heart go pitter-pat then perhaps you need to reexamine your life choices. The tale is about what happens when you’re a victim of your own success. Gilda is too good at what she does. She produces so much milk and wool that her shepherds have grown exhausted. They consider selling her for mutton, and that’s when she takes to the hills. Apparently this book was first published in Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands around 25 years ago. Glad it finally made its way here at last.
La Frontera: El viaje con papá – My Journey with Papa by Deborah Mills & Alfredo Alva, ill. Claudia Navarro
Ah. This one is bilingual on the page, with both English and Spanish text available in its first printings. Timely, it follows the fictionalized nonfiction tale of its author Alfredo Alva, as he and his father made their way from Mexico to the United States in 1980. Back matter includes information on immigration, a history of the U.S. and Mexican border, and photos of Alva’s family and hometown. SLJ called it a “must-have”. I don’t think they’re wrong about that.
How Are You? ¿Cómo estás? by Angela Dominguez
Funny that this book should appear on my list just after La Frontera. The two books really couldn’t be more different in terms of text complexity. Where La Frontera requires older child readers to take in not only the language but the depth of the writing and prose, Dominguez pens a peppy tale for the youngest of readers. And Horn Book Magazine made a keen observation about the layout that really stuck with me. They said, “While the majority of the book follows the English-to-Spanish bilingual model, the placement of the type doesn’t insist that we read it that way, giving readers the pleasant task of choosing which language to read first.”. A great readaloud as well.
Kiss by Kiss / Ocêtôwina: A Counting Book for Families / Peyak oskan ohcih-Akitah-Masinahikan by Richard Van Camp and Mary Cardinal Collins
I’m sorry, you didn’t think I’d forget to include this fantastic board book after I already included it on the best board book list, did you? Now let me let you in on a little secret. Have you noticed one thing that a lot of the bilingual books on today’s list have in common? They’re almost entirely Spanish! With the exception of three books it’s wall to wall Spanish language translations. Not a bad thing but it would be nice to see more languages. More Chinese, more Korean, heck even more Russian would be welcome. Fortunately, books like this one give me hope that in the future our options will be broader.
Little Sunny Sunshine / Sol Solecito by Susie Jaramillo
Another board book winner! Now when Nick Jr. picked up the Canticos books for their programming I’ll admit that I was surprised. Delighted, of course, but surprised. Each one of the books in the Canticos series is simple and bilingual. Sometimes their formats make them a little difficult to circulate, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a nice Reference copy on the side, right?
Miguel y su Valiente Caballero: El Joven Cervantes Suena a Don Quijote by Margarita Engle, translated by Teresa Mlawer and Georgina Lazaro, ill. Raul Colon
Here we go! Remember when I mentioned that sometimes a book doesn’t get an edition in another language until at least a year has passed? Initially the book Miguel’s Brave Knight came out in 2017, telling its tale of young Cervantes, long before he’d pen Don Quixote. Kirkus said of it, “ the Spanish translation by Mlawer and Lázaro beautifully captures the rhythm and language of the original”. Excellent!
La Nevera de Maddi escrito por Lois Brandt, ilustrado por Vin Vogel
It only took a year for Miguel’s Brave Knight to see itself in Spanish. In the case of Maddie’s Fridge, it took four years. When the book initially came out I was pleased to see a story that took the time to talk about contemporary poverty and hunger in a realistic way from a kid’s point of view. The nice thing is that the book doesn’t patronize Maddie/Maddi at all. I’ve no doubt that for a kid where the fridge does remain empty a lot of the time, it can be infuriating to encounter books where people load you down with their pity. Not so this book and much of that can be credited to Vin Vogel’s art. A translation that was a long time coming.
Las Princesas más valientes / The Truly Brave Princesses by Dolores Brown, ill. Sonja Wimmer, text edited by Eva Burke and Rebecca Packard
I am so in love with this book, I cannot even tell you. Simultaneously released in both English and Spanish, if you’re a regular reader of my blog you may remember the cover. I mentioned it in my 2018 round-up of children’s books that discuss and feature characters with Down syndrome (a rarity, even here in 2018). But this book has so many things to recommend it. The title is actually a bit misleading. It promises you princesses, but the only true princesses here are a butt-kicking women who live their ordinary lives in their individual awesome ways. Single moms, the differently abled, the exhausted ones working multiple jobs, it’s here. A good book for discussing what “Truly Brave” can mean.
See and Say / Guarda e Parla / Mir Y Habla / Regarde et Parle by Antonio Frasconi
Technically this book shouldn’t appear on this list. Not because it was already featured on my list of reprinted picture books a couple days ago. Not by half. No, more because it features not merely one language but FOUR. The name of today’s list is “bilingual”, which seems to be aiming too low for the likes of Mr. Frasconi. I won’t beat to death the fact that the art has that kicking 60s vibe to it with its limited color palette. Chances are, you’ve seen it for yourself.
The Snow and the Sun by Antonio Frasconi
Another Frasconi title. This one would actually pair quite nicely with the previously mentioned The Hummingbird Sings and Dances. In both cases you’ve a song that is paired with a book of some sort. The difference, of course, is that the Hummingbird book came with a CD. We would have also have accepted a free download, of course.
We Are Grateful / Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, ill. Frané Lessac
It’s been gratifying to find this book on so many lists this year. Particularly around Thanksgiving time, I found it to be mentioned quite a lot. I’m not telling you anything new when I say that we don’t really have that many children’s books in Cherokee in our library. In this book the text will include several Cherokee words and then there will be a line of text on the bottom with each work as it’s written in the English language with a phonetic pronunciation and its definition. Great art and a lot of keen backmatter (Glossary, Author’s Note, complete Cherokee syllabary, etc.). Your library is incomplete without it.
Interested in the other lists? Here’s the schedule of everything being covered this month. Enjoy!
December 1 – Board Books & Pop-Ups
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 Books for Kids
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – Translated Picture Books
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
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
Filed under: 31 Days 31 Lists
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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