Stories from Around the World
Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
Here are some of our favorite international picture books with English translations published in the U.S. this year. These books are good choices for sharing with children at all grade levels not only to enjoy as stories but also to encourage discussion about other languages and cultures and to introduce writers and artists from around the world.
The Book That Did Not Want to Be Read. David Sundin. Trans. by B. J. Woodstein. (2022). Simon & Schuster.
“Once upon a time, there was a child who couldn’t fall asleep.” The solution? An adult reads a book the child chooses—unfortunately one that does not want to be read. This interactive book will have children laughing as it speaks directly to the reader and keeps morphing. Pages fill with nonsensical text and weird illustrations. The book grows wings and attempts to fly away. The text shrinks and enlarges, and a rabbit appears. THE END arrives with a warning to not turn the page, but of course they do. The page is on fire. Flames out, random words disappear, and the As change into Os (“WOTCH OUT FOR THE OLLIGOTOR …”), and it is THE END, again. Or is it? NO! The words scramble, turn into a rectangle, and spin before the book finally ends. “SWEET DREAMS.” Warning: This book is a challenge to read aloud and requires some gymnastic moves on the part of the reader. David Sundin lives in Sweden. (PreK Up)
The Book That Kibo Wrote. Mariana Ruiz Johnson. Trans. by Lawrence Schimel. (2022). Eerdmans.
Kibo (a black rhino) writes about his home on the savanna every evening. His friend Naki (a crane) sews the pages into a book and drops it into a corner of a city across the sea where Camilo (a lion) finds it. After reading the story that reminds him of his first home, the savanna, Camilo gives the book to his friend Simon (a rabbit), who is inspired by reading it to play his guitar and sing about distant and unknown lands. Simon passes the book on to Valentina (a hen) to read on a plane trip to the North Pole. She leaves the book with her cousin Nanuk (a polar bear), whose heart is warmed by reading the book that Kibo wrote while the whales sing beneath the ice at his feet. Mariana Ruiz Johnson’s colorful illustrations, inspired by folk art, complement her engaging story about how a good book will find readers wherever they live. Mariana Ruiz Johnson lives in Argentina. (PreK Up)
The Box. Isabella Paglia. Trans. by Laura Watkinson. Illus. by Paolo Proietti. (2022). Eerdmans.
Fox and Hare discover a mysterious box with two holes cut in the side. When it moves, they shout, “Welcome to the forest!” and “Come on! Come on out!” The response is “Noooooo!” Joined by Bear, Squirrel, and Owl, they try to coax whatever is inside the box out with entertainment and then a party the next day, with no luck. On the third day, they shelter the box in Bear’s den during a rainstorm and are surprised (as will readers be) when the box shakes open, and a colorful parrot squawks, “Thank you so much, everyone, for waiting for me.” With a playful text and softly colored illustrations created with pastel, chalk, and watercolor paint, The Box offers a gentle lesson on kindness and patience in welcoming someone new to your group of friends. Isabella Paglia lives in Italy; Paola Proietti lives in Italy. (PreK Up)
The Gift. Alain Serge Dzotap. Trans. by Eerdmans. Illus. by Delphine Renon. (2022). Eerdmans.
Leo, a young cheetah, receives a very special birthday gift, a pen, from his father, who says, “It has all sorts of beautiful things in it.” He promises to show them to him later, but Leo can’t wait. His sister shakes out a few drops of ink. Coco-Tembo, a hen, scoffs at the pen’s tiny size. Super-Zombo, a giraffe, thinks it is a broken flute. Finally, Leo turns to his mother. Paw on paw, she helps him write his name and lots of other words, and on his own, Leo discovers the magic of drawing. “Soon the whole world is coming out of his pen!” Upon his return, Papa admires Leo’s pictures of giraffes, birds, boats, and cheetahs. Delphine Renon’s delightful colored pencil-and-ink drawings complement Alain Serge Dzotap’s story of Leo’s discovery of the power of the pen. Alain Serge Dzotap lives in Cameroon; Delphine Renon lives in France. (PreK-Gr 2)
I Won’t Give Up My Rubber Band. Shinsuke Yoshitake. Trans. by Sofiane Kohen. (2022). Chronicle.
A young girl finds a special thing to call her own, a rubber band. It belongs to only her. It is not a hand-me-down, and she does not have to share it. She imagines herself doing wonderful things with her rubber band now and in the future like bathing and sleeping with it, wearing it as a fashion statement, bundling future love letters with it, using it to save the world from aliens, and, maybe, tying it to her future soul mate’s rubber band. She declares that she will never give her treasure up, but as she dreams of possibilities, she tugs and flexes the rubber band until . . . snap! . . . it breaks. She quickly locates a new special thing. “Mommy! May I have this paper clip?” Shinsuke Yoshitake’s humorous cartoonlike art, rendered in pen and colored digitally, captures the magic of adopting ordinary objects to use in imaginative ways and will leave readers thinking about their own special treasures. Shinsuke Yoshitake lives in Japan. (PreK-Gr 2)
My Day in the Park. Marta Orzel. Trans. by Johanna McCalmont. (2022). Blue Dot.
A young child visiting the park with family invites the reader to accompany them. “Let’s see what we find today!” The opening double spread shows an illustrated map of the park with the family near the entrance. Verso pages are filled with lots of small, labeled illustrations of people, things, and activities in the park. Recto pages present large illustrations of related highlights of the day for the child narrator as the family walks along the paths and visits the pond, greenhouse, playground, petting zoo, picnic area, and other places in the park. As the day’s adventure ends, there is another map showing different ways of getting home. The child opts for a favorite mode of transportation, “on my dad’s shoulders.” The book ends with a double spread of items from the day’s visit (“Do you remember. . .”) that is sure to take readers back through the park again and again. Marta Orzel lives in France. (PreK-Gr 2)
Nine Color Deer. Kailin Duan. Trans. by Jeremy Tiang. (2022). Levine Querido.
A long time ago, a mythical deer with fur of nine different colors lived in a forest unknown to humans. Hearing a cry for help, the Nine Color Deer runs through the wilderness and rescues a man drowning in a lake. Asking how he can repay the deer for saving his life, he is told, “All I ask is that you tell no one of my whereabouts.” When the king offers a reward for locating the deer with nine colors in its fur that the queen dreams about, the man breaks his promise and leads the king and his soldiers to the forest. The Nine Color Deer tells the king, “I am the guardian spirit of this place” and warns of the awful fate of the kingdom if it is killed. Wisely, the king orders that no one should ever harm the Nine Color Deer. Kailin Duan’s exquisite artwork for her adaptation of a traditional Buddhist tale was inspired by the one thousand-year-old Mogao Cave paintings in Dunhuang, China. Kailin Duan lives in China. (PreK Up)
A Perfect Spot. Isabelle Simler. Trans. by Vineet Lal. (2022). Eerdmans.
A ladybug searches for somewhere safe to lay her eggs. “In the big, wide world, so lush and green, / a tiny, seven-spotted bug speeds on her way.” She stirs up stick insects that snarl, is attacked by thorn bugs in a rose bush, is shaken and shocked by a katydid in a thicket of trees, escapes from becoming the main course for spiders and mantises in a field of daisies, is pummeled from a tall oak by goat moths and lappet moths, and falls into the most perfect spot among a delectable colony of aphids where she can lay her eggs. Isabelle Simler’s lyrical text and colorful, realistic brush-stroked illustrations invite young readers to observe a variety of arthropods in their natural habitats through the eyes of the little beetle. Back matter includes a double spread about the Seven-Spotted Ladybug and a second one featuring arthropods the ladybug encounters: orchid mantis, thorn bug, crab spider, leaf katydid, stick caterpillar, common stick insect, goat moth, and lappet moth. Isabelle Simler lives in France. (PreK Up)
Star Fishing. Sang-Keun Kim. Trans. by Ginger Ly. (2022). Abrams.
A young child dressed in a bunny sleeper gazes at the moon. “Is somebody awake?” An answer resounds, “Play with meeeeeee.” Little Rabbit, fishing on the moon with a star as bait, reels in the child who has grabbed onto it. The child asks if they are the only ones awake. With more star fishing, Little Rabbit catches other nonsleepers: Crab, Fox, Big Bear, and Little Bear. They all play among the stars, but worrying that soon Little Rabbit will be lonely when they leave, they use stars to create constellations of Crab, Fox, Big Bear, and Little Bear as reminders of their time together. Little Rabbit cuddles them on a blanket of stars until they drift off to sleep and then sends them home. “It’s the kind of night when everyone is fast asleep.” Sang-Keun Kim’s soothing bedtime fantasy is set against a background of vibrant blue sky filled with tiny sparkling stars and a bright crescent, a magical place to lure children into a good night’s slumber. Sang-Keun Kim lives in South Korea. (PreK-Gr 2)
Ways to Make Friends. Jairo Buitrago. Trans. by Elisa Amado. Illus. by Mariana Ruiz Johnson. (2022). Aldana Libros.
In this funny and thoughtful picture book with cartoonlike illustrations made with colored pens and digital color, Toad playfully offers ways of making friends. Some suggestions are fairly conventional such as sitting patiently under a tree, waiting until someone comes along who wants to be your friend or saying hi to a shy kid. Other suggestions are wacky such as dressing up like an apple and giving away a pear. Toad ends this how-to guide to making friends with a reminder that after you are tired of making friends just “be yourself and forget everything this book has told you to do” and consider doing some things such as drawing, reading, and daydreaming alone to learn how to be your own best friend. Jairo Buitrago lives in Mexico; Mariana Ruiz Johnson lives in Argentina. (PreK Up)
Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
Picture Books from Across the Pond
Skye Deiter and Carolyn Angus
In this column, we review picture books originally published in English in the United Kingdom. These stories by British authors and illustrator are popular with young readers on both sides of “the pond.”
Air Miles. John Burningham. Bill Salaman. Illus. by Helen Oxenbury. (2022). Candlewick.
Miles, Norman Trudge’s “very difficult dog” who became much happier after a neighbor, Mr. Huddy, built him a small red car and taught him how to drive in Motor Miles (2016), written and illustrated by beloved British author and illustrator John Burningham (1936-2019), is now an old dog in need of something new and exciting to cheer him up. The small red airplane Mr. Huddy builds seems to be the answer. Miles learns to pilot the plane and flies solo until the day Norman helps him into cockpit for the last time, and Miles takes to the skies, flying higher and further than ever before as Norman waves and waves until he can no longer see the plane. “Goodbye, Miles.” The text of this moving picture book, which was conceived by John Burningham as a tribute to his beloved Jack Russell terrier who had died, was written by his friend Bill Salaman and illustrated by Burningham’s wife, Helen Oxenbury, after his death. Bill Salaman lives in Cambridge, England; Helen Oxenbury lives in London, England. (PreK Up)
Frog vs. Toad. Ben Mantle. (2022). Candlewick.
After a fly mistakenly confuses Frog and Toad for two frogs, a heated argument chucked full of punny put-downs ensues as the two amphibians heatedly express their highly opinionated differences. “‘Wait…did you call me slimy?’ croaked Frog. ‘Well, you’re dry and lumpy!’ Toad was annoyed. ‘Oh, why don’t you hop it, long legs!’” Soon, the other frogs and toads in the swamp join in and a mud fight follows, only to be broken up by a hungry alligator who points out that they’ll taste the same because they are relatives. A unified response from Frog and Toad wards off their ferocious predator, leaving the pair on friendly terms—and the alligator enraged when they call it a crocodile. Lively text complemented by animated pastel and digital media illustrations offer a humorous and relatable reminder about the importance of honoring the similarities and differences we all share. Ben Mantle lives in Brighton, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
Giant Giant. Dylan Hewitt. (2022). Milky Way Picture Books.
A bossy giant bullies the little people living in a peaceful village, threatening to stomp on their houses if they do not follow through on orders to wash his underwear, cook him a feast, and deliver tasty treats. “Every day the giant would stomp, stomp, stomp down to the little village and be a big brat // Actually, not just a big brat… // a giant brat.” He gets a taste of his own medicine when a giant giant comes to town and makes the same threats to him, and the little giant must rely on the help of the villagers he’s wronged. Dylan Hewitt playfully uses different colors for character associations (blue for the villagers, orange for the little giant, and pink for the giant giant) and size and placement of text in his cartoonlike digital illustrations on a bright yellow background to tell this anti-bullying tale that is sure to captivate readers of all sizes! Dylan Hewitt lives in London, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
I Believe in Me. Emma Dodd. (2022). Templar.
“I believe in me, / I’m reaching for the sky. / Everything is possible / if I’m brave enough to try.” Rhyming verses join with beautifully crafted digital illustrations featuring gold foil accents to tell a nurturing tale about a baby crocodile and its parent who spend their days alongside each other. Positive affirmations fill the pages as the baby crocodile unearths important truths about love, guidance, resiliency, and the tremendous power of believing in oneself. Emma Dodd lives in Surrey, England. (Preschool)
Narwhal: The Arctic Unicorn. Justin Anderson. Illus. by Jo Weaver. (2022). Candlewick.
It is the end of winter in the Arctic, and as the frozen sea starts to melt, an old narwhal leads his pod on their journey north through the floating ice in Baffin Bay to spend the summer around the high Arctic islands along with other narwhals and beluga. When September comes, it is time to head south for the winter. Justin Anderson’s tells the story of the yearly migration of the Arctic narwhal and presents related scientific facts about these toothed whales in a smaller font on each double-page spread featuring Jo Weaver’s stunning charcoal, digitally colored illustrations. Back matter includes a note about the future of the narwhal, a species that is threatened by climate change; a map of the narwhal migration route; websites for further information; and an index. Justin Anderson lives in England; Jo Weaver lives in Scotland. (PreK Up)
Otters vs. Badgers. Anya Glazer. (2022). Kane Miller.
When rival animals, otters and badgers, just cannot get along, their leaders decide the two groups should inhabit opposite sides of the river to avoid ever meeting. One day, however, Francie, an otter who happens to be the best baker along the river, accidentally wanders onto the badgers’ side of the river in search of the perfect ingredient for her newest cookie recipe. After she is discovered by some badgers, the two animal groups find themselves face-to-face in an amusing feud. As arguments escalate and tensions run high, it is Francie who offers up a delicious solution! Anya Glazer’s conversational style of writing and creative use of speech bubbles in her watercolor cartoon illustrations provide additional comedic layers to this entertaining picture book. A cookie recipe is included. Anya Glazer lives in London, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
Pantemonium! Peter Bently. Illus. by Becka Moor. (2022). Andersen.
Fred (a giant) sets off for the beach with his fishing rod, not realizing his favorite, stretchy pair of underwear is caught on the hook at the end of the line. As he makes his way through the town, his gigantic underpants trail behind him, scooping up townspeople, animals, a police car, and even a train! With Fred growing more and more oblivious to what is being gathered up in his undies, each page turn of this silly, rhyming tale invites readers to relish each hilarious “Oh, pantemonium!” Finally, Fred reaches his fishing spot, and his underpants release everyone and everything, right before his undies catch one last surprise in the water! Peter Bently lives in London, England; Becka Moor lives in Manchester, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
Ratty’s Big Adventure. Lara Hawthorne. (2022). Big Picture.
Ratty, a giant rodent, is living a contented life deep inside an extinct volcano called Mount Bosavi in the rain forest of Papua New Guinea until he spots a luscious-looking fruit and makes the difficult climb up a very tall tree to reach it. Amazed by what he sees from the treetop, he drops the fruit and sets out to find something “bigger and better” in the outside world in spite of the warning of his cave bat friends. “Beware, Ratty! It’s a big world out there!” Ratty’s big adventure becomes a misadventure when his “new friend,” a toothy crocodile, invites him for dinner. Rescued by his bat friends, Ratty has had enough of adventuring and is content to be back at home among his old friends. Back matter includes facts about a scientific expedition to Mount Bosavi in 2009; a profile of the Bosavi woolly rat, one of 55 new species identified by the researchers; and a challenge to locate ten of Ratty’s friends pictured in Lara Hawthorne’s colorful watercolor-and-gouache illustrations. Lara Hawthorne lives in Bristol, England. (PreK Up)
Saving the Butterfly. Helen Cooper. Illus. by Gill Smith. (2022). Candlewick Studio.
Two children are the only survivors when a boat load of refugees sink. The older one, a girl, has a hard time letting go of memories of the trauma and moving forward. The younger one, her brother, more easily forgets and is able to make friends. “But the bigger one couldn’t forget. / She felt she shouldn’t forget. / Over her mind a shadow fell, / and a squeezing in her chest / sometimes made it hard to breathe.” The brother catches a butterfly and brings it to his sister in an effort to connect her to the outside world. When the butterfly escapes from its jar inside their little home, the girl must find strength within her to save the butterfly and release it outdoors, or perhaps, allow the butterfly to save her. Mostly gray mixed-media illustrations with minimal pops of color echo the book’s somber tone until the final spreads burst with color as the girl finally gives the outside a chance. Helen Cooper lives in Oxford, England; Gill Smith lives in Liverpool, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Tale of the Whale. Karen Swann. Illus. by Padmacandra. (2022). Margaret K. McElderry.
In this lyrical story, a young boy is called to an ocean adventure by a friendly whale. “Where land becomes sky/ and sky becomes sea, I first saw the whale . . . / and the whale first saw me. / And high on the breeze came his sweet-sounding song— // ‘I’ve so much to show you, if you’ll come along.’” What starts out as a playful adventure as the two dance with dolphins, explore an abandoned shipwreck, and admire the beauty of the coral reefs evolves into a surprising discovery of the plastic trash polluting the ocean. Overwhelmed with sadness for the ocean’s creatures, upon returning to shore, the child promises to tell the whole world “the tale of the whale and the plastic soup sea” to inspire others to join him in being agents for change. The final illustration shows a group of children working together in a beach clean-up. Karen Swann lives in Nottingham, England; Padmacandra was born in Scotland and now lives in Norfolk, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
The Very Special Thing. Alex Willmore. (2022). Tate.
Squirrel’s prize possession is a special acorn prominently displayed in her nest in a hollow tree. Eager to add to her collection of all sorts of things, she sets out to look for more items in the forest. After snatching up Bear’s hula hoop, she continues to gather up the special treasures of Frog, Snake, Bird, Rabbit, Fox, and Turtle. When she gathers flowers from Moose’s garden, however, Moose snorts, “That’s it! Let’s go and get our things.” What they discover is Squirrel crying because she can’t find her special acorn. Being the good friends that they are, they sort through the giant pile of things in her tree—and find not only Squirrel’s special acorn but also how much fun they can have when they share their special things with each other. Alex Wilmore’s humorous cautionary tale with a spare text and colorful cartoonlike illustrations is a good read-aloud choice. Alex Willmore lives in Northampton, England. (PreK-Gr 2)
Skye Deiter is a third-grade classroom teacher in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children’s Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.
These reviews are submitted by members of the International Literacy Association's Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group (CL/R SIG).