by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp
It’s started small, but there’s growing support for the #WorldKidLit hashtag on Twitter: a ground-roots campaign to raise the profile of global literature for kids. We’re celebrating books that take children beyond their own environment to experience different perspectives and cultures from beyond their shores.
Two years ago, a small group of translators and bloggers boldly declared September to be the month to explore translated children’s books: time to head back to school with kid lit from around the world. This month we’ve seen a flurry of #WorldKidLit tweets by booksellers, librarians, teachers and #kidlit bloggers on Twitter who realise that in order to achieve diversity on the bookshelf, we need to look globally, publishing more authors from diverse ethnic backgrounds and less-translated languages.
Their growing awareness that we should look further afield for new perspectives in children’s books comes especially in the wake of the recent CLPE Reflecting Realities report, which highlighted the shockingly low representation in children’s books of characters from a black or minority ethnic background. (Only 4% of the children’s books published in 2017 featured BAME characters and only 1% of the children’s books published in the UK in 2017 had a BAME main character).
To help readers navigate the disparate world of books published in translation, we’ve produced this list of children’s titles published in English translation in the last two years. So far it covers picture books, children’s novels, teens/YA, nonfiction and poetry, with graphic novels coming soon. The list goes back to January 2017, as books published before then are reviewed in the excellent publication ‘Riveting Reads: A World of Books in Translation’ by the UK’s School Library Association (sent out by BookTrust to all secondary schools in England). I’m pleased to see countries as wide-ranging as Latvia, Brazil, Japan and South Africa represented in the list. And yet, while we keep adding recommendations day by day, we still have no books on the list from anywhere in Asia besides Japan and China, nowhere in Latin and South America besides Brazil and Mexico, and far too few from Africa. In the period covered (Jan 2017-Sept 2018), there was only one children’s book translated from Arabic – Tomorrow by Syrian writer and illustrator Nadine Kaadan – despite this being the lingua franca of some 26 nations across North Africa and the Middle East. We would welcome suggestions of books in English translation which we’ve missed, and we hope to see more bibliodiversity in next year’s list.
Initiatives such as BookTrust’s In Other Words have helped select and promote excellent children’s books from around the world, and the first year of the project was a roaring success with 3 of the 4 honour titles being picked up by publishers: Elise and the Second-hand Dog by Bjarne Reuter, translated from Danish by Sian Mackie is now out from Wacky Bee, A Good Day for Climbing Trees by South African writer Jaco Jacobs, translated from Afrikaans by Kobus Geldenhuys and illustrated by Jim Tierney is out from Oneworld, and The Raven’s Children by Yulia Yakovleva (Puffin), in my translation from Russian, hit the shops this week.
Throughout September, the World Kid Lit blog has a daily article or listicle aimed at raising the profile of global books. Some topics covered so far include the CODE Burt Award for African YA literature, 9 great BAME heroes from around the world, why world kid lit matters to Linton Children’s Book Festival, and coming this week are blog posts on manga and Asian picture books, Latin American children’s books, and Arabic kid lit forthcoming in translation.
And while we launched the #worldkidlitchallenge this year with an invitation to Tweeters to read and review just one translated children’s title this month, a surprising number of #kidlit lovers have upped the game and have been tweeting about a #worldkidlit title every day of the month! So there are loads of great suggestions out there of how to add a few new countries, cultures and perspectives to your kids’ bookshelf.
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The #WorldKidLit initiative was co-launched in September 2016 by Alexandra Büchler (Literature Across Frontiers), M. Lynx Qualey (ArabLit), and Lawrence Schimel (author, translator, and publisher at Midsummer Night’s Press). If you would like to write for the World Kid Lit blog about any aspect of global books or diverse books for kids, please see the contacts page.
Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp is a professional literary translator who translates books for adults and children from German, Russian and Arabic into English. She is a co-editor of the World Kid Lit Month blog and together with Helen Wang and Marcia Lynx Qualey, she tweets at @WorldKidLit.
This is a guest post by Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and the views expressed do not necessarily represent the FCBG.