The World in Translation
By Grace Benedick, Youth Services Assistant
June 1st marks the beginning of the Summer Reading Program at Manhattan Public Library. Every year the program has a different theme, and this year the theme is “Build a Better World.” When it comes to making changes for a better world, it’s only reasonable to first be familiar with the world we live in today. Translated literature is a wonderful way to gain a more global perspective. It is estimated that only approximately 3% of books published in the English language are translations. Hopefully, that number will continue to rise, but in the meantime we can start by reading the translations that are available.
In our own children’s collection, the picture book section is home to the largest supply of translations. For toddler listeners, Satoshi Iriyama’s Happy Spring, Chirp! translated from Japanese, follows a baby chick on a quest to find a gift for its aunt and meets other animals, as the reader lifts flaps. Little ones will laugh at Andrée Poulin’s Going for a Sea Bath, originally written in French, as a father attempts to make bath time more appealing for his daughter by bringing creatures from the ocean for her to play with in the tub—eventually they just have to have bath time in the ocean. Also translated from French, Blanche Hates the Nightby Sibylle Delacroix, is a silly story about not wanting to go to sleep, and Hannah’s Night by Komako Sakai is a translation from Japanese about those early morning play sessions, when the youngest wakes up before the rest of the family. Today and Today by Kobayashi Issa is a collection of classic Haiku poetry with lovely atmospheric illustrations by G. Brian Karas. A Little Bitty Man: and Other Poems for the Very Young by Halfdan Rasmussen is a translation of playful Danish poetry.
For listeners with longer attention spans, more delightful translated picture books include Beatrice Alemagna’s The Wonderful Fluffy Little Squishy, originally written in French, which is a silly romp that details a child’s search through all the neighborhood shops for the perfect birthday gift for her mom. On My Way to Buy Eggsby Chen Chih-yuan, first published in Mandarin Chinese, is about all the small adventures you can have between home and the local corner store. Red by Jan De Kinder was originally published in Dutch in Belgium. Red is a sensitive narrative about teasing that goes too far, and tells how to speak up and be kind. First written in Hebrew, Just Like I Wanted by Elinoar Keller illuminates the trial and error of making art, and the fun of adapting, as a girl’s drawing morphs into something new each time she thinks she’s made a mistake.
Nonfiction translations are less common than picture books in our collection, but we have a few: In the Forbidden City by Chiu Kwong-chiu is a translation from Mandarin Chinese. A thorough journey through the Forbidden City in Beijing, it has illustrations of the entire grounds, and it has a small magnifying glass to aid the reader’s inspection of the meticulous drawings. Originally published in German, Best Foot Forward: Exploring Feet, Flippers, and Claws by Ingo Arndt is a photographic exploration of the many types of feet that animals have. Traveling Butterflies by Susumu Shingu is a bright and simple chronicle of the life and migration of monarch butterflies which was first written in Japanese.
Some of the great children’s classics were translations. Starting with the Grimm’s Fairy Tales from German, Hans Christian Andersen from Danish and Charles Perrault from French. Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstockingwas translated from Swedish, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince from French, and Carlo Collodi’s Adventures of Pinocchio was originally printed in Italian. Modern chapter book translations include the popular fantasy Inkheart series by Cornelia Funke, who wrote them in German, and many would be surprised to know that the Geronimo Stilton books, so voraciously consumed by elementary students, were written in Italian. Fans of the Warriors series will love The Cat Who Came in off the Roof written by Annie G. Schmidt in Dutch. It tells the story of a reporter, on the verge of being fired for writing too much about cats, who starts getting juicy news from the cats, themselves.
While you’re reading books from all over the world, come by the children’s room to sign up for summer reading. We will have a come-and-go kick-off party on June 3rd from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. with crafts, performances and lots of balloons. Then, our weekly summer clubs and storytimes will begin on June 5th.