31 Days, 31 Lists: 2020 Bilingual Children’s Books
Did you happen to see Chicago Public Library and New York Public Library‘s recent lists of the best children’s books of 2020? Did you notice how both lists contained large numbers of Spanish language children’s titles? Not only is that a great idea, but one gets the impression that the systems came up with the idea independent of one another.
I’m no gargantuan system. I’m just one person. A person who doesn’t speak another language particularly well. Even so, I can still celebrate those books originally published in English and now released in another language, as well as books released simultaneously in both another language and English.
Today, let’s celebrate books unafraid to express themselves as widely as possible.
2020 Bilingual Children’s Books
La casa de algún día / The One Day House (La casa de algún día / The One Day House)
In 2017 Charlesbridge produced this Ezra Jack Keats Award winning picture book. In this book, a kid named Wilson dreams of all the ways he can help improve his friend Gigi’s house so that she’ll be warm, comfortable, and happy. Since moving to the Chicago area I’ve had a radar installed in my cranium that allows me to detect any and all children’s books with a possible local connection. So imagine my delight when lo and behold this book plops in my lap. Julia Durango is a resident of Ottawa, IL and this book was inspired by various Illinois organizations. It looks good, it reads great, and it has a connection to my adopted home state. What’s not to love?
Cuando Levantas la Mirada / When You Look Up by Decur, translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts
Behind a secret door in an old desk, Lorenzo finds a notebook filled with strange and fantastical stories. This book is best described as a story of a life, and the joy of being found. Okay, I gotta warn you guys that I am just goofy over this Argentinian import. You know how some imported books have their own internal logic and can be a bit difficult for American audiences to parse? Not this. Punctuated by dreamlike imagery I found the whole story incredibly moving. I loved how the art styles change between the real world and the one in the notebook. I loved the lesson about being found. I loved how all the elements in the book, even the broken light in the chandelier, appear at the end and have their own significance. This may be one of the loveliest comics I’ve read in a long long time. Expect to see it on other lists this month.
Princess Jill Never Sits Still / La Princesa Sara No Para by Margarita del Mazo, ill. José Fragoso
There’s something I just find so enticing about unapologetically crazed characters. Princess Jill isn’t one for sitting still (something that more than one child and more than one adult will relate to). She’s not a bad kid, she just has an excess of energy. Swinging on chandeliers is the norm here, not the exception. Her distraught parents seek to cure her until, by the end, a fellow pair of royals with a similar kiddo point out how that energy can be used. The ending falls a tiny bit flat (it ends with a hard slam on a gag, rather than wrapping things up gently afterwards) but you’ll hardly care after all the chaos that came before. Buy an English edition or a Spanish edition, as you please.
Put Yourself in My Shoes / Ponte en mi lugar by Susanna Iser, ill. Mylène Rigaudie
Personal responsibility is an exceedingly difficult concept to teach to adults, let alone 5-year-olds. However, I remember with concrete clarity an old Sesame Street short from when I was a kid that showed what the Earth would look like if everyone littered. Iser’s book isn’t about environmental responsibility directly, but it’s all part and parcel when you’re talking about what we owe one another. In this story a Cricket sees the misfortune of others and, because these don’t affect him directly, just sort of goes his merry way. You can see where that leads. Come to think of it, maybe this is a COVID book! Social responsibility is, after all, the name of the game in 2020. Isern grew up in the Spanish Pyrenees and Rigaudie appears to be French. The book, naturally, works for everyone, and it’s nice to see that there’s an English edition and a Spanish edition out there.
Sharuko El Arqueólogo Peruano / Peruvian Archaeologist Julio C. Tello by Monica Brown, ill. Elisa Chavarri
I was listening tonight to a bit of comedian Sam Jay’s special on visiting a huge museum in Europe for the first time, and her dawning realization that a good chunk of the stuff in there was stolen from all over the world. It’s the kind of thinking that isn’t exactly new, but in our current era feels more important than ever to examine. We’re so used to stories of archaeologists going into other people’s countries, digging up cool stuff, and then taking it back with them. So do we just forswear archaeology as a whole? Monica Brown comes up with a solution. Why not celebrate the archaeologists with specialized knowledge, who study the areas where they lived, make great discoveries, and keep them local? As Brown says, “As an Indigenous Peruvian and Quechua speaker, he told the story of Peru’s past from a Native perspective.” Peruvian illustrator Elisa Chavarri not only brings his story to life with great sweeping colors and details but because the book is entirely bilingual, she has to make space for a great deal of text. That she manages so well is a testament to the Art Direction and her own skill. Be sure you check out my interview with editor Louise May of Lee & Low about the logistics of creating bilingual books like this for kids.
Te Amo, Bebé / Love You, Baby by Stephan Lomp
The “Indestructibles” are back! When I had babies I was impressed by the degree to which your average Indestructible title could take a licking and keep on ticking. They’re as light as paperbacks, but even when they’re horribly abused they still get the job done. Board books are, as a rule, gross. These books aren’t. As for the content, Lomp’s big-eyed cartoonish pairings of children and caregivers in different animal forms is mesmerizing. Go, babies, go!
Voy a Portarme Muy Bien by Chris Haughton
Awww! Does it get any cuter than a book translated to “I’m Going to Behave Very Well”? If Haughton isn’t already a hit in other nations, he’s bound to be now.
Who Ate My Fruit? / Quién se comió mi fruta? by Canizales
Though quite similar to Who Ate My Cakes? / Quién se comió mi pastel?, I vastly prefer this particular fruit-based lift-the-flap board book in the end. And why not? One of the nice things about it is that when you lift the flap of the partially eaten fruit, you get a wildly colored and unexpected animal munching away. Then there’s the fact that I always feel a little disconcerted when other characters in a book merrily steal the main character’s lunch. Maybe it comes from having little siblings, but it rankles. Fortunately, in this book the creatures turn the fruits they took into a lovely fruit salad made of all the things you saw before. As clever as it is delicious.
Witchy Things / Cosas de Bruja by Mariasole Brusa, ill. Marta Sevilla
I gotta say, I like a book where a boy’s love of hairdressing isn’t the entire focus of the book, but remains just a neat detail that aids in the plot. In this book a witch with blue hair is mortified by her looks. It takes a clever kid with talent in his fingertips to make her look exactly the way SHE wants to.
Yo Quiero Mi Sombrero by Jon Klassen
Honestly, I’m a little ashamed that it never occurred to me before to check and see if this was in Spanish. Apparently this is the first time it’s been translated! Better news still, all the “hat” books will be translated. If not now then soon. How’s that for a picker-upper?
Want to see other lists? Check out what happened this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Reprints & Adaptations
December 3 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Funny Picture Books
December 7 – CaldeNotts
December 8 – Picture Book Reprints
December 9 – Math Books for Kids
December 10 – Bilingual Books
December 11 – Books with a Message
December 12 – Fabulous Photography
December 13 – Translated Picture Books
December 14 – Fairy Tales / Folktales / Religious Tales
December 15 – Wordless Picture Books
December 16 – Poetry Books
December 17 – Unconventional Children’s Books
December 18 – Easy Books & Early Chapter Books
December 19 – Comics & Graphic Novels
December 20 – Older Funny Books
December 21 – Science Fiction Books
December 22 – Fantasy Books
December 23 – Informational Fiction
December 24 – American History
December 25 – Science & Nature Books
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Books for Older Readers
December 29 – Best Audiobooks for Kids
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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