At a time when there is ever more increasing emphasis placed on children’s books that are inclusive, diverse, and mindful, books from beyond our borders are finding new audiences and appreciation.
Beyond Our Borders
If you look at the New York Times/New York Public Library’s Best Illustrated Children’s list, you’ll find gems from around the world celebrated as the very best the format has to offer.
Take The Visitor for example. First published in Germany, Antje Damm’s picture book features a woman afraid of interacting with the outside world.
New Zealand publisher Gecko Press brought this little gem to the United States where it has found many fans. Watch an interview with Antje Damm to learn how she makes the 3-D models for her illustrations (46:34).
Be sure to check out all 10 honored books to see more treasures from across the water.
Did The Visitor just whet your appetite?
Enjoy a feast of international children’s books with the Outstanding International Book List (OIB). Developed each year by the US section of the International Board on Books for Young People (USBBY), the list features around 40 books selected for children (from birth through teen). Many of the books make frequent appearances in other “Best of” lists.
School Library Journal presents each year’s OIB list honorees in a popular article that showcases the book selections and their creators. This year’s list includes books from Chile, Canada, Japan, India, France, Sweden, South Africa, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia.
Books help readers flex their empathy muscles. International books often provide an especially good workout.
By reading the Fox Girl and the White Gazelle by Victoria Elliott (Floris Books), a child can experience what it’s like to be a Syrian refugee transplanted to another country.
Diving into We Kiss Them with Rain by Futhi Ntshingila (Catalyst Press) gives a reader a first-hand experience of several generations of South African women and their harrowing existences.
Too Young to Escape: A Vietnamese Girl Waits to be Reunited with her Family by VanHo and Marsha Skrypuch provides a fascinating window into the life of a child who was left behind with her grandmother when the rest of her family risked a journey to freedom in flimsy boats.
Not all international books deal with such weighty subjects.
What a Wonderful Word by Nicola Edwards (Kane Miller) explores untranslatable words that are sure to fascinate anyone who likes words in and of themselves.
Eye Spy: Wild Ways Animals See the World by Patrick Skipworth (What on Earth Books) is a marvel of book design. It invites readers to compare and contrast what they see versus what a chimpanzee, an osprey, a cat, an earthworm and so many more animals see.
Bound for the US
International children’s books come to the US a few different ways. Most commonly, a publisher licenses the book directly from the original publisher. That’s why you will see books from Lerner and Chronicle on the OIB list. But it’s becoming more common for original publishers to distribute directly into the US. This is especially convenient for those who publish in English-speaking countries such as Canada, the United Kingdom, India, Australia, and New Zealand.
This year, the majority of the publishers on the OIB are based outside the US, including Pajama Press, Kids Can Press, Groundwood, Annick, and Orca (all based in Canada, the land of government grants to children’s book publishers); What on Earth Books, Floris Books, Quarto, Candlewick, and Flying Eye (from the United Kingdom); and Karadi Tales (from India).
To make matters even more complex, foreign English-speaking publishers often license books from other non-English speaking countries and translate the books into English. By doing so, they obtain rights for the English-speaking world.
Gecko Press, for example, licensed A Case for Buffy from a Swedish publisher, translated it into English, and localized it (e.g., color vs. colour) for the US market.
Seeing the World Through Different Eyes
Whether you truly want to dive into another person’s life on the other side of the globe, revel in gorgeous art from another culture, or enjoy a different sense of humor, books from around the world broaden your horizons and deepen your understanding.
Further Sites to Explore
USBBY. Their next conference is in Austin in October and promises to be an unforgettable experience for anyone keen on international children’s books.
The Bologna Book Fair. Every April, the children’s book world gathers in this gorgeous (and delicious) Italian city to display the best in children’s books and negotiate to expand the audience.
Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. If you’re a fan of picture book art, subscribe to Julie Danielson’s blog. It focuses on illustration and often features international artists.
Hear More from Ellen
Going to ALA? Visit the Book Buzz Theatre for Ellen’s seasonal presentation, “Around the World in Children’s Books,” featuring Fall 2019 releases.
Not going to ALA but still interested in seeing future international books? Tune into KidLit.TV on May 21 at 3pm EDT for Ellen Myrick and Rocco Staino’s presentation of 40 forthcoming children’s books plus an interview with Christopher Lloyd, the (very British) author of Absolutely Everything.
Ellen Myrick (WNBA-Nashville) is the president of Publisher Spotlight. She has been working with children’s books, publishers, librarians, teachers, and professional conference exhibit promotions for more than 25 years. Ellen has served on the boards of the Educational Paperback Association (now EBMA), the Audio Publishers Association, and the Women’s National Book Association, and has served as the Judging Chair for the Audie Awards.
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