31 Days, 31 Lists: 2022 Translated Picture Books
2022 turned out to be quite the interesting year for those of us that love international children’s books in translation. The Batchelder Award, the only ALA award given out each year specifically to translated titles, is “awarded to a United States publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originating in a country other than the United States and in a language other than English and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States during the preceding year.” Only this year the committee revised a submission requirement for this 56-year-old award:
A publisher who wants a book considered for the Batchelder will have to credit the translator on the cover and title page.
As it just so happens, I have actually begun to see a small change in how books of this sort looked this year. It’s not universal, but I had a much easier time crediting the translators that you’ll see on today’s list.
Today, we celebrate books from places all over the world. Too often they cannot win major children’s book awards in the States. Even so, check out these remarkable stories. The kinds that are so good, you won’t want them to escape your notice. And in spite of the size of today’s list, these really are only the cream of the crop that I saw this year. There were many many more beyond these.
Interested in other lists of translated children’s books? Then check out these lists from previous years:
2022 Translated Picture Books
Albie On His Way by Jutta Bauer, translated by Matthias Wieland
Translation – German
Hard not to be charmed by the old story-within-a-story genre. Albie, a rodent-like critter, is dispatched by the king to carry a message to a neighboring kingdom. Trouble is, Albie has a tendency to get sidetracked. In the course of his journey he just cannot keep from helping people. Meanwhile, back at the castle we get a silent black-and-white sequence at the bottom of the pages showing what the king is up to all this time. Both storylines actually turn out to be equally engaging, which is no small feat. The king himself actually manages to get married and divorced over the court of 3-4 pages, amongst other things. By the end, Albie also somehow manages to come full-circle back to the original castle, but by this point the king just wants to hear about his adventures. Then everyone from Albie’s adventures ends up moving next door to the king, making this one of the sweetest little endings I ever did see. Check out the back endpapers that show Albie’s movements in a very Billy-from-Family-Circus kind of way.
Bear and the Whisper of the Wind by Marianne Dubuc, translated by VeroK Agency
Translation – French
Seven Impossible Things did a feature on this book earlier this year that is well worth visiting, if you have a chance. It’s a strange, slight, nice book that unnerved me in some quiet part of my soul. I don’t know why I found it unnerving, though. I suspect that it’s a me thing, since there’s nothing wrong with the storyline itself. The whole premise is that a bear has a life that it loves but one day it picks up everything and simply leaves. The wind has whispered “It’s time to try something new.” So without a backwards glance, he’s off. And in time, he establishes a new home and new friends and he is content. The book is unapologetic about the bear’s decisions. It’s so interesting to see a story about travel that isn’t about escape or even has a distinct destination in mind. There’s a place for it on our shelves, undoubtedly. For future wandering souls.
Bedtime for Bo by Kjersti Annesdater Skomsvold, ill. Mari Kanstad Johnsen, translated by Kari Dickson
Translation – Norwegian
Mari Kanstad Johnsen draws my favorite moms. Kind of an odd statement to make but I’m standing by it. 2022 has been a good year for picture books that perfectly define some key aspects of childhood. So on the one hand you have books like My Parents Won’t Stop Talking, which pretty much explains itself with its own title, and then on the other you have something like Bedtime for Bo, in which a kid delays bedtime through the careful application of acting like different animals. There’s a casual chaos to the house here that I really appreciated. The stuffed animals that somehow have completely taken over. The socks? They are strewn. There’s a partially eaten fruit on a plate on the floor next to the couch. All this together creates such an overwhelming sense of not just familiarity but also comfort in this book. Also, kudos to Dickson for this translation. It’s hard not be charmed when the book says the Bo has been doing “tumblesaults on the sofa”. All around, a good egg.
The Book that Kibo Wrote by Mariana Ruiz Johnson, ill. translated by Lawrence Schimel
Translation – Spanish
And a lovelier translation it would be difficult to find. Interestingly enough, this book has had a bit of an international journey. It was originally published in France under the title Le Livre de Kobo, though its creator is, in fact, from Argentina. Translator Lawrence Schimel, meanwhile, translated it from the original Spanish, and I think that shows. The story is simple enough. A rhino named Kibo writes what he knows about the savanna where he lives. When a crane binds his pages into a little yellow book, she then takes it to a large urban area. There the book passes from hand to hand (or, more accurately, paw to paw) as city dwellers, and other residents from around the world, read and take in the lovely writing. I love the art in this book, but the writing is also quite keen. Lines like, “The book that Kobo wrote told him about the warm, dried mud, the clouds of dust, the acacias that shook and sang in the wind.” A lovely translation of a lovely book about the power of writing.
Clover by Nadine Robert, ill. Qin Leng, translated by Nick Frost and Catherine Ostiguy
Translation – French
This was a hard book to track down. I’d seen it mentioned on a list online but not by name. All I saw was its cover and its jacket which, you will note, does not display a name. I was, however, able to determine on sight that the artist was Qin Leng. I then had to try and figure out what Qin Leng had illustrated in 2022, and that turned out to be a surprisingly hard thing to determine. At long last I tracked down the book’s name . . . only to have the book sent to me in the mail the next day. Ah well. It’s a slightly longer storyline than some folks here in the States are used to, but even so, it zips on by. In it, a child named Cricket is the youngest member of a big family full of older siblings. However, in true fantasy fashion, they all are happy to play with her. Cricket’s greatest conflict, then, is figuring out what group of kids to join with at any given time. Once the decision is made Clover promptly gets lost in the woods while chasing a baby goat. In spite of the fact that this is a tale about losing yourself, the forest here is never dark and scary. Kids reading the book may instead be left with a wistful desire to explore woods of their own for a time. Gentle, strange and sweet.
A Dream for Every Season by Haddy Njie, ill. Lisa Aisato, translated by Megan Turney and Rachel Rankin
Translation – Norwegian
Kind of love it when books make claims that I can neither prove nor disprove. “Lisa Aisato is Norway’s most popular and well-known illustrator.” Who am I to disagree (though considering how many Norwegians made it onto this list this year, the competition appears to be steep)? In any case, she’s certainly done a slambang job with this book. It’s a pretty cool concept, using repetition to lead the reader further and further into the seasons. Essentially, every time we experience a season, the next one is sleeping snug and warm somewhere. Spring sleeps under the snow. Summer, in the bud of an unopened flower. Fall in the heart of a growing apple. Winter beneath a toadstool. And you know how we Americans have this sense that the European imports we receive are never diverse enough? No worries there, this book does this magnificent job with showing both seasons and people in all stripes and shades. What I love about it, though, is that it pairs the sleeping seasons with sleeping children. The shot of a kid sleeping, while outside there are autumnal rains, may be my vote for coziest image of the year. My favorite seasons book of 2022, hands down, no question.
Dreams of Near and Far by Martin Widmark and Emilia Dziubak, translated by Polly Lawson
Translation – Swedish
“Maybe it’s a fairy tale?” So queried one of my librarians upon reading this book. For her, she felt that the suspension of disbelief required of the reader pushed it too far in that direction. Myself, I couldn’t disagree more. By gum, if we can’t suspend disbelief in a book of magical dreams and fantastically intelligent cats then when can we? “Dreamlike” is a more than appropriate term for the storyline, which is split between two children. In one storyline, a boy’s dog dies and the boy is overwhelmed by grief. In the other, a homeless girl wanders the world with her cat in search of a home. It’s a uniquely playful storyline, like a kinder, gentler Pinocchio, complete with a nasty guy locking our heroes up so that they’ll perform. Not only did I love the art in the book, I loved the design of the whole thing. Where the words fall on any given page is marvelous. This is a gentle book but not without drama. Good for dog and cat lovers alike.
Gotcha! A Funny Fairy Tale Hide-and-Seek by Clotilde Perrin, translated by Daniel Hahn
Translation – French
There is a quote at the beginning of this book. “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage” – Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet. Drop the mic, Perrin’s done. If you’ve ever seen a Clotilde Perrin book on American shores then you know that it’s a bit of a wild ride. First off, this book clocks in at a marvelous 15” tall and, at least in this case, contain 40+ flaps. Like her previous title Inside the Villains, you’re playing with familiar fairytale tropes as you try to hide from an array of monsters. Translator Daniel Hahn gets extra points for coming up with terms like “frightful fur and feculent feet.” There’s also so much to find in the corners and crannies that this book is guaranteed to last you a long, long time. Also, there is a monster’s butt on the back of the book, and it’s adorable. Who are you to say no to a cute monster butt?
Grandad’s Pink Trousers by Lucie Hášová Truhelková, ill. Andrea Tachezy, translated by Andrew Oakland
Translation – Czech
Is this Grandad the mean, cheap fellow everyone assumes, or is there something else going on? Only his grandson knows for sure. A book about being a conscientious consumer. Clever little dickens of a book, this one. You look at that cover and assume it’ll be one thing and then it turns out to be another. In fact, the point of the entire book is to turn your expectations on their head. The story follows a grumpy old man and lists his many sins. He won’t buy roses for his wife and he flushes his toilet with old bathwater. He won’t throw anything out. You just sort of assume the guy is stingy, but then he has a grandson and dedicates himself wholly to the kid. And when the boy later asks his grandpa why he does the things he does, you get this amazing lesson in sustainability. It’s probably one of the smartest books I’ve seen on how our assumptions need to change if the world is going to change.
A Head Full of Birds by Alexandra Garibal, ill. Sibylle Delacrois, translated by Vineet Lal
Translation – French
A translation that has all the finest features of a short film. A scholar could do worse than to track the changes in neurodiverse representation not simply in American picture books but picture books from other countries as well. This little French import follows Nanette, who loves puddles, spider webs, birds, you name it. Fellow student Noah, like many of the other kids in her class, finds her odd, but unlike the other kids he is also swept along into her world. Part of the reason the book works as well as it does is because of the art of Sibylle Delacrois, who does people, and particularly their faces, extraordinarily well. If I’m not too much mistaken, I think the art is done in colored pencils, and Delacrois has this way of using shading to highlight the important characters, separating them from the pack. And though it’s very different, I found myself pairing this in my head with the picture book I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott and Sydney Smith. Something about the tone struck me as somewhat similar. We overuse the term “gem” when we describe books for children, so I’ll just call it what it is: a really good book.
In the Neighborhood by Rocio Bonilla, translated by Maya Faye Lethem
Translation – Spanish
Sometimes all it takes is a single image to get you to fall in love with a book. Right at the start of this story (which is primarily concerned with the assumptions we make), Camilla the hen is pouring herself a cup of coffee. Camilla also has ten babies, and as you watch, that coffee is just pouring, pouring, pouring itself right down the sides of the cup to puddle on the floor. The sheer chaos of the room is magnificent. Now as for the story itself, it concerns itself with a neighborhood in which each household has made assumptions about another. No one ever really communicates. All that breaks down the day Mrs. Paquita, the owl, discovers that her internet has stopped working. From there, neighbors meet one another, start helping one another, and it just becomes this cozy, lovely, rather wonderful story. It’s not bright and flashy. It’s quiet and lovely.
It’s So Difficult by Raúl Nieto Guridi, translated by Lawrence Schimel
Translation – Spain
Any book attempting empathy, or to really and truly try to get someone to understand how the mind of another human being works, fights an uphill battle. So when I make this list of “Message” books, I tend to look at not simply those titles that are the most adept at fulfilling their own intentions, but also at those books that are able to imbue their storyline with a bit of beauty along the way. Not to keep bringing it up but I Talk Like a River by Jordan Scott did this. It’s So Difficult does it too. It’s a little Spanish import about a child that has to deal with sensory overload on a regular basis. For him, the simple act of saying “hello” requires an enormous amount of effort. The bio at the back of the book notes that this book was shaped in large part from Guridi’s own experiences as “a secondary school teacher”. Filled with wordless two-page spreads, mixed media consisting of blue inked sheets (timetables? calculations? monetary transactions?) the whole enterprise is a marvelous example of how to convey emotion and a sense of otherness on the picture book page through art and design. Subtle, but not so subtle that a kid’s not going to understand exactly what’s going on.
Madani’s Best Game by Fran Pintadera, ill. Raquel Catalina, translated by Lawrence Schimel
Translation – Spanish
With his bare feet there’s no one who can out compete Madani on the field. But when he goes off with his saved money to buy something in town, his purchase shocks his teammates. I love, and have always loved, translations. I also love books that eschew the kind of moralizing that a story about lower-income kids might otherwise engender. And, dare I say, this may be the best soccer picture book I’ve ever read. The perfect read for tiny Ted Lassos everywhere! The thing I like about it is the pride Madani feels. There’s not a moment when anyone tries to shame him or when he himself feels that shame. It’s just a lovely story about a kid who loves his mom and does whatever he can to have her close.
My GrandMom by Gee-eun Lee, translated by Sophie Bowman
Translation – Korean
Sometimes a book feels so realistic that you can’t help but figure it must have come from real life. I was kind of intrigued by the curves on the cover as well. Essentially, this is the story of author Gee-eun Lee herself, when she was a small child, and the grandmother that would take care of her while her parents were away. This particular grandmother also happens to go above and beyond the call of duty. Have you ever heard someone complain because too often grandparents are portrayed in picture books as sickly and old? NOT the issue here. There’s this moment where Gee-eun’s school is having some kind of parent/child race and she wants to enter. So Halmoni gamely gives it a go. And, as one might expect, they come in last, but I love that Halmoni was really talking herself up in a tall tale kind of way beforehand (“They used to call me the Ox when I was young. The Ox! I could pull all the other kids over with only one arm.”). Part of the credit here has got to go to Sophie Bowman, who has dished up a fantastic translation. This is a bit of slice of life that feels desperately real. I just thought it was peachy. Consider pairing it with another 2022 game grandma book, Granny and Bean by Karen Hesse and Charlotte Voake (found on the Rhyming Picture Book list this year).
My Neighborhood by María José Ferrada, ill. Ana Penyas, translated by Kit Maude
Translation – Spanish
As I mentioned in a publisher preview earlier this year, this is not Ferrada’s only publication here in the States in 2022. And that is a good thing. As far as I’m concerned, the more María José Ferrada we see on our shelves, the better. Ferrada hails from Chile and you may remember her best from her 2021 publication niños: Poems for the Lost Children of Chile. My Neighborhood is a very different vibe, focusing on a single older woman during the course of a single day. We follow Ms. Marta. She lives on her own. She is older, and she is completely independent. From the photos on her wall we can tell that she’s had a full life, but she isn’t a grandmother or anything (and finding a picture book about a self-satisfied older woman who isn’t a grandma is like finding a needle in a haystack sometimes). She has a tattoo. She has a framed photo of her friends playing cards. Really, the whole book is this marvelous mix of photos and illustration, all done at the hand of the talented Spanish artist Ana Penyas. The last line sums it all up for me: “By now she knows: lives, like socks, are elastic.”
Nine Color Deer by Kailin Duan, translated by Jeremy Tiang
Translation – Mandarin Chinese (?)
It’s nice to see a folktale from something other than the Grimm oeuvre show up multiple times over the years. I swear I’ve encountered the Nine Color Deer tale in the past but never with such thought, care, and attention as I’ve seen in Duan’s latest. Inspired by the images in the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, China, this transition from cave painting to the picture book page is seamless. While the Translator’s Note at the end of the book gives context to both the story (its roots may lay in a Buddhist Jataka tale from India) to the art itself, what makes the tale work is how the story has been retold for 21st century kids. I don’t need to tell you that some folktales don’t always make the leap all that easily. Here, you thoroughly enjoy what comes across as a kind of environmental tale of betrayal and humbling in the face of nature itself. A five star winner through and through.
Our Fort by Marie Dorléans, translated by Alyson Waters
Translation – French
Three children set out to visit their secret fort in the woods. Will they survive the storm on the way? Will their fort still be standing? A book that captures all the imagination and delights of being a kid in nature. Oo. I think I like this one even more than a previous Dorléans picture book called Night Walk. Someone at my library, after seeing this book, talked about how neat it was that even in the thick of the windstorm that occurs over the course of this story, the kids never think of going home. And then you’ve got that wonderful moment where you see their glorious fort that they’ve been talking up this time . . . and it’s just a pile of sticks. Do they care? They do NOT! This book really does a remarkable job of putting you directly into the head of the child reader. I know that when I was a kid, a super windy day could have all the drama and excitement of the storm of this book. This is the kind of title that truly transports the reader to another place. Childhood encapsulated, and beautifully too.
A Perfect Wonderful Day with Friends by Philip Waechter, translated by Melody Shaw
Translation – German
I happen to believe that there is no book in this world so good that lollygagging cannot make it better. In a lot of ways this sweet German import reminds me a bit of the previously mentioned, and fellow German import, Albie On His Way by Jutta Bauer. In both cases you have a larger mission waylaid by a series of distractions, with new friends made along the way. In this book Raccoon is bored so he figures he’ll pop on over Fox’s house to borrow some eggs to make an apple cake. At Fox’s the two realize that they need a ladder to help repair the fox’s roof. So it’s off to Badger’s they go, but once there they almost immediately set off to help get the answer to a crossword puzzle. After all is said and done the crew numbers five, is delighted to be in one another’s company, and soon they’re trading stuff, picnicking, and enjoying a delicious apple cake as well. The story has the gentle feel you might expect from this kind of tale, but the art is what will make you want to read it again and again. Waechter indulges in a multitude of tiny pen-and-ink details, and a world of watercolors so pleasant you just want to sink into those pages and join in on the fun. I see this as an almost aspirational picture book. It’s the kind of life any kid would love to live. Beautiful.
Ways to Make Friends by Jairo Buitrago, ill. Mariana Ruiz Johnson, translated by Elisa Amado
Translation – Spanish
So many books try to teach you the practical ways to make a friend. And, as I think we can all agree, those methods only sometimes work. This book has a narration born out of its adorable froggy protagonist’s efforts to find someone to befriend. My particular favorite moment is when it advises, “Say hi to the shy kid who never says hi to anyone. After you’ve said hi at least forty times, he might even say hi back, exactly like an old friend.” A lot of the success of this book can be chalked up to Elisa Amado’s translation, by the way. She really captures just the right tone. But of course the real standout in all of this is the moment when the book acknowledges that it is also okay to forget everything this book has just taught you and spend some time by yourself. “Drawing, reading, singing, shouting. These are good ways to pass the time and to learn to be your own best friend.” And THAT is a lesson I think every kid should learn too.
The Youngest Sister by Suniyay Moreno, ill. Mariana Chiesa, translated by Elisa Amado
Translation – Spanish
Not a lot of picture books include a special Translator’s Note at their end. This book does, and I’d like to type it in its entirety here. Elisa Amado writes, “The text, while in Spanish, is written as though it were spoken by this Argentinean Quechua community. The translation aims to respect the very special voice in which the story is told.” Remarkably, I think Amado does just that. The first page took me a second or two to get the phrasings straight in my head. Once you get going, though, it’s a wonderful tale. A youngest child, too small for any of the important jobs, is sent to get a flavor bone at Doña Ciriaca’s. She’s told not to delay, though the world is full of an awful lot of things that might distract a small kid. In fact, by the time she returns she’s in trouble, and decides to hide rather than get her own hide tanned. That is, until she spots and catches a tasty guinea pig. Redeeming herself, she is rewarded with the bone, which has lost its flavor anyway, with which all the children can play. Do I sound bloodthirsty when I say how grateful I was that this book didn’t have Picu, the child, release the guinea pig out of pity or anything? It’s a testament to the storytelling that you understand instantly what a boon the critter is to feeding this large a family. Some books transport you to another time and place with such ease that you feel a bit of a disconnect when you return. This is one of those books.
Want to see other lists? Stay tuned for the rest this month!
December 1 – Great Board Books
December 2 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 3 – Simple Picture Book Texts
December 4 – Transcendent Holiday Picture Books
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 – Gross 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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